Jakarta axes security pact with Australia
Safety of foreign troops heading for East Timor in serious doubt as bilateral ties take a nosedive.
INDONESIA yesterday axed a key security pact with Australia, plunging bilateral ties to its lowest point in years and putting in serious doubt the safety of foreign troops heading for devastated East Timor.
As concern grew over Jakarta’s refusal to guarantee the security of the 7,000-strong United Nations multi-national force led by Australia, the Indonesian military commander in East Timor threw another spanner in the works by announcing a troop pullout which diplomats believe could have been made only with “blessings from the top”.
Major-General Kiki Syahnakri, who was sent to Dili a week ago by armed forces (TNI) chief General Wiranto to head a martial law command, said that the process “will take not more than a week”.
“Once they get in, I will pull out,” he told Reuters news agency, adding that he expected an advance UN team to arrive tomorrow, followed by 2,500 troops on Monday. Most of the peacekeepers would be deployed in Dili and Bacau, he said.
Senior TNI sources said the military’s “unilateral decision” to withdraw soon was linked mainly to “a loss of face” after losing East Timor and then being forced to accept international peacekeepers in the territory.
“Well, if Australia and the rest of the world think that they can solve the East Timor problem, then let them do it on their own,” said a three-star army general.
Underlying the Indonesian initiative was growing anger and unease with Australia for its criticism of the violence in East Timor and its lead role in pushing for a UN force there.
The Indonesian government reflected this by tearing apart the military cooperation agreement with Canberra, which for the last four years was symbolic of a “special relationship” that existed between two neighbours.
The accord formalised already existing but ad hoc training programmes and military exercises. It was also aimed at warding off a security threat from China.
Analysts believe that by rescinding the agreement, diplomatic ties would nosedive automatically. The Straits Times understands that General Wiranto and his commanders met late on Wednesday night to take the decision.
A senior military officer who attended the meeting said: “We hope that once they are in East Timor their military operations will be confined only in East Timor. We don’t want them meddling in the affairs of neighbouring islands that belong to Indonesia. If they do, we are going to fight them.”
Such sentiments could ricochet on the East Timor battlefield with observers believing that pro-Jakarta militias could be used as proxies by the military to strike against foreign, mainly Australian, soldiers now without the protection of an agreement that could have guaranteed their safety.
Australian and British commanders have voiced concern about clandestine operations by the Indonesian special forces (Kopassus) which has been blamed for instigating much of the bloodletting in East Timor.
And this would only force peacekeepers to use the full mandate of the UN resolution that authorises them to “shoot to kill”.
Signs that the safety of the multi-national force, which at Indonesia’s request will include a strong representation from its Asian neighbours, may be hampered by breakdowns in the command-to-command structure will worry Australia.
In Canberra, Prime Minister John Howard warned Australians yesterday that the operation was dangerous and that they had to brace themselves for casualties.
The point was underscored by demonstrators in Jakarta yesterday, holding posters that read: “Australian soldiers welcome to East Timor. Graves have been prepared for you.”