Subject: Interview: Gen. Kiki Syahnakri to prioritize repatriation of E Timorese refugees

Jakarta Post November 27, 1999

Syahnakri to prioritize repatriation of East Timorese refugees

By Lela E. Madjiah

The following article is based on an interview with Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, Operation Assistant to Army Chief of Staff. Syahnakri is scheduled to be installed as chief of Udayana Military Command, overseeing Bali, East and West Nusa Tenggara, in Denpasar on Saturday. He is replacing Maj. Gen. Adam R. Damiri who is going to be installed Operation Assistant to General Affairs Chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI).

JAKARTA (JP): It seems that Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri is destined for tough stints.

In September 1999 he was sent to East Timor and given two weeks by then Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Wiranto to restore security and order in the ravaged territory.

"This is a near-impossible mission and I doubt that even a Schwarzkopf could accomplish it," Syahnakri said in an interview with The Jakarta Post a few days after assuming command of TNI forces in East Timor following the imposition of martial law in the territory on Sept. 9.

Indeed, what confronted him in the territory was beyond control. All Syahnakri could do was try to curb the acts of violence and destruction committed by prointegration supporters in reaction to the Aug. 30 vote for East Timor's independence.

Despite the difficulty of the situation, some semblance of order had returned to parts of East Timor when he handed over control of security in the territory to the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) on Sept. 27.

"The TNI leadership stated that he succeeded in performing his duties, given the constraints that he faced," an Army officer told the Post.

Tough, new problems confront Syahnakri today, and high on his agenda is the repatriation of East Timorese refugees, whose prolonged presence in East Nusa Tenggara has negative security implications.

There remain around 200,000 refugees in various refugee camps in the western half of Timor island and neighboring islands.

"The refugees face a lot of hardships, including financial constraints. Many of those who own cars or motorbikes are renting their vehicles to earn money, and in doing so are threatening the livelihood of local inhabitants. This can pose a security problem in the long run, not to mention other obstacles," said Syahnakri, who served as Dili military commander for eight months in 1994-1995.

The refugees are also causing social jealousy among the native population, who are not much better off than the East Timorese and have to shoulder the burden of sharing what little they have with the refugees, while the latter receive aid from the Indonesian government and local and international organizations.

"The government has decided to stop the aid to the refugees in January, and it is our job to try to return them (to East Timor) before this deadline," said Syahnakri, a 1971 graduate of the Armed Forces Academy (Akabri).

The East Nusa Tenggara administration has given three options to the refugees.

"The first option is for them to return to East Timor and take part in the UN-led transitional administration. The second is to remain in Indonesia and join the transmigration program. The government has allocated land for those who choose this second option. The third option is for them to be accommodated in a transitional resettlement area similar to the resettlement area in Galang Island for Vietnamese refugees. After a certain period they will be given several options, including applying for citizenship in countries other than Indonesia," said Syahnakri.

He added, however, that United States Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke did not seem to favor the third option, which he said would be too costly.

"I tend to agree with him about the third option. I personally believe the refugees, including the prointegrationists, should all return to East Timor. The transitional authority in East Timor will definitely accommodate their aspirations," he said.

Syahnakri accompanied Holbrooke to Dili on Nov. 22. Holbrooke also visited refugee camps in Atambua and Kupang to verify reports of intimidation against the refugees.

"It's true there has been intimidation and efforts to prevent the refugees from returning (to East Timor). However, we must look at it very carefully, whether there are political motives behind these actions. East Timorese have strong family ties and if one family member is a prointegration fighter, he will try to prevent the rest of the family from returning to East Timor. And if one decides to stay, the rest of the family will stay. This is, in my opinion, a social problem, not a political one," said Syahnakri.

The police have also begun to take tough measures against the so-called militias, which Syahnakri prefers to call prointegration fighters.

In Kupang, for example, the police confiscated more than 100 firearms, including homemade guns. They also seized stolen cars, including 50 cars belonging to the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), many of which had been repainted, he said.

"Such strict measures will be stepped up in the future and the Udayana Military Command is ready to assist the police in performing this task," he said.

The police are indeed shorthanded and the Udayana command has deployed its troops to help provide security for the refugees.

"There are two companies from the 753rd Infantry Battalion in Kupang and another company from the same battalion in Atambua to back up the police," said Syahnakri.

A number of prointegration militias have also announced their intention to disband.

"The Mahidi group from Ainaro, for example, disbanded two weeks ago and handed over 87 firearms," he said.

Other groups, including the one led by noted integration supporter Joao Tavares, will follow suit, said Syahnakri.

Syahnakri is also aware of the psychological problems faced by the prointegration fighters, who feel they have been betrayed and abandoned by the Indonesian people, a feeling similar to that experienced by South Vietnamese and American troops when the U.S. withdrew from Saigon in 1967.

"I will pay serious attention to psychological aspects when dealing with them to avoid the problems faced by the veterans of the Vietnam war. The fact is, they are prointegration fighters and they have been with us for tens of years," said Syahnakri.

Syahnakri denied charges his job included luring East Timor back to Indonesia. This issue was raised over the fact that he is no stranger to East Timor, is fluent in the local language Tetun and has friends in both the proindependence and prointegration camps.

"There was no such order. I believe that my appointment was based on my prior assignments. I served with the Udayana Military Command from the time I was still a second lieutenant until I became a major," said Syahnakri, who served four tours in East Timor under Operation Seroja in 1975, 1981, 1988 and 1993 before his appointment as Dili commander in September 1994.

He said he was determined to respect the East Timorese's decision to become independent, despite allegations that the Aug. 30 ballot which led to East Timor's separation from Indonesia was manipulated.

"Although they are my former enemies, they are now a free people who are our neighbors. There is no alternative but to maintain a good relationship with them, and I think it will not serve them well if they do not maintain good relations with Indonesia," said Syahnakri, who is well acquainted with proindependence figures such as Ramos Horta, Leandro Isac and Taur Matan Ruak.

"In fact, I met Ruak during my last trip to Dili when I was with Holbrooke. It was a warm meeting, I believe, during which Ruak extended greetings from Xanana (East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre Xanana Gusmao), whom I have never met," he said.

Syahnakri also denied charges TNI armed prointegration fighters with 10,000 M-16s.

"It's true that some of them were armed, but most of their firearms were from the Portuguese era. When Portugal abandoned East Timor they left many weapons, which were kept by various groups. They never reported ownership of those weapons," said Syahnakri.

Another major task facing Syahnakri is relocating the headquarters of the Dili-based Wira Dharma Military Command, which oversaw East Timor under the jurisdiction of the Udayana command. There has been resistance to plans to relocate the headquarters to Maumere, East Nusa Tenggara.

"The Army leadership is flexible. Gen. Subagyo has said that the Army will not impose its will on the people. When the Maumere people said they did not want us, Pak Bagyo said to consider Ende. However, when we announced our plan to go to Ende, the Maumere people said they wanted us there.

"This shows that both the Army and the people need to understand a few things before we finally arrive at an agreement. It could be that people are not fully informed about the plan and who will be stationed there. We, on the other hand, may have failed to grasp the people's wishes and the reasons behind their initial rejection of the planned relocation," said Syahnakri.

Maumere is seen as the ideal location for the command because of its strategic location, which will facilitate easy command and control of the area through land, air and sea, and its relatively better facilities.

"But as I have said, we are flexible," Syahnakri said.

He pointed out that economically, Maumere would benefit from the presence of the headquarters.

"It will be manned by around 160 people who will spend at least Rp 1 billion a month. As most of the personnel are troops, they will spend the money buying staple items, and this means they will boost the income of small-scale traders, he said.

Syahnakri warned, however, that the military should also consider the cultural aspects of the planned relocation.

"The new headquarters will be manned by the 744th Infantry Battalion. Although most of its members hail from East Nusa Tenggara, with only 20 percent of them from East Timor, that does not mean there will not be problems," he said.

He was referring to concerns raised by critics of the planned relocation, who fear the presence of the troops will lead to military repression.

"I have to admit that discipline is a major constraint and it is my intention to improve the discipline and professionalism of the Udayana personnel," said Syahnakri.

There are a number of problems which have resulted from a lack of military discipline and professionalism, not only within the Udayana command, but also nationwide.

"The main problem is a lack of benefits. If a soldier is hungry or cannot buy milk for his baby, he will be forced to commit acts which break military discipline, such as moonlighting to earn extra money. This is not a criminal act but one of indiscipline," he said.

Indonesian soldiers are among the poorest paid among the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Their wages are lower than the minimum wage of factory workers in Jakarta, who receive Rp 198,000 (about US$28) a month.

Given this, it is not uncommon for soldiers to moonlight at the expense of their military professionalism.

"The Udayana command will do everything to try to improve this situation, although our efforts will be very, very limited. At least we can try to ensure that they receive their correct pay on time," said Syahnakri.

Poor human resources is another factor behind the lack of discipline and professionalism among TNI personnel, he said.

"Most of those who join the military are people who cannot find other jobs or cannot enter state universities. This can be seen from the test results in the past few years. Many of them actually failed the tests, forcing us to lower our standards because we needed them," he said.

Another reason behind the problems with discipline and professionalism is that for the past two years, Indonesian soldiers have been on duty constantly. Ideally, troops are rotated, he said.

Syahnakri's short stint as military chief in East Timor served as a very valuable lesson.

"I was able to compare my soldiers with the foreign troops, in terms of professionalism. I was able to draw a conclusion about the things that need improvement," he said.

At the time, Syahnakri was also serving as operations assistant to the chief in charge of the Army's training and development, helping to implement a three-phase training program to improve the professionalism of TNI soldiers.

"We started with instructors, and of the 112 who joined the program only 24 qualified when it ended in September. At present, we are conducting a similar program for battalion and brigade commanders. The third phase will be conducted at all military commands," he said.

"As the new Udayana military chief, I will focus my efforts on improving the discipline and professionalism of my personnel," he said, adding that better discipline and professionalism are a must if TNI hopes to regain the respect and trust of the people.

The writer is a journalist.


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