Subject: AU: The politics behind the scenes (Deliverance pt 4 of 5)

The Australian

May 22, 2002



The politics behind the scenes: Secret persuaders

By Don Greenlees, Robert Garran

In trying to rein in Jakarta, Australia put its special relationship with the Indonesian army on the line, write Don Greenlees and Robert Garran in the third of four exclusive extracts from their book Deliverance

ON January 27 1999, the Indonesian cabinet acceded to the wishes of president B.J. Habibie to give East Timor the choice of independence. But this historic act became the precursor to a reign of terror unleashed by military-sponsored militias opposed to Indonesia letting its conquered possession go free.

Given the task of establishing the will of the East Timorese in a referendum, the UN was left in an invidious position. It had little means of influencing the behaviour of the Indonesian security forces, who were clearly boycotting the cabinet's official policy. In the face of this violent obstruction, the Australian Government decided to make its own approach to rein in the Indonesian armed forces, putting to the test what it believed was a special relationship.

Over the previous decade the Australian Defence Force had been steadily intensifying co-operation with the Indonesian armed forces, so that by 1999 Indonesia was more militarily engaged with Australia than any other nation.

One sign of Australia's confidence in this relationship came in March that year. The ADF sent its highest-ranking delegation to Jakarta for talks with 50 Indonesian generals. The country's respective military chiefs, Admiral Chris Barrie and General Wiranto, led the two sides.

For two days Australian and Indonesian officers and civilians met at the Shangri-la Hotel, engaging in an unprecedented discussion of the role of the military in civil society. They canvassed concepts such as "civil supremacy" over the military -- standard democratic practice in the West but alien to the Indonesian armed forces' doctrine of dual function (dwi fungsi), which envisaged a social and political as well as a security role for the armed forces. The Australian officers and Indonesian civilians who attended the closed meetings saw the willingness of Indonesian generals to debate the proper role of militaries as a sign of a new openness. To the Australian military the meetings suggested the military-to-military relationship had grown to another level of intimacy -- further validation of the benefits of close engagement. After dinner on the final night of the forum, Barrie wondered how Wiranto could possibly know all that was going on inside an organisation of 500,000 personnel, spread across a vast archipelago.

As the year went on it became glaringly apparent that whatever reformist intentions the Indonesian armed forces had, they did not include standing idle while East Timor seemed increasingly likely to secede. Among the sources of mounting evidence on the Indonesian military's role were Australian intelligence agencies -- two of which, the Defence Signals Directorate and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, had primary information-gathering responsibilities. They produced an extraordinary volume of information on East Timor that confirmed in detail what almost any observer on the ground had seen or deduced: that Indonesian security forces were using the militias as proxies in an uncompromising campaign to win or destroy the referendum.

The main source of intelligence was DSD, for which interception and decryption of Indonesian signals had been the highest priority since the 1980s. During 1999 about 150 people worked at DSD's largest intercept station at Shoal Bay, near Darwin, "listening with earphones to Indonesian radio traffic, recording encrypted signals, and monitoring satellite telephone conversations". Small teams of navy signals intelligence personnel from Shoal Bay served on Royal Australian Navy frigates and patrol boats operating close to East Timor to intercept radio communications. Two RAAF P-3C Orion aircraft modified for signals intelligence gathering were also used.

The intelligence gave Australia an incomplete picture of the degree to which events in East Timor were being directed from armed forces headquarters in Jakarta, although a tremendous amount was known about activities on the ground. Some of the briefings to government in early 1999 blamed hostile acts only on military elements inside East Timor. But even then the circumstantial case for the campaign having been designed in Jakarta was strong and had grown substantially by midyear.

In spite of what was known from human and signals intelligence, the Australian Government was cautious in public statements in early March about attributing the military activity in East Timor to any more than "rogue elements". "If it's happening at all, and there is concern it could be happening, it certainly isn't official Indonesian government policy, it certainly isn't something that's being condoned by General Wiranto, the head of the armed forces," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in March. "But there may be some rogue elements within the armed forces which are providing arms of one kind or another to pro-integrationists who have been, you know, fighting the cause of Indonesia..."

The "rogue elements" description downplayed what was known about the level of military co-ordination on the ground. The reason for the Government's misleading public statements was threefold: it did not want to jeopardise what it saw as its substantial capacity to quietly influence the Indonesians by making strident public criticisms; it wanted to guard against measures to counteract its intelligence gathering; and it was concerned at the impact of any interventions on the outcome of the then unfinished negotiations in New York over the details of the referendum. Downer said later:

If we had gone out there and made all sorts of wild allegations about particular people and particular actions by particular Indonesians, it would have terminated our relationship with Indonesia. The Indonesians would have been outraged. We would have rightly been attacked by people in the media and the Opposition here in Australia for mishandling the relationship with Indonesia. Of course they would have denied all these things. It would have been their word against mine. I was hardly likely to produce intelligence reports to prove my case. And what's more, in those circumstances it wouldn't have been possible to get to a successful conclusion to the process, that is, a ballot.

But as events unfolded and evidence mounted that the armed forces were impervious to public calls from the UN and member states to improve security in East Timor, the Australian Government decided to test the influence its close military relationship gave it in Jakarta.

The vice chief of the defence force, Air Marshal Doug Riding, flew to Jakarta in late June to deliver a difficult message to the generals who had been so welcoming only months before during the talks on the military's role. It was hoped a direct approach, coming from a close military partner, might have a sobering effect and avoid the risk of a diplomatic dispute.

Australian Department of Defence officials were also concerned that the Indonesians would be deeply offended if they learned second-hand of the detailed intelligence briefings Australia was giving to the US on conditions in East Timor.

On June 21, at armed forces headquarters in Cilankap, Riding met two of Wiranto's key deputies, chief of staff for general affairs, Lieutenant-General Sugiono, and chief of staff for territorial affairs, Lieutenant-General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Riding came quickly to the point. His briefing notes record him telling the generals:

We fully understand that the situation in East Timor is complex. In our opinion the most significant threats to a genuinely free ballot come from the pro-integrationist militia groups, supported by TNI [the armed forces]. So long as this occurs, Indonesia's claims to be supporting a fair and open process will be undermined. This is very seriously damaging the credibility of the Indonesian Government and TNI ... It is of the utmost importance that Indonesia restore the security environment in East Timor, but in doing so TNI must stop supporting the militias and must control their activities. It is our assessment that: TNI and pro-integration militia have intimidated the East Timorese population as part of a campaign to maximise the chances of an autonomy result; TNI has provided support to the pro-integrationist militia by legitimising and decriminalising militants and failing to prevent or punish their activities; TNI has not extended basic protection to peaceful and law-abiding supporters of independence; and TNI protection of and support to militias has prevented the police from maintaining law and order effectively.

This was a remarkably tough message from a government wanting to remain on friendly terms with Indonesia. It could easily have elicited a similarly blunt response from Sugiono and Yudhoyono. But the meeting remained courteous despite the tension, as Yudhoyono dismissed the thrust of Riding's case, urging the Australians to "develop a balanced picture, considering all points of view".

He insisted security forces were trying to be neutral; pointed to Indonesia's willingness to accept military liaison officers within the UN mission in East Timor as evidence of goodwill; accused the UN mission of partiality; and justified the existence of militia by repeating the familiar refrain that they were legitimate defence auxiliaries. His view of security conditions in East Timor was also starkly different from that described by witnesses on the ground, the UN and foreign governments. Disturbances to that point, he said, had been minor.

TOMORROW: Landing of the troops

Deliverance: The Inside Story of East Timor's Fight for Freedom (Allen & Unwin, $35) will be published on June 1.

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