Subject: Ousting Dark Forces Behind West Timor Militia

Also: Chief of the Udayana Military Command (TNI) Denies Supporting the Militia

The Australian 30 August 2000


Ousting dark forces behind West Timor militia

By Jakarta correspondent Don Greenlees

WESTERN diplomats and senior Indonesian military officers say the pro-Jakarta militias operating in West Timor are still being sponsored by a group of retired and serving generals with links to the ousted Suharto regime.

If true, and there is ample evidence to suggest outside financial assistance to the militias, the task of ensuring East Timor's security against armed marauders will depend more on politics in Jakarta than on the skill of UN peacekeepers.

The battle over the fate of the militias appears to be one dimension of a broader contest between President Abdurrahman Wahid and what some analysts term the status quo forces – those civilians and elements of the armed forces (TNI) who prospered under Suharto and face not only a decline of influence but persecution under Wahid.

Western diplomats have been told by TNI officers that militias based in the crowded refugee camps along the border dividing West and East Timor are receiving money and uniforms from individuals close to former TNI commander General Wiranto. A high-ranking officer recently repeated this allegation to The Australian.

Although the specific allegation is hard to confirm, the likelihood of outside funding is lent credibility by the absence of any visible means of independent support for the militias. Senior UN commanders discount the view TNI, as an institution, is co-operating with the militias, yet leave open the possibility of aid from rogue elements.

So far, the UN and foreign governments have expressed the hope that resettlement of the 130,000 people still in the West Timor camps will have the secondary effect of denying the militias a cover for their incursions into East Timor.

Closure of the camps would be a huge step towards curtailing militia activity. But the existence of substantial sources of funding means that it does not necessarily follow that all the militias would be directly put out of business. A well-trained hard core, especially those threatened with prosecution for serious crime, could press on.

This raises some troubling issues. The mandate of the UN peacekeeping force is due to expire when East Timor gains formal independence, about the end of next year. The most likely scenario for the future East Timorese army, based on a recently concluded British study, is a full-time force of 1500 men with another 1500 reservists – an insufficient number to manage a sustained border campaign.

There is a strong possibility, therefore, that the UN will need to renew the peacekeeping mandate for an indefinite period. Australia's contribution would probably be at least battalion strength. It would mean Australian troops continuing to face militias and Indonesian troops across the border with, of course, a risk of casualties and miscalculations that would have serious consequences for Canberra-Jakarta relations.

Australian soldiers have done a professional job and shown great compassion to the people they have been asked to protect. But there have been some close calls on the border and a long-term mission would obviously extend the risk.

SO what can be done by foreign governments to resolve the militia problem? Unfortunately, the options are limited. Ministers in Jakarta have shown a lack of appreciation of the scale of the militia activity. Their education hasn't been assisted by TNI's old habit of disinformation; at one recent briefing Indonesian commanders told their UN counterparts that criminals unconnected to the militias were behind shooting incidents, including the death of New Zealand Private Leonard Manning.

After 12 months of unfulfilled promises, Jakarta takes umbrage at international criticism and still drags its feet over the disarmament of militias and resettling the refugees. For much of that time the diplomatic pressure has been intense.

Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab's latest promise is to close the camps within six months. If the deadline passes and the refugees and militias remain, the international community ought to consider adding substance to the diplomatic rhetoric. But the use of punitive measures requires fine judgment.

The answer to the militias is likely to be determined by the political game being played between Wahid and his opponents. One theory offered by diplomats sees various instances of unrest across the archipelago, including sponsorship of the militias, as a warning to Wahid, in the middle of human rights and corruption investigations, not to push his reforms too far.

In this power struggle, Wahid needs foreign support. Isolating him diplomatically could strengthen those who oppose a more just and democratic Indonesia.

Report from Bali: Chief of the Udayana Military Command (TNI) Denies Supporting the Militia 29 Aug 2000 16:34:58 WIB

TEMPO Interaktif, Denpasar: The Chief of Udayana Military Command (TNI), Major General Kiki Syahnakri, denied TNI responsibility for increased militia operations in Dili, East Timor. Kiki, instead, blamed political infighting within the CNRT (National Resistance Council for an Independent East Timor). CNRT factions, insisted the TNI officer, are recruiting ex-militia members. “They recruit ex-militia to go back to East Timor. They (CNRT factions) know that some military power still exists in West Timor,” Kiki said in Bali on Monday, August 28. Kiki admitted that militia members have conducted clandestine activities. However, he insisted that the TNI would take strict action against any violation. He cited the recent discovery by TNI personnel of a cache of smuggled guns in a border area.

Kiki hoped for a good CNRT Congress, held on August 20 to 29. A poorly run congress will only create further problems and lead to an additional exodus of refugees. “We really don’t expect that to happen,” he said. Kiki claimed that he does not know why CNRT factions are fighting. However, he suggested that the problem involves the transitional and future governance of East Timor.

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