Subject: LATimes: Feared 321st Battalion Exits East Timor
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 09:09:42 -0400

The Los Angeles Times Monday, September 27, 1999

Feared Battalion Exits East Timor

Asia: Locally recruited soldiers are closely associated with terror in troubled territory.

By DAVID LAMB, Times Staff Writer

DILI, East Timor--For the men of Indonesia's feared 321st Battalion, an inglorious tour of duty ended Sunday on Dili's sun-scorched docks, where mangy dogs prowled for food and hostile refugees stared with expressions of unrepentant hatred.

The battalion is composed of locally recruited East Timorese who are closely associated with the killing, burning and looting that turned the seaside city into a chamber of anarchy.

The troops spent six months here. Their tour was cut short by Indonesia's agreement to withdraw most of its forces and turn military control over to U.N.-sanctioned peacekeepers. The hand-over had been expected today, but it was unclear as of this afternoon whether it had taken place as planned. The change of command would end what in effect has been 23 years of military rule full of human rights abuses.

After selling their rations to the refugees, the battalion's soldiers stood at parade rest next to the ship that would carry them away, American-made M-16 rifles at their sides. Their commanders stepped forward to exchange salutes and receive praise for a job well done from Gen. Sutrisno, chief of staff for the East Timor command.

"You have acted professionally and carried on the highest traditions of TNI [the Indonesian military]," said Sutrisno in an assessment that many human rights activists and military traditionalists would find shocking.

Casual conversations Sunday with some of the 1,200 soldiers withdrawing from East Timor revealed not a hint of remorse, or even acknowledgment that something terrible had happened here.

Several said they thought there was an international conspiracy to support East Timor's independence drive. Some spoke of their pride in serving Indonesia. A few asked what the world was so upset about.

"We've given them so much more than the Portuguese ever did--as education, roads, hospitals. So much more. I don't know why they're not more grateful," said Col. Geerhaan, who watched the 321st depart on the five-day voyage to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. "Yes, I think TNI has done a good job in East Timor. A soldier's job is saving human lives, even at personal risks to himself, and we've done that here."

Asked who was responsible for the mayhem in Dili that resulted in the destruction of nearly every building and the displacement of most of the territorial capital's 200,000 residents, Geerhaan said, "That's hard to say, but many people have told me it was done by civilians who were angry about the vote."

In that vote on Aug. 30, East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed the next year, opted by an overwhelming majority to cut links to Indonesia and seek independence. Five days later, anti-independence militias with the active participation of the military ran amok through the territory that Indonesia claims as a province.

Indonesia's withdrawal is expected to be completed within days, leaving about 1,500 troops in Dili. The Indonesian army will then be outnumbered by peacekeeping troops, and will be restricted to five areas, effectively ending its influence in Dili.

Its reduced presence will greatly limit the capability of its militia surrogates, U.N. officials said, and enable the peacekeeping force to expand its sphere of influence beyond Dili. Australian and Philippine troops took the first step in that direction Sunday, establishing a 100-man presence in Baukau.

With a large peacekeeping force on the streets, Dili started stirring to life Sunday. Several thousand people milled in the streets. There was no shooting, and only a few plumes of smoke rose from burning homes in outlying neighborhoods. Among refugees, there was a sense that the militias' hold had been broken.

"Just looking around the streets you see smiling East Timorese faces today," said Brig. Cmdr. Mark Evans, in charge of Australian land forces. "Clearly that is an immediate effect of the peacekeeping force's presence in the past week."

Meanwhile, U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst announced that a team had started investigations into possible war crimes in East Timor.


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