TNI’s Timor show of might a miscalculation

Six navy warships anchored off the coast.

120 armed elite guards to accompany Megawati.

2,000 troops deployed on West Timor border.

It starts off on the wrong foot with its former territory by overestimating the security threat to visiting Megawati.

Indonesia’s naval deployment off East Timor was a miscalculation in reaction to the possible security threat to visiting President Megawati Sukarnoputri and has made Jakarta start off on the wrong foot with its former territory.

The presence of six navy ships and the dispatching of more than 100 armed troops to accompany the Indonesian President’s visit today for East Timor’s independence ceremony drew a strong protest from the territory still haunted by Indonesia’s occupation 24 years ago.

East Timor becomes officially independent at the stroke of midnight today.

Its Foreign Minister, Mr Jose Ramos-Horta, said yesterday he was ‘perplexed’ as to why Indonesia sent the ships to East Timor on Friday night after agreeing to send only one to provide security for Ms Megawati’s visit.

He told reporters: ‘We are not angry, just puzzled with this ostentatious display of navy hardware that obviously is not a good public relations exercise for Indonesia.’

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said that after lodging complaints with the Indonesian government and the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor, Jakarta removed overnight all but two of the vessels.

One of those that remained is the KRI Teluk Sampit landing craft, armed with two cannons and carrying a military helicopter, weapons, medical and security personnel.

Mr Ramos-Horta disclosed that his government had only authorised the entry of a landing craft to carry armour-plated cars and had approved a ceiling of 100 security staff, of whom no more than 15 were to be armed.

Reports quoted port officials as saying that the landing craft carried 120 troops of the elite presidential security guard unit. They also brought 147 weapons with them.

The Teluk Sampit pulled out of Dili’s port yesterday afternoon and anchored a few hundred metres offshore.

East Timor’s foreign minister said that UN peacekeepers and foreign intelligence services, including those of the United States, had made their own security assessments and concluded that risks to VIPs were ‘extremely low’.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said that the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) had deployed 2,000 troops on the border of East Timor to block militia elements in the West from making incursions into the territory. As for the presence of the six ships, he brushed it off as a ‘misunderstanding’.

Mr Ramos-Horta said that while the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta was unaware of the ship’s entry, the TNI might have misunderstood its security mandate in Dili.

‘We totally understand… that the Indonesian military people may be misinformed about the situation here, or may be worried about Al-Qaeda activities in Indonesia itself and want to take extraordinary precautions.’

The Straits Times understands that the decision to deploy the warships came directly from the TNI headquarters. The public line here is that the military was ‘just following procedure’.

But some – even within the military – concede that the deployment might have been motivated by continued ‘residual resentment’ among the generals to a newly independent East Timor.

A senior military source told The Straits Times: ‘I must admit, I don’t think it was the most appropriate signal to send to East Timor now. We might have miscalculated.’


MR LEE YOCK SUAN, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, will lead Singapore’s delegation to East Timor’s independence ceremony, a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

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