UN set to take control tomorrow
Indonesian military announces that it will hand over command of East Timor’s security to multinational force.
EAST Timor will fall under United Nations authority tomorrow as the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) announced that it would hand over command of the territory’s security to the 8,000-strong multinational forces brought in to end more than three weeks of violence.
TNI spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Willem Rampangili disclosed that the military had “ironed out” the terms of transfer in a meeting between the UN commander here, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, and his Indonesian counterpart Kiki Syahnakri, which would leave the TNI in East Timor with two battalions of 1,500 soldiers and policemen.
The troops would stay on under the charge of a newly-created body called the Indonesian Task Force for East Timor (Itfet).
It would be led by a police brigadier-general to oversee the territory’s transition to independence in November.
“The UN will have control of East Timor now,” he said.
“They will call the shots on all matters relating to its security. Our function will essentially be one of liaison and consultation. We will pull out our troops completely once the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) votes to let East Timor go its own way.”
As the Indonesian military made clear its future plans in the territory it invaded in 1975, the UN force sent a clear indication of its resolve to take over the mantle by tightening its grip on East Timor.
After days of intense operations directed against hostile militias in Dili, they moved into the territory’s interior to safeguard routes being used to transfer food aid to thousands of refugees.
Australian-led peacekeepers, responding to complaints from international organisations that aid was being hijacked regularly by Indonesian soldiers, deployed foreign troops in outlying areas as the radius of control began to spread out. There was still a visible security presence in the capital with troops patrolling streets and keeping an eye on refugees who began streaming back into Dili.
With the exception of one or two cases of looting, the city was generally peaceful yesterday.
The UN forces Chief of Staff, Colonel Mark Kelly, impressed on this when he told reporters: “There is a clear sense of improvement in the area.”
Despite UN assurances about “extending the sense of security” in East Timor as it took over, there were still underlying concerns that foreign troops would continue facing a hostile TNI making an ignominious exit amid charges of using the pro-Jakarta militias as proxies for violence.
Maj-Gen Cosgrove had complained that Indonesian troops were “not cooperating” with his soldiers, as evidence bagan to mount that TNI elements had burned buildings and fired volleys of gunshots as they withdrew from Dili.
On Friday, he told reporters that if he took East Timor’s security command, he wanted assurances from TNI that all its weapons would be “secured” and that none would be passed to the militias or rogue soldiers.
Lt-Col Willem acknowledged that several TNI soldiers were involved in “criminal” incidents here and said that they would be court-martialled soon.