Subject: SCMP: 'Shadowy' Kopassus Unit Blamed for Conflicts

South China Morning Post Monday, August 21, 2000


'Shadowy' unit blamed for conflicts


The upsurge in fighting on the border between East and West Timor is the latest sign that the Indonesian military's special forces remain outside the control of the Government, Jakarta-based diplomats say.

Amid rising concern at the concessions to the military granted in last week's constitutional amendments, Western diplomats and political analysts admit their hopes for military reform and good behaviour regarding East Timor are being frustrated. At the same time, they note that Jakarta's recent promises to close refugee camps in West Timor are vague and misdirected.

It is now clear, diplomatic sources say, that the military's Kopassus special forces unit is acting as dangerously and independently as ever, stoking conflicts from one end of the country to the other.

"We know they are operating in Irian Jaya, the Maluku Islands and Aceh, as well as interfering in East Timor from West Timor," said a diplomat with intelligence duties. "There is obviously a plan afoot, look at the map. As to who exactly is involved, that's easy. The current heads of Kopassus units in these places are [working with] retired generals who were in those places before."

Reports from the separatist-inclined province of Irian Jaya say fresh numbers of Kopassus men have arrived there, sparking fears of new conflict.

Kopassus-backed militia activity inside East Timor - which next week celebrates a year outside Indonesian sovereignty - has provoked the sharpest international condemnation. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has again called on Indonesia to stand by its word to pull its men out and help return those East Timorese trapped in militia-run camps.

The United States Ambassador to Indonesia, Robert Gelbard, is outraged by the militia activity. "[It] demonstrates to my Government that the Indonesian Government is still not prepared to take control of the situation. That is something Indonesia must do if it is to achieve the necessary long-term support for its own situation."

Other diplomats support his position, and say they are caught in the same bind as a year ago regarding whether the military's top brass in Jakarta is aware, able or willing to tackle the problem. "Jakarta doesn't seem to realise that this issue alone has stalled improvements in relations across the board with all of us," said a Western diplomatic source. "This goes to the highest level in Jakarta."

The anger of diplomats who have long supported Indonesia reached a new pitch following the killing of two peacekeepers from New Zealand and Nepal in East Timor. Up to 300 rounds of ammunition were fired by the attackers in the incident in which the Nepali died, indicating a level of arms and ability attributable to the involvement of the shadowy Kopassus, sources say.

The militias are operating out of refugee camps for East Timorese in West Timor, which Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab has promised will close soon.

Craig Sanders, head of UN High Commissioner for Refugees operations in West Timor, believes that if force is used to close the refugee camps "we could see a meltdown". He added: "It could also spark a reaction by the militia . . . the thugs have proven that they can unleash violence."

Kopassus numbers about 6,000 soldiers. Its missions include anti-guerilla activities and intelligence gathering. Its members were involved in the assassinations of dissident activists and leaders of East Timor's independence movement during the Suharto era. Kopassus is regularly blamed for abductions, torture and unexplained acts of violence in Aceh, Irian Jaya and the Malukus.

August Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from