Subject: Inside Story: The Tarnished Brass of Timor

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Weekend

Australian May 18, 2002


The Tarnished Brass of Timor By Don Greenlees, Robert Garran

The Weekend Australian begins a special series on East Timor's traumatic path to freedom based on a new book by its Jakarta correspondent, Don Greenlees, and Robert Garran

IT was January 25, 1999, two days before the cabinet of the inspired, though erratic, Indonesian president BJ Habibie would take the most momentous decision of its brief term in office.

On that morning, the cabinet's powerful political and security committee convened for a regular meeting.

Foreign minister Ali Alatas, a veteran of the recently deposed Suharto regime, walked into the meeting room and assumed his usual place at the table to the left of armed forces commander and defence minister Wiranto.

The previous few months had been a hectic time for Alatas. Within weeks of Habibie taking over from Suharto in May 1998, the new president had agreed to dramatically switch course on Indonesia's most troublesome diplomatic issue: East Timor.

Whereas Suharto had refused to countenance any change to the terms of Indonesia's 23-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony, Habibie had made a typically grand gesture. He offered the East Timorese sweeping powers to rule themselves, on condition the UN withdrew its objections to Indon 1975 invasion.

By late January the following year, Alatas was optimistic that a deal was within sight on the content of Habibie's proposed "special autonomy" for East Timor -- if still not the thorny issue of sovereignty.

But as Alatas took his seat at the cabinet committee table, there was a surprise in store for him, one of many he would experience in Habibie's frenetic 17-month presidency.

Turning to Alatas, Wiranto immediately asked: "Have you seen the latest disposition from the president?"

Caught off-guard, Alatas responded: "What disposition?"

Wiranto held up a photocopy of a letter that had been sent to Habibie in late December by John Howard. Alatas was familiar with Howard's letter: the Australian prime minister had irritated him by suggesting Indonesia solve the diplomatic quandary of East Timor by offering an "act of self-determination", albeit after a delay of some years.

But scrawled in the margins of Howard's letter was something entirely new. Habibie, using typically pompous language, had declared in a handwritten memo his agreement to Howard's idea, with one vital difference. He wanted the act of self-determination, and a final resolution to the question of East Timor's sovereignty, to occur quickly.

A stunned Alatas listened as Wiranto explained Habibie's plan. Exclaiming "my God", Alatas immediately turned to an assistant to ask if a copy of Habibie's memo had been received. The staff member replied "No", and Alatas ordered, "Check!"

Others among the five intended recipients on the cabinet committee were also caught unaware -- typical of the bureaucratic mix-ups in Jakarta. Just two days later, on January 27, the full Indonesian cabinet met to discuss Habibie's plan and made the historic decision to grant the East Timorese self-determination.

For such a far-reaching change of policy, the decision was made with amazing haste and barely any consultation. Incredibly, none of the generals in the cabinet objected, including Wiranto and his predecessor as armed forces commander, Feisal Tandjung, then chief minister for political and security affairs. When the decision was made the entire cabinet broke into a round of applause.

The decision was to lead later in 1999 to a UN-supervised referendum, in which the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence, paving the way for the creation of the Democratic Republic of East Timor at midnight tomorrow.

But at the time Indonesia agreed to grant self-determination in January 1999, the generals in Habibie's cabinet had convinced themselves of a grand delusion -- that the majority of East Timorese either favoured Indonesian rule or could be coerced into accepting it.

Yet they were taking no chances. In the following months, the armed forces mounted a covert operation to systematically undermine Habibie's policy and the international agreements signed by Indonesia to permit a free and fair vote.

Ultimately, this clumsy exercise, aimed at forcing the East Timorese to vote to stay with Indonesia, was to bring international condemnation on Jakarta, the most severe in its history, and produce a tragedy in East Timor of staggering dimensions.

The two men responsible for ordering that operation were Wiranto and Tandjung. More than two years after those events, currently the subject of human rights abuse trials in Indonesia, senior generals close to the Timor operation have broken a code of silence and confirmed the role of Wiranto and Tandjung.

According to these generals, who requested anonymity but agreed to their statements being tape-recorded, Wiranto and Tandjung jointly appointed former intelligence chief Zacky Anwar Makarim to oversee the operations conducted in East Timor.

Wiranto, Tandjung and Makarim have never been charged over human rights abuses, despite Indonesian prosecutors drawing up a list of 22 suspects to present to the country's human rights court.

One of the generals recalls Wiranto speaking explicitly about Makarim's role at an armed forces headquarters staff meeting. "He said there was a double mission that Zacky has to accomplish in East Timor," the general said.

He recalled Wiranto telling the meeting that Makarim was to turn the referendum in Indonesia's favour, while his overt role was to liaise with the UN mission supervising the plebiscite.

Another general, who was close to the conduct the operation, said Makarim had been ordered to put in place a typical model for an intelligence operation. The general said he was aware Tandjung and Wiranto had put in place "a special operation to win".

Its main feature was the use of locally raised militias as a front for the army's activities. Operating primarily through the Kopassus special forces, the army raised 11,950 militiamen in 1999 -- an estimate quoted by Wiranto in his own contingency planning.

The militias' goals were to prevent the pro-independence side from campaigning effectively and to incite fear among the population about the consequences of rejecting Jakarta's offer of East Timor becoming an autonomous territory within the Indonesian republic.

Militiamen, sometimes mixed in with out-of-uniform soldiers and police, were guilty of dozens of killings in the months leading to the UN-organised referendum on August 30. Money to fund this dirty tricks campaign came from various central government departments.

In an interview, retired Indonesian minister Juwono Sudarsono said that after being appointed defence minister at the end of 1999 he had reviewed the ministry's budget and found 40 billion rupiah ($8.8 million) had been allocated to the special operation in East Timor.

The armed forces' fierce and expensive campaign was a dismal failure. The East Timorese voted against Habibie's offer of autonomy and thus for independence. But their defiance ended in a terrible retribution from the militias and their military handlers: whole towns and villages were destroyed, several hundred people were killed and 260,000 people were herded into squalid refugee camps in West Timor.

Wiranto has consistently denied any part in the violent payback. However, he did order his assistant for operations, Endriartono Sutarto, soon afterwards to be appointed Indonesia's armed forces commander, to prepare a contingency plan in case of a vote in favour of independence.

The 13-page document signed by Wiranto and stamped "Secret" foresaw with considerable accuracy the level of destruction and chaos to be unleashed. Referring to concerns over a "bumihangus" (scorched earth) scenario, it warned that dissatisfaction over the result could trigger sabotage and destruction of general facilities, electrical installations, water, communications and transport.

The document listed strategic targets and predicted the possibility of independence supporters being terrorised and murdered. The contingency plan did not make predictions about the numbers of East Timorese and foreigners to be evacuated, but it did provide a detailed outline of the operation and the logistics required.

The start of the evacuation and operations to deal with an outbreak of violence was to be signalled with the code word "terbit" (rise). The use of the code word "tenggelam" (sink) was to signal its end.

Given the high degree of awareness about the sudden and dramatic deterioration in security that was about to occur in East Timor, Wiranto made surprisingly ineffective preparations to contain the violence.

Military and police units were told to give priority to the protection of foreign citizens and pro-integration citizens and officials, prevent bloodshed, prepare facilities for refugees, protect refugees and safeguard movable and fixed assets.

The plan did express concern over international condemnation "if we leave East Timor in a chaotic state". Despite this foreknowledge, the units the armed forces allocated to the task were inadequate and the whole emphasis of the contingency plan was reactive rather than preventive.

Wiranto was accused privately by some Indonesian officers of actually authorising a scorched earth policy. Although there is still no reliable evidence to prove this contention, at the very least his own contingency plan showed he neglected to respond appropriately to a situation that had been foreseen, thus failing grossly in his command duties.

The legal process in Indonesia is yet to address the issue of culpability in the high command. Tandjung, who, senior generals confirm, jointly authorised the operation to corrupt the referendum result, has never been mentioned in connection with human rights prosecutions.

A procession of officers, including Wiranto, now blame the violence and destruction in East Timor on the UN, accusing it of provoking popular anger by biased and unfair conduct of the referendum.

Deliverance: The Inside Story of East Timor's Fight for Freedom will be published by Allen & Unwin next week

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