E Timor concerned over Indonesian military exercise:
Indonesian warship blasts island
Mark Dodd and Ian McPhedran
IN a dramatic show of military muscle, an Indonesian warship has blasted a contested island near East Timor with gunfire and a missile just weeks after peacekeepers left the area.
A UN military report dated December 14, 2003, and seen by the says a camouflaged helicopter bearing Indonesian markings fired a missile into the disputed outcrop, known locally as Fatu Sinai, before a warship pounded the tiny uninhabited island with heavy gunfire.
The classified report says the shelling was witnessed by more than 150 terrified villagers living in Baoknana village on the Oecussi enclave, a pocket of East Timorese territory on the north coast of Indonesian West Timor.
Security analysts say the show of force marks Jakarta's determination to stamp its sovereignty on the disputed island it calls Pulau Batek.
The outcrop lies just 5km off East Timor's coastline at the western tip of the enclave.
Since September 2000, the UN and East Timor Government have been negotiating with Indonesia over matters relating to border demarcation.
A senior UN security analyst familiar with Oecussi said the shelling was a show of strength.
"The Indonesian side has not fulfilled any of its commitments and within 60 days of the withdrawal of UN troops the Indonesian military flexed its muscles with this display," the analyst said.
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said the Government was aware of the incident, but regarded it as a matter between Indonesia and East Timor.
"We are pleased that the unresolved issues are being handled in constructive discussions between the two countries concerned," the spokesman said.
Indonesia and East Timor are discussing land border issues, but maritime borders have not yet been raised.
The December incident underscores the vulnerability of East Timor's ill-defined maritime borders.
East Timor seceded from Indonesia after a bloody UN-brokered ballot in 1999 that saw a massive majority of the population vote in favour of independence.
The brash display of gunboat diplomacy raises fresh concerns over the timing of a planned withdrawal of Australian peacekeepers maintaining security along East Timor's main frontier with Indonesia.
East Timorese witnesses interviewed by UN observers said about noon on December 14 an Indonesian warship carrying a camouflaged helicopter approached the island, stopping within 100m of its southern tip.
The helicopter then took off and the warship withdrew to a new position facing the island but about 200m offshore.
The helicopter fired what is believed to be a missile that exploded on impact, creating a pall of smoke.
Then the warship sailed to within 400m northeast of the outcrop and fired 13 rounds of high explosive from what the UN said was a 40mm cannon.
Two hours later an Indonesian jet fighter believed to be a US-built F-16 flew over the island at just 200m.
Witnesses said that during the two-hour incident the people of Baoknana were terrified, with some fleeing into the hills.
"People could smell smoke and fumes from the gunfire and were very concerned about possible poisoning from the gases," the report said.
While the report does not identify the type of warship involved, Indonesia has three classes of frigate capable of carrying an armed helicopter.
The most likely culprit was one of six ex-Dutch built frigates based on the British Leander class.
According to diplomats, several motives could lie behind the display of firepower, but Jakarta's determination not to lose any more territory is the most likely explanation.
Indonesia has built four houses on the disputed island to accommodate lighthouse workers, according to West Timor military commander Colonel M. Moesanip.
Col. Moesanip confirmed the navy exercise was carried out to assert sovereignty on the island
Thu Jan 15, 2:44 AM ET
JAKARTA (AFP) - East Timor (news - web sites) has expressed concern after Indonesian troops fired on an uninhabited island whose ownership has not yet been determined, a senior East Timor foreign ministry official said.
Nelson Santos, foreign ministry secretary general, told AFP he sent a letter at the beginning of January to his Indonesian counterpart over the December 14 incident on Fatu Sinai, known in Indonesian as Pulau Batek.
"We just want to convey our concern," Santos said.
"They expressed regret that they did not inform (us) in advance," he said.
"I would not say that it is a problem," Santos added.
Ownership of the uninhabited rocky island, about the size of a football field, is "not in dispute" because its status has not yet been discussed, Santos said.
However, he added that East Timor wants talks on the status of the outcrop to be held after the land border between the two countries is settled.
East Timor gained independence in May 2002 after 31 months of United Nations (news - web sites) stewardship that followed a bloody 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.
The outcrop is about eight kilometres (five miles) off the western edge of Oecussi, an East Timorese enclave surrounded by Indonesian West Timor.
Indonesia's foreign ministry says there is no question about who has sovereignty over the outcrop.
"The sovereign government of Timor Leste, time and again, has said it is not a disputed island," Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa told AFP.
"There is no multiple or dual claim to the island of Batek and to say otherwise doesn't have any truth whatsoever."
Indonesian naval spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Guntur Wahyudi had a different perspective.
"After they separated, they claimed it," he said from the eastern city Surabaya. "For the moment, we don't accept it because we don't know what the basis for it is."
Wahyudi said that on December 14 about 11 naval personnel including frogmen were deployed to the island for rifle training using rubber bullets. He said that as far as he knew no heavy weapons were used.
Santos said reports from military observers, officials and residents on the Oecussi mainland said "they fired toward the island" where Indonesia has built a lighthouse.
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