Subject: SCMP: Flores 'new front line of conflict'

South China Morning Post Tuesday, October 19, 1999


Flores 'new front line of conflict'


The eastern island of Flores is the new front line in the battle over East Timor and between civilians and Indonesia's military, after the arrival there of thousands of troops withdrawn from East Timor, say residents and Jakarta-based analysts.

"The number of Korem 164 troops in Flores has reached 7,500. Yes, we are on a war footing," said a source long familiar with Flores.

A korem is a regional military command and 164 was in charge of East Timor. It included two battalions of mainly East Timorese troops, numbers 744 and 745, which are now thought to be in West Timor, with the rest in Flores and elsewhere.

Flores, a long narrow, rugged island with about 1.4 million people, is half-way between Bali and West Timor and is part of the same Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) province as West Timor.

An independent military source said that on August 30, the day of East Timor's independence ballot, there were 23,000 troops under Korem 164 in East Timor.

Asked if reports about the dramatic militarisation of once-peaceful Flores were true, the source said: "Yes, that's exactly what I'm hearing, and they [the military] have changed its name from Korem 164 to Korem 165."

Four of Flores' five districts have made official protests against the military presence, to no avail. Official briefings by Indonesia's military have not mentioned the Flores deployment.

"In fact, we are a DOM [Daerah Operasi Militer - special military operations area] but they won't admit it because of possible international repercussions," said another source. "There are Hercules [transport planes] coming in every day, the headquarters is in Maumere. It's a real mess.

"They have brought all their booty - motorcycles, cars, videos, anything they could move out of East Timor," the source added.

In Flores, the new troops promptly set up shop to sell the looted goods, employing local Chinese traders to help. Locals fear disruption to markets, and the likely behaviour of the soldiers with local women - both issues with violent potential.

"The whole area is being turned into an armed camp. And what is all this about? It's about a deliberate destabilisation of NTT so that the armed forces can keep their Dual Function [involvement in both politics and defence]. They are doing it by ethnic and religious divide."

The source said residents feared the influx of troops would destabilise the island, which is at least 80 per cent Catholic, through "rumours about Islamisation", in the same way communal conflict on the island of Ambon is said to have been prolonged by military provocateurs.

The new soldiers are "staying all over the place" and will "end up owning half the land, as usual", said the source, a statement supported by military experts.

"We are now the base for ongoing guerilla operations in East Timor," said one source, although military analysts suggest the maritime gap between Flores and Timor still makes West Timor the more likely base for any such campaign.

Newspapers in Flores are running headlines such as "East Timor is hell, Flores is next".

A source said: "There have been all sorts of provocative incidents recently."

Sources say residents fear Flores could become another Ambon.

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