Wiranto is the man to watch


Weeks after a resounding vote for independence, East Timor has become a battlefield, not just between pro-Jakarta and pro-independence forces, but also for President Habibie and the military led by General Wiranto. DERWIN PEREIRA in Jakarta reports on the power struggle sparked by the Timor crisis BETRAYAL, oppression and dashed hopes.

East Timor’s history is a sad one. For the past 25 years, it has seen tragedy heaped upon tragedy as people there experienced civil war, invasion and military occupation. It became South-east Asia’s second-largest killing fields after Cambodia.

And the agent for much of this misery has been the Indonesian military (TNI), which again has found its hands covered in blood and is now using East Timor as a proxy to flex its muscles against the civilian politicians.

There was a moment of true optimism after more then 400,000 East Timorese went to the polling booths just weeks ago. When nearly 80 per cent voted for independence, there was hope that somehow East Timor could break with its painful past.

But that hope has faded away. East Timor is today a Mad Max territory and under martial law. Pro-integration militiamen, working openly with the TNI, are hacking and gunning down people.

The capital of Dili is a virtual ghost town, with entire city blocks burnt to the ground in a scorched-earth campaign.Most of the houses and shops have been looted, while convoys of military trucks full of stolen goods rumble west. Down by the docks, another convoy of army trucks, also full of stolen goods, awaits the arrival of a navy ship.

Tens of thousands of people are also being moved out forcibly by TNI to the west. In this activity, the military has been brutally-efficient. And one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces will assume nationhood as a destitute.


THE international community has responded with threats to cut aid to Indonesia and intervene. But the beleaguered Habibie administration is itself at war on how to deal with the East Timor debacle. And the military has its own ideas on how to run the show.

For foreign observers, defence chief General Wiranto’s role in East Timor so far leaves much to be desired. It defies logic as to why the military or elements of it would want to wreck havoc there.

A leaked United Nation’s document published in an Australian daily, the Sydney Morning Herald, accused the TNI of orchestrating a campaign of killings by pro-Jakarta militias in East Timor.

The report alleged that 14,000 soldiers under officers hand-picked by military chief General Wiranto had condoned and in some cases directed attacks by anti-independence militias.

The rag-tag pro-Jakarta militias led by Mr Eurico Guterres number mostly 30,000 but their weapons are mostly primitive. Their most powerful rifles come from Jakarta.

Human-rights activists, pinning the blame on the TNI, charge that the militias by themselves would not have been able to engage in systematic killings and rampage after the election.

Citing eyewitness accounts, they say that in almost every incident of violence over the last week, there were plainclothed individuals lurking in the background. Many of them did not speak local dialects and had been seen carrying walkie-talkies. Given the extensive military involvement in East Timor for decades through the special forces (Kopassus) and the joint-intelligence unit (SGI) which diplomatic sources believe are still active, some argue that the violence was orchestrated from different command posts that had “access to logistics information”.

Notes a Western diplomat: “East Timor like Aceh and Irian Jaya is the military’s little playground. It is easy to wreak havoc because they know every inch of the place like the back of their hand.”

But all these beg the question as to why the TNI would want to stir up problems in a placed described as “nothing but rocks” by Dr Habibie.

The reason is simple. Loss of face.

Indonesian military expert Harold Crouch of the Australian National University believes this is one reason why the TNI cannot be relied upon to maintain order in East Timor between now and the presidential election in November.

“Not only has the military been humiliated by its failure to put down resistance in a province whose population makes up less than 1 per cent of Indonesia’s total population, but its constant refrain that support for independence was limited to a small minority of malcontents has been exposed as baseless propaganda.”

For the many Indonesians who had thought that most East Timorese were happy to be part of Indonesia, the military’s credibility took a severe beating.

Many generals actually believed that the votes would have split roughly equal between those who wanted separation and others who sought to remain.

“They were blinkered by perceptions of their own strength, which is why they were shocked when the votes went the other way,” says the Western diplomat. “They will never accept the result.”

This is also partly explained by the “emotional relationship” the military has forged with the anti-independence militias headed by people like Mr Guterres.

Retired Major-General Theo Syafei, one of the leaders of the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) believes such links will continue: “The military would not hurt the pro-integration militia who are like their distant brothers. “The military’s history in the territory is too emotional and it is unlikely that they can be neutral if they take over the security command.”

Senior army officers peeved with President B. J. Habibie’s decision to “sacrifice East Timor to seek personal glory with the West”, say too much blood had been spilled there and resources poured in to give it up so easily.

More than 5,000 soldiers have died fighting the Fretilin pro-independence group.

A three-star general who is Gen Wiranto’s chief political strategist explains: “The American military took more than a decade to get over Vietnam. East Timor will be in our psyche for a while more. It will not be easy to give up.”

Dr Crouch says that in the past, Jakarta always justified Indonesia’s intervention in the restive province as an act necessary to prevent civil war.

“It now seems that the military, especially those on the ground in East Timor, want to provoke fighting between East Timorese as a salve to their wounded pride.”

He suggests that Gen Wiranto, who once commanded a battalion there, might have decided to tolerate a certain level of reprisals in East Timor as a way for his lieutenants to let off steam.

But the strategy spun out of control and the general had to assert his authority by appointing a new local commander there.

The violence was marked by roughly two phases. In the first week, it was burning, looting and killings through the militia proxies.

The pattern of violence that took place had all the bearings of black operations by the Kopassus – eliciting information, recruiting agents, using agent provocateurs and manipulating East Timorese political divisions.

The second stage came with the imposition of martial law. The aim here was to pursue a scorched-earth policy to destroy all remnants of what belonged to Indonesia in East Timor.

Dili’s basic infrastructure – power, water and sewerage – was destroyed. Government offices were vandalised and razed. Records disappeared.

Says a diplomatic source: “This is a big smokescreen preceding a logistical withdrawal from East Timor.” This is evident in the boast of an army officer in Dili, who says that when the military leaves East Timor it will “blow up the roads and bridges” as they go.


THERE might be deeper political reasons for the military’s current East Timor strategy.

The East Timor crisis is symptomatic of the brewing power struggle in Jakarta between nationalists and the Muslim loyalists, both of whom are using it to further their own political ends.

For Dr Habibie and his Muslim supporters, “that little pebble in the shoe” and predominantly Catholic domain is worth throwing away to win international support.

The hawkish military and other conservative politicians, on the other hand, want it part of Indonesia, and are riding on a nationalist anti-foreign fervour to seize power.

Nowhere is this split more illustrative than in the rapidly-deteriorating relationship between the President and Gen Wiranto. East Timor was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Two incidents over the last week stand out.

Palace sources say that matters came to a head during a two-hour heated meeting between Dr Habibie and his military chief over whether to declare martial law in East Timor.

Gen Wiranto, “furious” that the Cabinet had rejected his demand initially for martial law, warned his Supreme Commander of the consequences of not imposing military rule and the dangers of allowing foreign troops on Indonesian soil.

“Why did you allow the ministers to reject my proposal to declare a state of emergency in East Timor,” the palace insider quoted him as saying.

“Are you willing to risk a civil war there? I must advise you of the dangers for Indonesia if we do not have a state of emergency.”

Dr Habibie’s main concern, according to his aides, was domestic reaction to passing martial law. It could dent his “reformist” credentials among Muslim supporters.

He nevertheless relented and gave the go-ahead to the TNI chief, reminding Gen Wiranto as he left his house: “Remember, I am President of Indonesia. I am your Supreme Commander.”

Two days later, Gen Wiranto showed him who was really in charge.

A senior official of the State Secretariat said the four-star general, concerned that Dr Habibie would allow international peacekeepers in East Timor, handed him a letter to sign at a meeting attended by Interior Minister Syarwan Hamid and Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Feisal Tandjung.

In an ironic replay of history, the note was very similar to the disguised coup attempt of March 11, 1967.

The young Major-General Suharto then, together with three generals, met President Sukarno at his residence to hand him a similar letter.

The official says that Gen Wiranto’s note was an ultimatum to the President. If Dr Habibie allowed foreign soldiers in, the Indonesian military will take over power by forming a triumvirate of ministers led by the general.

This was allowed for in the Constitution and did not require the blessing of Parliament.

“Pak Habibie was shocked,” says the source. “It looked very much like a silent coup. But Pak Habibie refused to sign it.” To undermine Gen Wiranto’s efforts to rein in their President, Habibie loyalists reacted by spreading rumours of a coup de’tat in media and business circles.

The military intelligence agency (Bais) also engaged in psychological warfare of its own.

It started circulating rumours that Dr Habibie was planning to resign. And late at night, the President’s exclusive residence had its power supply cut off.

The result of these pressures saw the President giving in, albeit temporarily perhaps, to military demands not to allow foreign troops in East Timor and to allow the TNI to run its own operations there.

As Supreme Commander, Dr Habibie has the authority to fire his armed forces chief. But he would have calculated that it would be too risky given what the TNI had demonstrated it could do in East Timor and elsewhere.

In the immediate aftermath, he sought to diffuse political tensions by creating a “command post”, comprising Gen Wiranto and other ministers to review the East Timor situation daily.

A Habibie aide said that this was aimed principally at “bridging differences” between the civilians and the military elite. The German-trained engineer might try, but for the military, he is all but finished in politics.

Many are questioning whether he can last another month. Says an army general: “This man has no place in Indonesia for giving away East Timor.”

Analysts believe that with the military breaking ranks with Dr Habibie, his chances of securing the presidency have shrunk considerably.

East Timor is just one issue he is fighting. The bigger dynamite is the Bank Bali loans scandal, which could explode in his face.

Dr Habibie himself could be sensing that his star has fallen. Sunday Review understands that he has commissioned a study by the state coordinating and intelligence body (Bakin) to see how best the government can protect him and his family from going the way of Mr Suharto if he steps down.

Gen Wiranto could have assessed the negative impact of Bank Bali and East Timor on the incumbent’s ambitions before going for the political jugular.

Like Mr Suharto in the mid-’60s, he appears to be following the Javanese principle of alon alon asal kelakon (slow but sure) in dealing with his political rivals.

But his success so far has been mixed and predicated largely on luck.

At times, he miscalculated the odds and appeared indecisive.

Perhaps, he realises now that the East Timor crisis has given him that one last shot at the presidency or the No. 2 position before he is edged out into oblivion by his adversaries.

In fact, East Timor and the dramatic events in these last few weeks demonstrated the TNI’s attempt to send a signal to the civilians, including presidential aspirant Megawati Sukarnoputri, that they will have to factor in the military in any political outcome.

Legitimacy will be critical here for Gen Wiranto. He might ride on ultra-nationalist support against “foreign invaders” but can he win over the world community?

US President Bill Clinton has suspended military ties and warned of “dire” economic consequences if Jakarta failed to end the violence in East Timor.

But this could only be public relations. All indications from Washington are that it has too much at stake in Jakarta to severe ties permanently.

And even if there is pressure from outside, it will not rattle the conservative generals easily.

East Timor, like 25 years ago, looks once again the loser, its hopes for self-determination crushed to the ground. But history is no fairy tale.

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