Subject: SMH: 'Impulsive' Habibie ignored ABRI in making Jan. Timor decision
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 10:24:59 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

Sydney Morning Herald 20/04/99

'Impulsive' Habibie ignored ABRI in making Jan. Timor decision

COMMENT by HAMISH McDONALD

Well-placed sources in Jakarta have supplied what could be the jigsaw pieces that make sense of the puzzling Indonesian policy on East Timor in recent months.

The leadership of the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) were not consulted about and still do not agree with President B.J. Habibie's announcement on January 27 that independence was the alternative if the East Timorese rejected an offer of wide autonomy within Indonesia.

The military will never give up East Timor, the sources said. Dr Habibie, the well-known maverick, was simply talking impulsively.

Former president Soeharto, under whom Jakarta carried out its laborious process of subversion, invasion and annexation of then Portuguese Timor in 1974-76, was also infuriated by the sudden policy switch by his longtime protege, Dr Habibie.

Mr Soeharto is still said to command the loyalty and respect of the overwhelming majority of the ABRI senior officer corps, despite efforts by a reformist group to bring the military into line with an era of more democratic politics. The sources are close to Mr Soeharto and his loyalists.

The ABRI commander and Defence Minister, General Wiranto, straddles this uneasy combination, but is himself a Soeharto appointee.

Dr Habibie's January 27 policy switch certainly was a surprise. After a routine Cabinet session on political and security affairs, first Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah and then Foreign Minister Ali Alatas emerged to say the East Timorese would be offered "regional autonomy plus" and if they rejected that, Indonesia's highest representative body would be ask to "release" the territory later this year.

International pressure, notably that from Canberra on the self-determination question, was cited as the reason.

The account helps explain why the Indonesian military stepped up the campaign of fear by its sponsored pro-integration militias, why Foreign Minister Alatas subsequently resisted so hard the idea of a plebiscite in East Timor (conceding it at UN discussions on March 12), and why the choice put to the Timorese will not be autonomy or independence, but autonomy yes or no.

It explains the latest pressure in Dr Habibie's Cabinet to pull back from the independence offer, the reported watering down of the autonomy package, the defiance of world opinion by unleashing the militias in Dili itself while a foreign minister from the European Union was in town and only five days before the next UN-sponsored talks.

It should put paid to the "rogue element" theory, blaming the militia activity on unreconciled officers in ABRI's Udayana Command.

What are the immediate goals of this campaign, aside from trying to cow the independence movement?

Most probably, to poison the UN-sponsored diplomatic and political process on which Jakarta has been carried along since Dr Habibie's decision. To provoke Portugal in particular into withdrawing from negotiations, so that Jakarta can suspend its side of the deal.

If this is the case, the response from Canberra must be to keep Lisbon in the diplomatic game, to clinch agreement on the terms of the autonomy offer (however implausible in its likely acceptance), and to get a UN presence on the ground as fast as possible.

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