Subject: Defence Analysts Split Over Likelihood of Militia Violence

The Australian 25 October 1999

By Foreign affairs and defence writer ROBERT GARRAN

AUSTRALIAN defence analysts are divided over the likelihood of continuing militia violence in East Timor.

Although there is growing optimism that the regular elements of the Indonesian military (TNI) have abandoned support for pro-Jakarta militia in East Timor, there is continuing evidence of support from the Indonesian special forces (Kopassus), Australian officials believe.

The optimistic assessment, if borne out in coming weeks, would mean the long-feared campaign by militia against Interfet was unlikely, and that the Australian-led peace force could be replaced by UN peacekeepers as early as Christmas.

But continued training of militia by Kopassus suggests that the danger of clashes with Interfet forces remains.

Those who give an optimistic assessment believe that with the passage last week in the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly of the vote ratifying East Timor's independence, there is little to be gained by further TNI support for the militia.

There is still a risk that militia members, abandoned by the TNI but unwilling to return to East Timorese society, would continue attacks on Interfet and on East Timorese communities.

"But that's a vastly different threat to a full scale Indonesian-backed insurgency operation," one source said.

Details of the transition from the Australian-led International Force East Timor (Interfet) to the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (Untaet) are nearing completion in New York, with a vote on the plans due today.

Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello is expected to be named as administrator of the territory, but the leadership of the peacekeeping element of the authority remains uncertain.

Australia will play a leading role in the UN force and will contribute several thousand personnel, but the change will allow a reduction in Australia's heavy deployment, which last week included 4850 Australians out of the total Interfet deployment in East Timor of 6700.

Alan Dupont, director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra, supported the growing optimism of Australian officials over security conditions in East Timor.

"There is far less likelihood now of a major guerrilla campaign being waged across the border," he said.

"There are now some signs coming out of Jakarta, out of TNI, that they're no longer supporting the militia."

"It's still early days, and there may still be clashes, but there is a very important difference between autonomous actions by small groups of militias and a major campaign supported by TNI."

Among the positive signs were defence chief General Wiranto's call for joint border patrols and the safe-guarding of refugees returning to East Timor.

The prospect that President Abdurrahman Wahid would appoint a new defence minister would also inhibit the elements of TNI supporting the militia, he said.


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