Subject: AWSJ: Column: Jakarta Must Get Serious In Timor

Asian Wall Street Journal September 21, 2000

AWSJ: Column: Jakarta Must Get Serious In Timor


(Editor's Note: This is an opinion piece from Friday's Asian Wall Street Journal.)

JAKARTA -- Like the re-run of an old movie, the disaster that is unfolding in West Timor is shaping up as a repeat of the devastation that engulfed East Timor last year. With elements of the Indonesian military funding East Timorese militias in West Timor, enabling them to commit mayhem and murder on both sides of the border, the plot is eerily familiar. And the government, though not directly involved, does almost nothing to stop it, while trying to shift the blame to others.

As was the case before the August 1999 referendum, in which East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia, intimidation is rampant and violence is growing. After slaughtering three United Nations refugee agency officers in West Timor this month, the militias clashed again with locals, showing what a Frankenstein's monster they have become. Jakarta would be wise to comply with a U.N. Security Council demand that it immediately disarm and disband the gangs, not just to appease critics but to protect its own interests.

The international community must keep the pressure on Indonesia until it faces up to the core issue: Hundreds, if not thousands, of armed East Timorese are on the loose in West Timor, preventing about 120,000 East Timorese in camps from deciding freely if they want to return home. If necessary, economic assistance should be withheld to induce Jakarta to behave responsibly.

Most sections of the Indonesian elite are in a state of "denial and delusion" over Timor, as one Western diplomat puts it. They still haven't accepted, emotionally or psychologically, Dili's choice to go it alone after 24 years of Indonesian occupation. Army officers, senior officials and scholars tend to say the U.N.-organized vote was rigged, or that the outcome was due to U.S. or Australian interference. Friends of Indonesia squirm in embarrassment at some of the strained explanations for the stinging rejection.

Despite abundant evidence that Indonesian military patrons helped the militias destroy much of East Timor's infrastructure and drive about 300,000 people across the border into West Timor after the result of the ballot was announced, Jakarta has all but ignored the residual problem. President Abdurrahman Wahid's administration, installed last November, seems to take grim glee in response to the world's concern about the festering mess. The attitude appears to be: You created it, you solve it.

The government's retreat from reality was visible after the Security Council rebuke on Sept. 8, two days after police and soldiers stood and watched a mob beat and stab to death the three foreign refugee workers. Sidestepping their failure to keep a promise to protect aid personnel after earlier incidents, two Indonesian ministers actually claimed that the militias had been disarmed last year. They proposed joint border patrols with U.N. peacekeepers in East Timor, appealed for more financial help, faulted the East Timor authorities -- anything but address the militia menace.

Immersed in the myth that East Timor was purely a civil war between independence and integration factions, Indonesia has treated the defeated militias sympathetically. For example, Eurico Guterres, one of the most notorious figures, is a prominent member of Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri's political party. Another unsavory militia boss, Basilio Araujo, is employed by the Home Affairs Ministry.

About four months ago, militia units began infiltrating East Timor and attacking U.N. peacekeeping troops, killing two of them and displaying new weapons, uniforms and apparently limitless supplies of ammunition. They fired more than 300 rounds in the raid that took the life of a Nepalese soldier. A variety of sources say powerful political and military forces in Jakarta are backing the irregulars.

Western intelligence reports identify Prabowo Subianto as a key figure in the clandestine operation. A son-in-law of former President Suharto who was kicked out of the army two years ago, Mr. Prabowo once headed the special forces known as Kopassus, which ran the dirty tricks campaign in East Timor. Mr. Prabowo has been sighted several times recently in West Timor, dining no less with Mr. Guterres. Ex-armed forces commander and early Wahid cabinet member Wiranto, still politically ambitious, is also implicated. Although Mr. Wiranto and Mr. Prabowo were previously rivals, they now share an interest in destabilizing Mr. Wahid's government.

They are succeeding, judging by the results on the ground in West Timor, where the government's orders are no longer obeyed and the military leadership has limited control of its troops. Ironically, Jakarta has sought statements from other countries and regional organizations supporting Indonesia's territorial integrity, determined to block external support for separatist movements in Aceh and Irian Jaya, also known as West Papua. But with tacit official approval, the militias are now violating West Timor's frontiers with impunity.

A good place for Indonesia to start cleaning up would be to stop referring to the encamped East Timorese as "refugees" and, by implication, somebody else's burden. They are Indonesians, internally displaced, unless they opt to go back to East Timor and become citizens of the new state. They can't choose their future without threat or coercion until the militias, as well as two East Timorese battalions of the Indonesian army, are separated from them.

An estimated 30,000 of the camp population -- former civil servants and soldiers, local government employees and others who are still on the Indonesian payroll -- probably would go home if Jakarta agreed to pay their pensions. They should be encouraged to return, by the payment of pensions or a lump sum, since they include influential local leaders and people with skills needed in East Timor. Thousands of ordinary villagers would follow, though perhaps even more would settle in Indonesia, in any case depriving the militias of their constituency.

Trying to reassure the U.N., the government dispatched troop and police reinforcements to West Timor and said the militias must surrender their weapons by this weekend. But they are unlikely to make much difference while the army guards the border and the police are supposed to handle everything else, with nobody, in fact, in overall command. What is required is a serious decision to get serious in Timor.

Threatening to deprive Indonesia of the international financing that is essential to repair its ailing economy and support its fledgling democracy, as the U.S. is doing, is an extreme step. Indonesians often react badly when cornered and accused, becoming defensive and nationalistic. Nevertheless, the time for entertaining wounded pride and indignation has passed. Left alone, Indonesia is losing it.

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