Associated Press October 7, 1999

US-Trained Indonesians Said To Infiltrate East Timor

DILI, East Timor (AP)--Indonesian commandos are conducting covert operations inside East Timor aimed at sabotaging the international peacekeeping effort, foreign military officials say.

The commandos, who received extensive training from the U.S. military despite a 1992 congressional ban, are actively reconnoitering positions held by the U.N.-mandated force along the border with Indonesian-held West Timor, Australian army Capt. Grant King said.

Several groups of soldiers, believed to be part of Indonesia's elite Kopassus special forces brigade, were observed by peacekeepers conducting nighttime patrols around the peacekeepers' positions near the town of Balibo this week.

"They were definitely soldiers, not militia," King said.

The Australians held their fire and the patrols eventually slipped back across the border to West Timor, he said. Australian soldiers on the spot confirmed that the patrols appeared to have been mounted by Kopassus troops.

Indonesian soldiers are formally allowed to remain in East Timor until the national parliament ratifies the province's secession later this month.

But the two remaining infantry battalions are restricted to the capital Dili, where they are barricaded inside government buildings. Their commander last week gave a "100 percent guarantee" that there were no Kopassus left in the province.

However, Wednesday's botched militia ambush of a convoy of peacekeepers in the southwest of East Timor bore the "unmistakable imprint" of a special forces operation, said a foreign officer who spoke on condition of anonymity on Thursday. Two militiamen were killed and two Australian peacekeepers were slightly wounded.

Assault rifles retrieved from the dead militiamen were both Indonesian army weapons: the Russian-built SKS, which has been phased out of service, and the Belgian FNC, which is the standard infantry weapon today.

They are not available to civilians and can be obtained only from the army.

Indonesian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Sudrajat denied any Kopassus involvement, claiming the assailants only were wearing the elite force's uniforms.

Kopassus - along with the army's secretive intelligence bureau - organized, trained and armed the militia gangs last year to act as a counterweight to the pro-independence Fretilin rebels who have fought Indonesian rule since the occupation of East Timor in 1975.

Leaked Indonesian army records showed a massive special forces buildup in East Timor last year, when the first militia gangs were set up.

Kopassus has long been portrayed as a rogue element within Indonesia's military. It's been accused of engineering civil unrest and violence as the world's fourth-most populous nation grapples with massive political, social and economic crises.

Human rights groups claim Kopassus troops conducted a reign of terror in East Timor during 24 years of Indonesian rule.

Over the years, the unit participated in numerous joint exercises with the U.S. military, despite a 1992 ban on the training of Indonesia's armed forces imposed in reaction to its poor human rights record.

Clinton administration officials maintained the program was not covered by a law that bars Indonesian troops from taking part in a U.S. training program for foreign soldiers known as IMET. State and Defense Department officials claimed the prohibition did not affect the joint combined exercises carried out by the U.S. Pacific Command.

Kopassus soldiers and officers received instruction from U.S. special operations advisers in skills like psychological warfare and reconnaissance missions, media reports said.

Last month, the administration suspended further military cooperation and arms sales to Indonesia, after its armed forces allegedly instigated the campaign of violence that followed a vote for independence on Aug. 30.

Kopassus is organized into two special forces groups, each consisting of two battalions. Although military analysts say its capabilities are limited - particularly when facing a modern, Western force such as the Australian army - the 4,000-strong brigade is the best that Indonesian has.

Indonesian generals have made extensive use of their crack unit in recent years, particularly in a campaign to stamp out a separatist rebel movement in Aceh, the country's westernmost province. But its troops are said to have performed poorly against the rebels and were implicated in several massacres of unarmed civilians.

Human rights organizations also have blamed them for kidnapping dozens of pro-democracy activists during last year's protests that led to the ouster of Indonesia's longtime dictator Suharto.

His son-in-law, Lt. Gen. Probowo Subianto, was a former Kopassus commander. He was dumped as the unit's chief and now lives in self-imposed exile in Jordan.

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