Jakarta risks ties with world over Timor, says US

Cohen warns Indonesia to act quickly to resolve the militia problem and to arrest those guilty of violence, but the Defence Minister says it will be hard.

The United States yesterday warned Indonesia that it risked affecting its ties with the rest of the world and losing valuable economic aid if the government did little to resolve the militia problem in Timor.

US Defence Secretary William Cohen said that President Bill Clinton had asked him to highlight, during his meetings with Indonesian leaders, the country’s “disappointing response” to the recent killings of three United Nations aid workers in West Timor.

However, Mr Cohen stopped short of suggesting punitive economic sanctions against Jakarta.

He said Washington wanted Jakarta to disarm and disband the pro-integration militia, responsible for the violence “quickly and decisively”.

After meeting President Abdurrahman Wahid and other government officials, he told reporters: “The US and the entire international community have condemned this brutal attack by militia killers and have called on the Indonesian authorities to take immediate action to deal with the Timor crisis.

“Failure to do so will have consequences for Jakarta’s relations with the international community and could jeopardise continued economic assistance to Indonesia.”

Military-to-military links would be restored if the military worked to resolve the Timor crisis, he said.

The ties were severed last year after TNI-backed militia went on a rampage in East Timor in reaction to a vote of independence from Indonesia.

Senior military officials, responding to Mr Cohen’s call, told The Straits Times that the matter was “not a black-and-white situation as the Americans see it”.

“We need to find a comprehensive solution together,” said an army general.

“It is difficult to get a common understanding if the Americans want to scapegoat Indonesia for everything that goes wrong in Timor.”

Defence Minister Mahfud M. D. said after meeting Mr Cohen for talks yesterday that Washington wanted Jakarta to implement a UN Security Council Resolution to break up the militia and to arrest and prosecute those who had stirred up violence in the area.

He maintained that Indonesia had already taken such steps.

“We have already implemented all the points in the UN resolution,” he said. “We are not playing around.”

He added that disarming the militia was not easy, given that they could continue to smuggle weapons and hide in the mountains.

Mr Mahfud’s stance follows his comments to the press last week that foreign intelligence agencies were behind the killings to prevent East Timor’s reintegration into Indonesia and to break up the archipelago.

Mr Cohen yesterday brushed aside allegations that the UN, the US and other parties were trying to destabilise Indonesia. “These fictitious rumours that the US and other Western countries want the problems to fester in Indonesia are nonsense,” he said.

“We want to support a strong, stable and prosperous Indonesia.”

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