Subject: SMH: Local troops on rampage
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 11:06:51 -0400

Sydney Morning Herald Friday, September 24, 1999

Local troops on rampage


The international force commander in East Timor, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, is speeding up the arrival of troops in response to increased lawlessness in Dili and reports of militia forces gathering on the West Timor border.

The rising tension seemed to contradict Jakarta's decision last night to end martial law in East Timor with immediate effect and hand over security to the multinational force as soon as possible - according to the State Secretary, Mr Muladi, because the security situation was "improving".

In Dili, cracks appeared in the veneer of co-operation between the force, known as Interfet, and the withdrawing Indonesian troops, some of whom were vandalising and burning their buildings as they left.

Interfet forces were involved in several minor engagements with armed civilians and there were also reports of hostage taking by both independence and pro-Jakarta factions of Timorese.

In the most serious incident, three truckloads of Indonesian soldiers were chased first by British Army Gurkhas, and then by Australian troops after they drove through the street firing three bursts of automatic gunfire.

The commander of the British Interfet troops, Brigadier David Richards, said he believed the soldiers were trying to test the responses of Interfet and to create the impression that the streets were less secure than they are.

General Cosgrove said the activities of the militias gathering in West Timor would be closely watched, but Interfet's United Nations mandate would not allow it to take any action unless they crossed the border.

General Cosgrove said he had decided to accelerate the arrival of troops "in a methodical way". By yesterday Interfet had 3,000 troops in East Timor, out of a planned total of 7,500.

"We are lucky that the international community is rallying around," he said. "I can't go into detail because some of the governments involved have not signed on, but I've been most heartened by the response of a number of regional countries towards providing troops to this situation."

The commander of the Indonesian military (TNI) in East Timor, General Syahnakri, had given him a rough timetable for the TNI withdrawal, involving a force reduction from about 11 to six battalions in a fairly short time.

"Some of the elements being withdrawn are TNI elements, whose discipline is sorely tested by the emerging political situation because they were locally recruited," General Cosgrove said.

General Cosgrove may have another delicate problem. His new deputy, Major-General Songkitti Chakkrabhat of Thailand, feels Australia is too "aggressive" and will meet TNI chief General Wiranto today to try to ease tensions in the ravaged territory, a Thai army officer was quoted as saying.

"He [Cosgrove] led the troops into East Timor with the kind of aggressive attitude that is no good to anyone. That kind of attitude could only lead to more violence and eventually East Timor will end up like the Vietnam War."

- The West Australian and agencies

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