|Subject: ST: TNI's Timor Show of Might A
The Straits Times May 19, 2002
TNI's Timor show of might a miscalculation
It starts off on the wrong foot with its former territory by overestimating the security threat to visiting Megawati
By Derwin Pereira INDONESIA CORRESPONDENT
JAKARTA - Indonesia's naval deployment off East Timor was a miscalculation in reaction to the possible security threat to visiting President Megawati Sukarnoputri and has made Jakarta start off on the wrong foot with its former territory.
The presence of six navy ships and the dispatching of more than 100 armed troops to accompany the Indonesian President's visit today for East Timor's independence ceremony drew a strong protest from the territory still haunted by Indonesia's occupation 24 years ago.
East Timor becomes officially independent at the stroke of midnight today.
Its Foreign Minister, Mr Jose Ramos-Horta, said yesterday he was 'perplexed' as to why Indonesia sent the ships to East Timor on Friday night after agreeing to send only one to provide security for Ms Megawati's visit.
He told reporters: 'We are not angry, just puzzled with this ostentatious display of navy hardware that obviously is not a good public relations exercise for Indonesia.'
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said that after lodging complaints with the Indonesian government and the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor, Jakarta removed overnight all but two of the vessels.
One of those that remained is the KRI Teluk Sampit landing craft, armed with two cannons and carrying a military helicopter, weapons, medical and security personnel.
Mr Ramos-Horta disclosed that his government had only authorised the entry of a landing craft to carry armour-plated cars and had approved a ceiling of 100 security staff, of whom no more than 15 were to be armed.
Reports quoted port officials as saying that the landing craft carried 120 troops of the elite presidential security guard unit. They also brought 147 weapons with them.
The Teluk Sampit pulled out of Dili's port yesterday afternoon and anchored a few hundred metres offshore.
East Timor's foreign minister said that UN peacekeepers and foreign intelligence services, including those of the United States, had made their own security assessments and concluded that risks to VIPs were 'extremely low'.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said that the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) had deployed 2,000 troops on the border of East Timor to block militia elements in the West from making incursions into the territory. As for the presence of the six ships, he brushed it off as a 'misunderstanding'.
Mr Ramos-Horta said that while the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta was unaware of the ship's entry, the TNI might have misunderstood its security mandate in Dili.
'We totally understand... that the Indonesian military people may be misinformed about the situation here, or may be worried about Al-Qaeda activities in Indonesia itself and want to take extraordinary precautions.'
The Straits Times understands that the decision to deploy the warships came directly from the TNI headquarters. The public line here is that the military was 'just following procedure'.
But some - even within the military - concede that the deployment might have been motivated by continued 'residual resentment' among the generals to a newly independent East Timor.
A senior military source told The Straits Times: 'I must admit, I don't think it was the most appropriate signal to send to East Timor now. We might have miscalculated.'
First new state of millennium puts former persecutor in its place
EAST TIMOR: It was a diplomatic coup for the foreign minister of the new country. At a critical moment before East Timor became independent, Dr Jose Ramos-Horta saw off a small armada of Indonesian warships, intended to protect President Megawati Sukarnoputri, using firm diplomacy and humour.
The minister of this Lilliputian state said: "Some military people - not all - enjoy showing off their new toys . . . Maybe they thought it was a great exercise to impress also the Americans because there is going to be an American warship there, also a French one.
"The only thing I asked is don't collide with each other because there will be so many warships offshore - and be extra careful with our two little patrol boats that the Portuguese so graciously gave us. We are very proud of them," the minister of the former Portuguese colony said. Instead of sending one warship with security equipment to the independence celebrations, as agreed, the Indonesian navy apparently took it on itself to send six vessels.
Dr Ramos-Horta resolved the new country's first diplomatic stand-off by getting four of them to withdrew from Timorese territorial waters after tense negotiations with senior officials who arrived on one of the ships.
One ship had been allowed to dock overnight last Friday at Dili, almost in front of what is today the National Assembly and government building, but its unannounced arrival caused alarm and drew a sizeable crowd which stood reliving strong memories of Indonesia's 24-year occupation. People stared at it through a high iron fence until it left the next afternoon.
Dr Ramos-Horta said the Indonesian navy had misunderstood an agreement to send one medical support ship with equipment for the Megawati visit.
"Maybe they thought they could send the whole navy," Dr Ramos-Horta told a hastily called press conference. The diplomatic incident had threatened to spoil the birth of the new country.
Dr Ramos-Horta's strong message was that his government had worked hard to ensure the visit went smoothly and assured the Indonesians that President Megawati, whose "political courage" he praised, would receive "a warm welcome".
East Timor has gone to enormous lengths to smooth what the minister said would be a "bumpy road" ahead with its old persecutor. At Sunday night's celebrations, the people showed they have taken the leadership's lead by applauding Ms Megawati three times.
The incident was due to "poor judgment" by the Indonesian navy, Dr Ramos- Horta said. Remarkably, he also believed that Indonesia's foreign ministry had been unaware of the decision to send so many ships.
A maximum of 15 concealed weapons could be carried by Ms Megawati's 85 security people, it had been agreed previously. But the Indonesians had come with 147 weapons. "That's fine. It's their boat but only 15 are allowed ashore," said the minister.
Dr Ramos-Horta said those on board had been offered a meal on shore because "they must have been travelling in cramped conditions for days" - but if they came ashore it must be "without weapons".
He added: "We Timorese are hospitable people."
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Ruud Lubbers, has given the remaining 50,000-plus East Timorese refugees in Indonesian West Timor six months after independence to return. After that time they would not be considered refugees.
President Xanana Gusmao praised the "wonderful work" of the UNHCR. He said he agreed to the commission's time-frame. "They must decide whether to stay or go. We will open all doors."
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