Subject: AU: Jakarta military reveals its wounds

The Weekend Australian

June 8, 2002, Saturday

Jakarta military reveals its wounds

Don Greenlees

Indonesia's armed forces have some hard lessons to learn, reports Jakarta correspondent Don Greenlees

SOON after midnight on May 20, after the East Timorese flag had been raised, and the new nation declared independent, Indonesia's armed forces commander Admiral Widodo Adisucipto went up on the deck of the support ship Tandjung Kambani and watched the celebratory fireworks erupt along the East Timorese shoreline.

On the vessel, moored 3km off the coast, senior navy officers said the party marvelled at the pyrotechnics from their convenient vantage point.

What should have been a discomforting evening for an armed forces that had been wounded by its experience in Timor passed in curious fashion.

Before enjoying the fireworks, Widodo had watched the televised coverage of the independence ceremonies in the ward room, while some of the crew sang karaoke or went fishing.

But the very presence of Indonesia's armed forces commander on a navy ship off the Timor coast on the night it gained independence was the result of his organisation's difficulties in coming to terms with the loss of East Timor in 1999.

Senior military sources said he had joined the Tandjung Kambani off East Timor only as a contrivance to avoid an invitation from President Megawati Sukarnoputri to accompany her on shore as part of Indonesia's official party witnessing the declaration of independence.

Even weeks away from retirement, Widodo didn't feel he could justify to his colleagues a decision to represent the armed forces at this momentous event. He had come up with the excuse that he was personally overseeing the President's security from his command ship as a pretext to decline the invitation.

In Jakarta, the extent of sore feelings varied among the retired and serving officer corps. At one extreme were some veterans of Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, Operation Seroja. A group of retired officers and junior personnel marked the declaration of independence by gathering to burn their Seroja campaign medals in protest.

"There is still a lot of ill-feeling about this," says one Indonesian military analyst. "It is a question of hurt pride."

The armed forces were determined not to be apologetic as East Timor claimed its independence. The flotilla Widodo put together to manage Megawati's "security" comprised six vessels.

Although only one of the six ships was strictly speaking a combat ship (a corvette), East Timorese and foreigners attending the independence ceremonies interpreted the presence of the vessels off the coast as a signal of the Indonesian military's unrepentance.

East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta described the deployment as an "ostentatious display" of military might.

A few Indonesians shared Ramos Horta's chagrin. Says retired Lieutenant-General Hasnan Habib: "It was incredible. I didn't believe it when I heard it. A lot of people thought, 'this is too exaggerated'."

Later, perhaps because of international embarrassment, the Indonesian military tried to play down the issue. Military sources in Jakarta said Widodo had initially wanted the whole operation, including his own presence, kept secret. The news started to come out after the eastern fleet commander, Rear Admiral I Gede Argawa, briefed the West Timor Governor.

The sources maintain only three vessels intruded into East Timorese territorial waters, all invited. Ramos Horta says only two vessels were approved: a helicopter-capable hospital ship and a landing ship to bring vehicles and security personnel.

Regardless of whether the intentions were benign or not, the incident reflects the problem the Indonesian armed forces is having in coping with East Timor's separation and its inability to apply the lessons of this loss to its other security challenges, in particular Aceh and Papua.

The difficulties are manifested in trials under way in Jakarta for human rights abuses committed before and after the 1999 referendum, which paved the way for East Timor's independence.

The first round of trials includes the former governor, the former police chief, and four army officers and one police officer accused of permitting a massacre.


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