Army unable to end Timor's resistance


By Max Lane

The Suharto regime in Jakarta seems unable to end the resistance to Indonesian occupation in East Timor or bring to an end the international diplomatic controversy about the occupation. The regime continues to pretend that things are winding down, but the facts speak otherwise.

Major-General Theo Syafei, commander of Udayana/IXth Military Command based in Bali which includes East Timor, has announced several times that the number of battalions in East Timor will be reduced. On August 17, Indonesian independence day, Jakarta announced that it would withdraw all combat troops by the end of October, leaving only 10 territorial battalions.

In East Timor, a special territorial military operation, Operasi Tuntas (Operation Finally Complete) has been designed. It is comparable to the "low-intensity conflict" strategy conducted in the Philippines or Central America in the '80s. Its objective is to isolate the armed resistance from the population and create a new social (i.e. Indonesian) structure in the villages.

Syafei now asserts that only nine territorial battalions and one combat battalion remain in East Timor. A full-strength Indonesian battalion consists of 650 men, which means that about 5000 soldiers are permanently based in East Timor, quite a sizeable number. According to Indonesian military standards, a region the size of East Timor would have only two or three battalions.

While the Timorese resistance has gradually switched to a strategy of focusing more on clandestine work in urban areas (to which the Indonesian military responds by launching territorial warfare), armed action remains an important symbol of resistance.

The Indonesian military commander in East Timor, Colonel Jhony Lumintang, claims that there are only 107 guerillas left in the bush. But guerilla activities remain a constant threat for the Indonesian military. In mid-October, 200 combat troops were deployed in the Baucau region to track down Timorese guerilla units.

There are now signs that the Indonesian military is upgrading its strategy of "Timorisation" of the war. On October 5, Syafei inaugurated a new force called Pasukan Adat ("Traditional" Troops), consisting of 3844 Timorese paramilitaries recruited from all 13 districts.

There continue to be reports of armed clashes in East Timor, the last one in the Indonesian press occurring on October 22. The Indonesian military claims one Timorese guerilla was killed. At the same time there are reports that demonstrations occurred during the recent visit of US congressional aides to East Timor.

In Indonesia, radical activists in the Indonesian Forum for International Solidarity (FISI) issued a statement reiterating their support for the freedom struggle in East Timor.

Diplomatically also East Timor continues to remain a problem, except in relation to Australia, which has become Suharto's main diplomatic ally. Last month, the US ambassador to Indonesia, Robert Barry, listed East Timor, human rights and labour rights as three issues hindering the further development of good relations.

Indonesian press reports of his speech noted that the US Senate is considering linking future arms sales to Indonesia with improvements in the situation in East Timor.