Subject: Tempo: E. Timor: Tranquil, Yet Friction-Prone

Tempo August 16-22, 2005

Cover Story

Tranquil, Yet Friction-Prone

Various incidents and conflicts mark the border with Timor Leste. Illegal arms remain a serious problem.

AT noon by the end of July, at the checkpoint of Motaain: about 20 goats and seven cows were roaming calmly around the location known as the tactical coordination line (TCL). It's the sterile zone of around 400 square meters agreed upon as a dividing point between the territories of Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, which gained freedom on September 4 some six years ago.

As a sterile zone, this area should be devoid of the activity of people, including their cattle. But Miguel, a local youth met by Tempo at the border, was even joking. "At noon, the herd of goats and cows passes the neutral zone and attacks the Timor Leste territory," he remarked. "At dusk the cattle return to Indonesia only to sleep and defecate."

In fact, not much has changed in the traditional border zone. Checks conducted on about a hundred border crossers and three to four export-import transport vehicles daily are not so tight. There are no metal detection means or scanner gates. The whole process of examination takes place manually.

Over a dozen pushcarts freely offer their services to carry border crossers' luggage. Some of them are still in their teens. Motorcycle taxis are also left to go back and forth picking up passengers in this neutral area. But public transport means from Atambua, or from Timor Leste, are not allowed to get closer.

Motaain-Atambua intercity buses are only permitted to stop outside the dividing block built in front of the police station of Motaain. However, bus scalpers or conductors still seek passengers as far as the TCL point splitting the Motaain bridge-a location called "point zero".

Two small kiosks selling some daily necessities are also tolerated. The same is true of a house with its dwellers exactly beside an Indonesian Military (TNI) station. It's only 3 meters from TCL-one, which is around 50 meters away from point zero. The other buildings near the sterile area are those of the directorate of customs & excise, the quarantine office, the immigration agency and the police.

Deputy Commander of the Indonesian Border Security Task Force, Lt. Col. Gunawan, said the lack of sterile conditions would still continue in the cours of reordering. "Change can only be introduced gradually," he added.

People in the border region remain busy though their activity has decreased compared with previous years. Since the beginning of this year the Indonesian government has banned Timor Leste cars from entering West Timor. The prohibition followed suspicion of luxury car smuggling from the country now under Xanana Gusmao.

The peaceful situation in Motaain is far different from the other points along the common border, such as the checkpoint of Makir, Lamaknen district, Belu regency, East Nusa Tenggara.

In this location on April 24, checkpoint commander First Lt. Dedy Setyawan was rushed to hospital after being attacked by an armed group from Timor Leste. Dedy was seriously wounded in the thigh. The attackers were later identified as members of the border patrol unit of Timor Leste's national police.

The incident happened when the army's strategic reserve (Kostrad) unit was patrolling to prevent fuel smuggling that prevailed in the area. Dedy and his men managed to seize nine people red-handed when suddenly gunshots were fired. Dedy fell.

The shooting in the Malibaca river basin, bordering Timor Leste's Bobonaro district, triggered Jakarta's strong reaction-with a protest promptly lodged.

Routine diplomacy and meetings held every two weeks were suspended.

Dili finally acknowledged its mistake. Apology was directly offered by Timor Leste National Police Chief, Maj. Gen. Paul de Fatima Martinz, who during the integration period was logistics head in the East Timor regional police. "The member opening fire was dismissed from that country's police service," said the Wirasakti 161 military area commander, Col. Noch Bokla, in Kupang. The regular meetings were then resumed.

Five days following the shooting, another incident occurred. This time people from Lakufoan, Oecusi district, Timor Leste, and those from Sunsea village, East Miomafo, Northern Central Timor regency, fought against each other.

No casualties were reported, but a Timor Leste police officer trying to break up the fight had a bad cut in the head after a stone was hurled at him. The melee followed the arrest of a Leste citizen carrying fuel without official papers.

Two days later, a member of the Timor Leste police's border patrol unit was again involved in a shooting, followed by the destruction of a boat owned by a villager from Silawan, East Tasifeto district, Belu regency. The damage was done only because the trawler had been carried by a current beyond the borderline of both countries.

The action invited local people's protest. They urged that the government take a serious move to investigate the brutality thoroughly. "I wasn't purposely going beyond the border as the trawler drifted with the current," said Yusuf Basinabo, the boat owner, when Tempo saw him in Silawan. "But why was my boat burnt and destroyed?"

After almost three months' peace, by the end of July Second Cpl. Heri Saroso and First Cpl. Sugito from the field artillery battalion 8/Kostrad stationed in Nunura, Haekesak village, Raihat district, Belu regency, were attacked. Both suffered severe injuries to their arms and palms.

When on patrol duty, "we saw a group of men carrying two jerrycans of fuel and two cartons of Tiger-brand beer and passing the border," said Heri Saroso. The two were trying to intercept when from behind a shrub (still in Indonesia's territory) four other guys emerged abruptly, wielding daggers.

At the same time, the FN pistol held by Heri was grabbed and taken away by an attacker, who turned out to be a citizen of Timor Leste. Fortunately, a border patrolman of that country managed to seize the weapon again. "It has been returned now," he added.

Such incidents are likely to recur. Seeds of conflict are still there while the serious issue concerning border mapping is not yet settled. The provisional agreement signed by Indonesia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nur Hassan Wirajuda, and his Timor Leste counterpart, Ramos Horta, on April 8 did not yet reach the stage of demarcation-building of monuments and markers-according to a map based on joint surveys.

Both governments also question the legitimacy of land ownership in the borderline of the two nations covering 1,187 hectares, which are located in three segments, and the exact border position along 12 kilometers. Both sides claim that the land is an integral part of their respective territories.

The segments still unresolved are Dilumi/Memo covering 37 hectares in the border of Belu regency and Bijael Sunan-Oben (141 hectares) in northern Central Timor regency. The two have been declared disputed areas and regarded as free from cattle and men. For their supervision, border security troops from both countries conduct joint patrols.

The third segment is Noel Besi/Citrana (1,009) hectares, in the border of Kupang regency. A village in this location, called Naktula, is still inhabited by Timor Leste people. The Indonesian government has repeatedly requested that the Timor Leste police appeal for the evacuation of the disputed zone pending the process of settlement by both countries.

The threat of criminality, according to Belu regency police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ekotrio Budhiniar, remains big. Though no precise quantity is available, he expressed belief that former militiamen of East Timor now settling in West Timor still keep various types of illegal weapons. "There are standard arms, ammunition, Korean-made grenades and other traditional weapons," he indicated.

Half of the ex-militia members and refugees of East Timor now reside in Belu regency. They are scattered over different refugee camps. The other half live in Northern Central Timor regency, Southern Central Timor regency, Kupang regency, Kupang city, the islands of Flores, Sumba, Alor and other regions in Indonesia. Their population is estimated at 100,000. The East Nusa Tenggara administration, though, claims that they "only" total 45,000.

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