Connect with ETAN
Like ETAN on Facebook Follow ETAN on Twitter ETAN on Google+ ETAN email listservs ETAN blog ETAN on LinkedIn ETAN on Pinterest ETAN on Instagram Donate to ETAN!

Subject: Disclosure on Troops Mocks Jakarta's Credibility
Date: Tue, 3 Nov 1998 10:33:00 GMT From: TAPOL

EAST TIMOR: Disclosure on Troops Mocks Jakarta's Credibility

By Sonny Inbaraj

DARWIN, Australia, Nov 2 (IPS) - The disclosure of Indonesian army documents revealing higher than stated troop levels in East Timor grossly undermines Jakarta's credibility, amid sensitive talks over the territory's future.

This is because under the new government of President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, Indonesia has used recent troop withdrawals from East Timor as evidence of good faith aimed at improving the mood of negotiations with East Timorese groups and at the United Nations.

These troops withdrawals were reported in a blaze of publicity in late July, when 400 Indonesian troops bid farewell from the docks of the East Timor capital of Dili.

Assembled foreign media, flown into the former Portuguese enclave by the Indonesian government were told another 600 troops would follow -- completing the withdrawal of all combat troops from East Timor.

But confidential documents from the Indonesian defense ministry leaked to journalists late last week show the number of troops in East Timor to be more than three times that publicly stated by the Indonesian government.

Likewise, they indicate that there has been no troop withdrawals from the troubled territory as promised.

In an interview with 'The Australian' newspaper recently, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said the only forces in East Timor were territorial battalions comprising 750 to 1,000 troops each, and the total number of troops was only 6,000.

Asked if combat troops remained, he said: ''As far as I know, not any more.''

But if these leaked documents are believed to be authentic by senior diplomats and intelligence personnel in Jakarta, experts in London and members of the bureaucracy in Australia, then that faith in Indonesia's new goodwill may well be shattered.

More than 100 pages of highly detailed data on unit compositions and an elaborate network of paramilitary groups have been circulated to foreign journalists and governments in the United States, Australia and elsewhere.

Western diplomats who have reviewed the documents say they have no doubt the information is accurate, 'The Australian' said.

The papers shows total Indonesian armed forces strength in East Timor, including combat and territorial battalions, at 17,834 by late August, or after the reported troop pullouts.

The documents also show 4,000 armed militia, who are not under the structure of the Indonesian armed forces known by its acronym ABRI. Far from a scaling back of military activity, the documents show that in the 10 months to August 1998, total Indonesian troop presence increased by nearly 2,000.

They also confirm the continued presence in East Timor of units from the army's elite special forces, Kopassus.

Kopassus or the Red Berets were involved in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in December 1975. Human rights groups say more than 200,000 East Timorese lost their lives in the bombardments and ''cleaning'' manoeuvres of the Indonesian army.

The former commander of Kopassus and son-in-law of former President Suharto, Prabowo Subianto, has been implicated in the control of 'ninja squads' in East Timor, which have been used by Kopassus and other elements of the military to terrorise East Timorese suspected of supporting the pro-independence resistance.

Prabowo, also accused of involvement in shooting and kidnapping of pro- democracy activists -- has since been removed from his command by Armed Forces Chief General Wiranto.

On Friday, Wiranto dismissed as ''lies'' reports that Jakarta had more than 17,000 troops deployed in East Timor.

''It is not true that ABRI personnel reach 17,000. That is a lie that is not supported by facts,'' Wiranto told reporters at the military headquarters in Jakarta. ''The ABRI troops (in East Timor) are territorial troops which have been given training in agriculture and craftmanship.''

But Carmel Budiardjo, a veteran human rights campaigner from the Britain-based group Tapol, disagrees with Wiranto. She, too, has seen the leaked documents.

''We now have positive proof from the Indonesian army that the level of militarisation in East Timor is extremely high. There is no sign whatsoever that they are reducing troops. The East Timorese have been telling us, all along, that troops are coming in through other harbours,'' she said.

As well as troop size, the documents reveal information about the type of troops in East Timor. One document outlines the existence of 13 paramilitary squads and names a group known as Team Alpha, which is allegedly a terror squad.

Dr Andrew McNaughton from the Darwin-based East Timor International Support Centre said after studying the leaked documents that they contradict the armed forces' long-time claims of having no links with paramilitary groups.

''But here we see a document that shows the paramilitary groups happen to operate under the umbrella of ABRI,'' said McNaughton.

But while Indonesia began tracking down the culprit behind the leak of the documents, its neighbour Australia warned the East Timor reconciliation process could be under threat.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said the Australian government would be disappointed if the reports of high troops levels were true, but said it was a matter for Jakarta to address.

''We've argued for two and a half years in government that an important component of confidence-building in East Timor is to reduce numbers of troops,'' Downer told ABC Radio. ''We strongly urge the Indonesian government to reduce the numbers.''

The leak has had repercussions in Australia, which has close political and security ties with its neighbour to the north.

There is speculation in Canberra that Australian intelligence officials knew of the documents before they were leaked. Analysts say this explains why a day before details of the troop numbers were published in the Australian press, Canberra decided to freeze military contact with Kopassus.

Two major joint military exercises have been canceled and a Special Air Services exercise in Indonesia in June has been abandoned. Planned command- level visits have been scrapped.

''That country's (Indonesia) soldiers have benefited from instruction in Australia, but have applied their learning in ways which shame the Indonesian armed forces -- and, by extension, those who helped train them,'' the 'Sydney Morning Herald' said in an editorial. (END/IPS/ap-ip/si-aa/js/98)

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: Campaigning to expose human rights violations in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh

Back to November Menu
Back to Main Postings Menu & Site Search Engine