Subject: JP: Insecurity complex clouds Indonesia-East Timor ties (opinion)

The Jakarta Post September 3, 2001


Insecurity complex clouds Indonesia-East Timor ties

By Kusnanto Anggoro

JAKARTA (JP): In her state-of-the-nation address before the legislature on Aug. 16, President Megawati Soekarnoputri stated that Indonesia recognized the secession of East Timor. In response, independence leaders Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta also offered conciliatory sentiment toward Indonesia. Xanana acknowledged that "bilateral ties with Indonesia are important, and that things would be good in the future between Timor Lorosae and Indonesia".

Beyond such rhetoric, however, it will be hard for both sides to reconstruct the relationship. One should not underestimate the fact that East Timor's separation has raised a security void for both Indonesia and East Timor.

First, tens of thousands of Timorese refugees remain in Indonesia; and most of them, according to last June's registration, will likely continue to stay in West Timor. Most likely, relocation and repatriation will take quite some time, due to lack of funding and some technical constraints.

Second, the Ombai-Wetar straits are now under the jurisdiction of East Timor. The straits will become a passage for merchants and Australia's navy to the Pacific, through the Maluku Sea. So far, Indonesia has only strengthened defensive capabilities in the region through new deployments of radar and other surveillance systems. In the longer term, however, Indonesia will be forced to allocate more defense forces to the region.

Those issues are to become crucial points of contention. Jakarta's inability or unwillingness to disarm the militia living among the refugees in West Timor, for example, would be seen in Dili as a deliberate attempt by Indonesia to subvert and destabilize East Timor. Furthermore, misperceptions over a perceived imbalance of forces between Indonesia and East Timor will determine the psyche of the relationship between Dili and Jakarta.

That may become even more serious while the East Timorese confront serious problems on their own. A viable state of East Timor remains a big question mark. Despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the population voted for secession from Indonesia in August 1999, the East Timorese regime still has to deal with social, cultural, and economic problems that may threaten its domestic stability. Until then, there is always the possibility for a revival of old problems of the pre-1975 Timor.

Unfortunately, it appears that the East Timorese do not have sufficient capacity to resolve these problems appropriately. The fledgling judicial system is in ruins. According to an Amnesty International report, East Timor now has 24 judges, 13 prosecutors and nine public defenders. Most of them studied law under the Indonesians, who used the East Timor judiciary systems to suppress those in favor of independence.

Furthermore, the police training school in Dili has so far succeeded in training only 1,073 officers to be assigned to all 13 districts of East Timor. The East Timor Defense Forces, numbering 600 personnel, will not be able to protect the territorial sovereignty of East Timor, including the Timor Gap. They would not even be sufficient to patrol the 147-kilometer long border between the two halves of the Timor island. This alone will make the East Timorese retain the UN forces in East Timor longer than the January 2002 timeline planned.

Thus, there is the serious predicament of an insecurity complex that cannot be easily resolved. Possible disputes tie into the domestic instabilities of both states and symbolize the political threat that they pose to each other. In this case, mutual perceptions will be extremely important. Conventional wisdom has it that the larger country obliges to be more tolerant and sensitive toward the smaller. Otherwise, the situation could easily become much more messy and contentious.

Sadly, this is the outcome most likely to occur, at least in the next three to five years.

Whilst coping with its own misgivings and loss of pride, Indonesia would be apprehensive about the likelihood of East Timor entering any kind of security agreement with Australia. At the same time, the East Timorese would be nervous about Jakarta's strengthening of infantry forces in West Timor. Both sides should understand the other's legitimate concerns.

There is simply no formula to alleviate this insecurity complex. Reconciliation may be the answer, a first step before more functional relations can be established between Jakarta and Dili. No one knows, thus far, what sort of reconciliation would be acceptable to both sides.

Dr. Kusnanto Anggoro is senior researcher with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and lecturer at the postgraduate studies program, University of Indonesia. 

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