Subject: NYTimes: Indonesian Is Under Fire for Comments About Timor

The New York Times Sunday, September 24, 2000

Indonesian Is Under Fire for Comments About Timor


JAKARTA, Indonesia, Sept. 23 - The appointment of a little-known academic as Indonesia's new defense minister has raised widespread concerns both here and abroad not only because he has no experience in military affairs but also because of the statements he has made about East Timor.

Since taking charge of the defense agency in a cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago, Mohammad Mahfud, a constitutional law expert, has said repeatedly that the people of East Timor, who voted overwhelmingly for independence in a United Nations referendum last year, want to return to Indonesian rule.

"It is clear that East Timor independence has been a disaster because the United Nations has failed to establish a government there," Mr. Mahfud said in an interview on Friday. "The East Timor people want to come back to Indonesia, but foreign countries that were behind the independence movement are creating violent situations to stop that from happening."

He said "foreign spies" instigated the recent violence in the West Timor border town of Antambua, where three United Nations refugee workers were hacked to death by machete-wielding militia members, while Indonesian military and police officers reportedly stood by and watched.

After the slayings, the United Nations withdrew its aid organizations from West Timor and has demanded that Indonesia disband the militias. The groups pillaged East Timor after last year's independence vote, which freed the territory from decades of military control. The United States has warned Indonesia that it risks diplomatic and economic sanctions if it does not act quickly to control the militias, which are linked to the military.

Foreign diplomats and government officials have expressed dismay over the defense minister's comments, which they said reflected not only his dearth of diplomatic experience but also the deep sense of resentment and humiliation over East Timor's secession that runs across Indonesian society.

"These type of remarks feed into a national sentiment, and many Indonesians, even those who are well educated, believe them," said a former cabinet minister.

"There is a strong tradition in Indonesia of standing defiant against international pressure and blaming your own shortcomings on an international plot. It's a convenient scapegoat."

Indeed, many Indonesians are still stunned that East Timor voted for independence and that foreign troops had to restore order after the militias went on a rampage that the military proved incapable of controlling.

In the interview, Mr. Mahfud accused other countries of picking on Indonesia, and he repeated many of his previous claims, notably that the East Timor independence vote was marred by fraud and that foreign governments were deliberately stirring up trouble.

East Timor has been under a transitional United Nations administration since the Aug. 30 independence vote last year. The territory is expected to gain full nationhood after it holds formal elections next year. About 120,000 refugees, who fled the militia's mayhem following the independence vote, are living in camps on the West Timor border. Aid workers say the refugees are often intimidated by the militias, who do not want them to return to East Timor.

On a visit to Jakarta this week, the United States defense secretary, William S. Cohen, delivered a strong warning that Indonesia would face reprisals if it did not disband the militia groups.

While Mr. Mahfud said that Indonesia would abide by a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the disarming of the militia in West Timor, he said that it was unjust and discriminatory for the United States to threaten economic reprisals. "The world is treating Indonesia unfairly," Mr. Mahfud said. "No matter what we do, how hard we try, we are always in the wrong."

Mr. Mahfud said the Indonesian military would begin disarming the militia groups this weekend in a two- stage approach that would allow them to turn in their weapons voluntarily before the military begins to confiscate them. He noted, however, that there were several difficulties in disarming the militias.

"The militia are mingling with the indigenous people, and in terms of race and ethnicity, it's not easy to differentiate who is refugee and who is militia, who is from West and who is from East Timor," he said.

Mr. Mahfud also said that the Indonesian military, which was accused of human rights abuses during its occupation of East Timor, is uncertain just how far it should go to track down weapons. "If we are too aggressive then we will be accused of violating human rights, but if we are too lax then we are accused of not doing our jobs," he said.

September Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from