Subject: SCMP: Script for reign of terror written in Jakarta
Date: Mon, 6 Sep 1999 01:04:57 EDT

South China Morning Post Monday, September 6, 1999


Script for chaos written in Jakarta

Photo: Driven away: East Timorese cram into a lorry after being evacuated from their homes in Dili as militias continued their reign of terror after the massive vote for independence. Associated Press photo


Events in East Timor give the appearance of having slipped out of control. But observers believe the script - calling for shooting at the UN, threats to journalists and for the militias to be given free rein - is being written in Jakarta.

Yesterday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and armed forces chief General Wiranto were holed up at Dili's airport, unable to enter town - a telling sign of Jakarta's impotence, or of the token nature of its effort to calm the situation.

Diplomats and independent observers still in Dili or recently returned from the territory are now convinced the more sinister explanations are true, namely that the violence and blatant intimidation of the international community in Dili is part of a plot to wreck the United Nations' popular consultation.

"They want to make it so dangerous that everyone here leaves, including Unamet [the United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor].

"They want to make it so that we have to pull the plug," said a foreign UN staff member who, with his colleagues, is now confined to an undefended compound.

"It seems to be part of a strategy, which says 'never mind the vote, we're just going to make it impossible to implement it'," he said.

Another UN staffer said: "People in the army are just so accustomed to having it their own way that they can't see they can't have it again. They've had too much power for too long.

"There is absolutely no basis for trusting the Indonesian security forces. We knew it all along and we tried to muddle through, but now there's no hope," he said.

Every observer experienced in the intricacies of Indonesian politics sees the outrages committed by Indonesian police, soldiers and their militia cronies as part of a deliberate plan to ride roughshod over the internationally binding agreements on East Timor.

An Indonesia military source said the deployment of extra troops in East Timor over the past week, ostensibly to restore security, was in fact "used by the Indonesian military to infiltrate [Kopassus] special forces into Dili".

Western military sources said known Kopassus officers had been seen involved in militia attacks last week on the Unamet compound in Maliana, southwest of Dili.

"The armed forces do control the situation," said a Western observer yesterday.

"They showed that on polling day, which as you know was strangely peaceful, and they are showing it today.

"[President Bacharuddin] Habibie has done all he can, but the military has taken it out of his hands."

Moreover, the military was not united. Some generals were loyal to prospective president Megawati Sukarnoputri and others loyal to Mr Habibie. Yet others were personally loyal to General Wiranto, who could himself be a presidential or vice-presidential candidate.

"Military pride and an unwillingness to admit defeat is a factor," said Bob Lowry, of the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

A returnee from Dili was more blunt, saying the violence was linked to a group in the military "where there's lots of ego, lots of childishness".

He said: "They want to make it look like civil war, and they are stupid enough to want to leave a scorched earth behind them as they go."

There is no consensus on whether the violence results from direct orders from the top of the military, or whether General Wiranto is unable to command his troops.

One theory is that without former president Suharto, the father of this military, the troops are running wild.

There is also a sense in some circles in Jakarta - in light of the massive rejection of autonomy in the referendum - that the sooner East Timor is cut adrift the better.

"We do not want to be burdened with the problem of East Timor after January 1, 2000," Mr Habibie said earlier this year.

The apparent acceleration of events in recent days, coupled with the mass evacuation from East Timor of Indonesians along with their belongings, suggests this feeling is right.

"By ignoring confidence-building measures from both sides, Habibie is making a new hell in East Timor," said J. Kristiadi, a political scientist in Jakarta.

This poses a question to the international community: is the violence a rash of vindictiveness or anger as the Indonesian presence dissolves, or is it part of a longer-term strategy for wiping out the UN operation, the vote and any idea of East Timorese independence?

The answer to this, if there is one, has implications for countries considering committing troops there.

It also has profound implications for Indonesia.

If the chaos continues in East Timor, then - probably as soon as foreigners there start dying - Indonesia risks losing its bailout from the International Monetary Fund, with the concomitant impact that would have on an already declining rupiah.

But a Western diplomat said: "I don't think economics is even a factor in their minds. The people who hold the key are the military."

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