Subject: Indon Continues Interfet Torture Story Despite Kiki's Denial
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 09:34:19 -0400

Subject: Indon Continues Interfet Torture Story Despite Kiki's Denial

Asian Media Criticises Australia S Role In East Timor

SYDNEY, Sept 29 Asia Pulse - Asian media outlets have criticised Australia's peacekeeping role in East Timor, describing relations between Indonesia and Canberra as hitting an all-time low since troops entered the troubled province.

Singapore newspaper The Straits Times reported a push to move away from Australian imports, with Jakarta announcing it would "help businessmen identify alternative sources for imports".

The move is being taken in Asia as an officially sanctioned move to boycott Australian goods, the paper said.

It quoted the Indonesian government as saying Australia's criticism of its handling of the crisis in East Timor and its leadership of a multi-national peacekeeping force was "unneighbourly".

Referring to importers who wanted to shun Australian wheat, sugar and cotton in protest against Canberra's intervention, Indonesian Trade and Industry Minister Rahardi Ramelan said the government had to "provide a solution to businessmen".

And he told the paper he was not worried about Australia's reaction, saying he never thought about it.

Another article in the same publication criticised Prime Minister John Howard's backflip on his assertion he wanted Australia to be the "deputy" to the United States in its role as global policeman.

Describing Mr Howard's denial of the comments he made to The Bulletin magazine as a "turnaround after an angry reaction from Asian leaders", the newspaper suggested his retraction of the comments might be too late to repair the "medium-term damage to Canberra's standing in the region".

The Bangkok Post also noted the apparent turnaround in the headline "Howard Backtracks - Premier (sic) accused of making blunder in foreign policy." Meanwhile, as the UN Human Rights Commission approved a probe into allegations of abuse by Indonesian-backed militias in East Timor, newspapers were giving prominence to "atrocities" allegedly committed by Australian troops in the territory.

"Australian troops torture militias," read a headline in the Indonesian Observer Tuesday.

Another front-page headline in the same newspaper said "INTERFET troop tears RI (Republic of Indonesia) flag".

Television stations, which show endless clips of East Timorese being disarmed and tied up at gunpoint by Australian troops, interview militia leaders lamenting "atrocities" by the International Force in East Timor (INTERFET).

Although Major General Kiki Syahnakri, the outgoing Indonesian commander in East Timor, has denied a report of INTERFET burning a militiaman to death, the state news agency continues to treat it as fact.

A weekend commentary in the mass circulation Thai language Thai Rath newspaper attacked the Thai government over its decision to send troops, saying they faced a dishonourable war.

The author, under the name Chalam Khieo or Green Shark, said when Thai troops are sent overseas they must have support from the Thai public for it to be "an honourable war".

"But the way (Prime Minister) Chuan Leekpai and (Foreign Minister) Surin Pitsuwan - both from the Democrat Party - sent the Thai soldiers to fight in East Timor, I feel a deep sorrow for the Thai soldier because it will be a war without honour," it said.

But not all Asian media were so scathing.

In an editorial in the magazine AsiaWeek, more Asian countries were urged to support Australia in East Timor.

In its editorial, AsiaWeek described Australia as "obliged" to take the lead because other Asian countries had been slow to respond to the crisis.

In a thinly-veiled attack on ASEAN members' apathy regarding East Timor, the magazine said if Australia had to spearhead the effort because Asian nations would not act, then so be it.

ASIA PULSE

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East Timor puts "new look" Thai army to the test

BANGKOK, Sept 29 (AFP) - The role of the Thai military is rapidly and profoundly evolving beyond purely defense constraints as it embarks on a new mission as a defender of humanitarian ideals in East Timor.

Thailand is the deputy commander of the multinational force attempting to safeguard security in the strife-torn Indonesian territory which has voted for independence. The first batch of 1,500 Thai troops is set to leave here for East Timor on Friday.

But for the Royal Thai Army's chief of staff, General Chokchai Homgthong, the operation in East Timor "does not only have security aims, but is also a humanitarian operation".

The army's commander in chief, General Surayud Chulanont, said during a recent lecture on the Thai army that nobody should use the argument of territorial integrity "as an excuse to commit crimes against humanity including genocide and ethnic cleansing."

The generals' stance is a significant step away from the Thai army's recent past.

The armed forces have instigated a dozen coups since World War II, the most recent in 1991. Democracy was restored a year later, but only after a bloody military crackdown against unarmed pro-democracy protesters which claimed at least 52 lives in May 1992.

Now democracy appears firmly entrenched. At the height of Thailand's economic crisis in October 1997, the military command is believed to have refused a request from then prime minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to impose a state of emergency.

Chavalit's successor, Chuan Leekpai, is the first civilian to hold the post of defence minister in more than two decades.

Chuan has seized on the East Timor crisis as an opportunity for Thailand to pursue its vision of a more democratic Southeast Asia which fosters rather than tramples on human rights.

Thai Deputy Foreign Minister Sukhumbhand Paribatra says East Timor signals a new direction for the region's pre-eminent political body, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"I think that history will say a new chapter is being written in the development of Southeast Asia and the development of ASEAN," he said.

Sukhumbhand acknowledged the Timor crisis had reinforced Thailand's determination to play "a pro-active role in international affairs".

At the same time the military, in line with Surayud's principled stand on East Timor, appears to be retreating from its former role as the ultimate arbiter of power in Thailand.

Surayud, in a first for a senior Thai commander, signalled his acceptance of the job last year by resigning as a senator. He has also launched an ambitious programme to make the 228,000-strong army a more professional outfit.

The engagement in East Timor, one military analyst noted, gave the army the opportunity to "go beyond Thailand's backyard."

The Thai deputy commander of East Timor's international peacekeeping force, Major General Songkitti Jaggabatra, says: "We want to make peace in the region so we can live in harmony."

Songkitti has a delicate task of liaising between the Australians in charge of the East Timor operation and participating Asian countries, including Indonesia, which have accused the Australian military of heavy-handedness.

But having formerly served as Thailand's military attache in Jakarta, he is well-equipped to assuage sensitive Indonesian fears about the operation.

Songkitti's deputy command in East Timor demonstrates Thailand's growing willingness to participate in multinational military operations and resolving regional security concerns.

A Thai military observation team served in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, and Thai personnel helped prepare for Cambodia's 1993 elections held under United Nations auspices.

East Timor represents a new departure for the Thai military which has the full backing of General Surayud.

"I stongly support the decision of the government to restore peace in East Timor. I think it is the right decision to give support to the regional community," he said.


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