Subject: AU: TNI offer to train ET Defense Force

TNI to train former guerillas By Don Greenlees


THE Indonesian army has extended an olive branch to East Timor's fledgling defence force, by offering to train former Falintil guerilla fighters and inviting East Timor's military chief, Taur Matan Ruak, to Jakarta for talks.

Deputy army chief Lieutenant-General Kiki Syahnakri said the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) and Falintil needed to put to rest historic enmities to ensure peace on the East and West Timor border.

"We are ready for co-operation, including their training and education and, if it is agreeable to Falintil, to establish a relationship between Falintil and TNI leaders," he said in an interview with The Australian.

"In military ethics there are no eternal enemies. Now they are our allies."

Lieutenant-General Syahnakri's comments are a sign the Indonesian high command is eager to bury the bitter experience of East Timor. The Indonesian military conquest of East Timor cost thousands of innocent lives and tarnished Jakarta's international reputation.

Throughout Indonesia's failed 24-year occupation, allegations of human rights abuses by the military persisted, despite Jakarta's strenuous attempts to prove it had won the hearts and minds of East Timorese and was investing in development.

But sensitivities also remain acute among retired and serving Indonesian soldiers because of the thousands of troops killed in the unsuccessful campaign to wipe out the small, but elusive, Falintil army.

Lieutenant-General Syahnakri, who took command of the military region covering East Timor after the violent backlash against the 1999 vote for independence, acknowledged that the development of official links between the militaries of the two countries could rankle some Indonesians.

But he said it was important to start building a relationship before UN peacekeepers left East Timor. He suggested an early meeting between Brigadier-General Matan Ruak, the commander of the East Timor Defence Force, and the chiefs of the Indonesian armed forces and army.

Responding to the Indonesian offer, Brigadier Matan Ruak said yesterday that establishing a working relationship with Indonesia was "priority No 1" for the East Timor defence force.

"I will be available for a meeting at any time they think it convenient for them," the former guerilla leader said from his Dili headquarters.

He said the offer of military education and training in Indonesia was a "very big step" for the Indonesian Government and armed forces. "If this happens, it is going to be magnificent for both (sides)," he said.

Brigadier Matan Ruak has proposed turning the often tense border between Indonesia and East Timor into a "demilitarised zone", monitored by international observers.

General Syahnakri says the Indonesian military already has put work into the idea of a joint border committee, similar to border regimes Indonesia has established with Papua New Guinea and Malaysia.

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