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COVER STORY: SEPTEMBER 20, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 11

Neighbors and erstwhile allies will not easily forget the sight of Indonesia's vast army turned against itself. The fact that the military declared martial law in East Timor after the civilian cabinet had rejected the idea (Habibie reportedly changed his mind after a visit by Wiranto to his home) does not inspire faith in the cohesiveness of the current administration. Nor does the inability of Wiranto's troops to control the situation. There have been reports of mass desertions within the ranks and of units beholden to individual Kopassus commanders rather than Jakarta. "Some rogue elements have been noted," Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said somewhat dismissively on Thursday. "We have had, in the past, difficulties with rogue elements."

    ALSO IN TIME
Island of Death
Thugs supported by the Indonesian military lay waste to East Timor--killing hundreds, rocking the government in Jakarta and ruining the country's reputation in the eyes of the world

Hideout
A view from inside the U.N. compound

Economy
Meet the world's next basket case

No Refuge
There's no escape from fear in West Timor

  RELATED STORIES
CNN
Plan for East Timor Peacekeeping Mission Hits Snag
Indonesian military objects to Australian participation

ASIAWEEK
East Timor's Agony
The former Portuguese colony descends into anarchy as pro-Indonesia militias go on a campaign of violence to thwart independence

One Reporter's Notebook
How journalists came under the gun too

  MESSAGE BOARD
Indonesia and East Timor

  QUICK VOTE
Should Indonesian President B.J. Habibie resign?

No, he needs to stay in place and do more to resolve the East Timor crisis
Yes, he should quit before he is deposed
No, if he resigns, the Indonesian military could seize control
View Results
His understatement could describe the entire occupation of East Timor. The reluctance of intelligence services to let go of their one-time fief may seem unsurprising given the effort spent pacifying the former colony (and exploiting it, as the military has long controlled the area's vital commodities). But none of the hypotheses put forth to explain the scale of the violence is likely to burnish the military's reputation. The idea that the army would lay waste to East Timor out of spite seems psychopathic; feelings of loyalty to the militias Jakarta reportedly sponsors seem only crass. Most palatable, sadly, may be the theories inspired by realpolitik: that the armed forces mean to make an example of East Timor that will frighten territories like Aceh and Irian Jaya from seeking independence, and to reassert the domineering role in politics they enjoyed during Suharto's uncompromising rule.

The latter at least seems to have succeeded. Ever since reportedly forcing Habibie into imposing martial law, Wiranto has emerged as the power broker many imagined he would become after helping ease Suharto out last spring. Some Western diplomats have spoken of a bloodless coup, and the nations bringing the heaviest pressure to bear on Jakarta have all approached the general directly. Asked why Clinton had not telephoned Habibie, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger noted archly, "We have focused on where we believe the decisions are being made, which is the Indonesian military." Only Wiranto can force an end to the violence that has directed so much of the world's ire at the Indonesian government. Only he can keep in line a military furious with the civilian administration for forcing them to withdraw ignominiously from East Timor.

That task looms especially large now, scarcely two months before a new People's Consultative Assembly will elect a new president (and ratify the decision to let East Timor go free). The coup rumors that ricocheted around Jakarta last week proved to be nothing but entertainment. (At one point word went around that Habibie had fled to Germany, where he had once lived.) But they speak volumes about the menagerie of forces who have an interest in seeing the President toppled. "The violence may or may not have been engineered, but it is definitely a result of Habibie's policy-making," says Matori Abdul Djalil, chairman of the Muslim-oriented National Awakening Party (PKB), which will hold 51 seats in the new 700-seat parliament. The frontrunner for the presidency, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has also accused the President of calling the referendum too hastily, and has underscored her affinity for the pro-integration cause by visiting the West Timor refugee camps.

In fact, opposition to Habibie has spread far beyond his political rivals. "Habibie is totally, completely finished," says a senior White House source. "I don't think anybody but his family is going to be for Habibie." The excitable former engineer never earned more than the tolerance of Indonesia's military. Now even the populace he once hoped to impress with his democratic credentials has been angered by the supposed ingratitude of the East Timorese. Populist cabinet minister Adi Sasono has called for negotiations with the U.N. to decide the fate of all "national assets" in the territory, which has received $2.5 billion in aid from Jakarta since 1976 (much of which is reputed to have gone into the pockets of the region's military overlords and their cronies). "After all that we've done for them, it's unbelievable," complains Ahmadi, a Jakarta accountant who was only five years old when Indonesia invaded East Timor.

Similar sentiments have spread throughout the chattering classes of Jakarta, where the focus has shifted from concern over the bloodshed on the ground to annoyance over the peremptory calls for action coming in from the world's capitals. Students infuriated by Canberra's increasingly stern tone stormed over the fence of the Australian embassy in Jakarta and burned its flag. "This is the embryo of a new nationalist movement in the face of widespread separatist sentiment around Indonesia," says Nelson Correia of the pro-independence Socialist Party of East Timor.

That strategy, however, probably won't play much beyond Jakarta. Separatists in Aceh celebrated the day the results of the East Timor referendum were announced and demanded a vote of their own. In the Irian Jaya capital of Jayapura, 75 protesters challenged army troops in an attempt to raise the separatist flag; at least one demonstrator was shot and killed. Even further afield, beyond Indonesia's necklace of islands, the national honor that partisans in Jakarta think they are promoting has been deeply compromised. Clinton blasted the situation in Indonesia as "a travesty." Thousands took to the streets in Portugal in protest, and commonwealth countries like Britain, Canada and Australia--the only nation to recognize the 1976 annexation of East Timor--have treated Jakarta to a barrage of unadorned and vituperative criticism both behind closed doors and in the world media. Even the Pope has weighed in with condemnation.

Still, despite the criticism--or perhaps because of it--most voices insist that East Timor will be granted its independence as scheduled. "If we do not agree to accept the results [of the vote], we will become an isolated nation in the world," says the PKB's Djalil. In less than a week, Indonesia has already come dangerously close to that point. Few think East Timor's redemption will arrive with similar speed. "Many people in Timor have told us, 'We'll die now. But at least we'll leave the land for the next generation to be free,'" says Dulcie Munn, president of an East Timorese community group in Australia's Northern Territory. That's a tough bargain, but one all too familiar to these long suffering people.

Reported by Martha de la Cal/Lisbon, Lisa Clausen/Darwin, William Dowell/New York, Barry Hillenbrand/Washington, Joanna Jolly/Dili, Zamira Loebis/Kupang and Lisa Rose Weaver and Jason Tedjasukmana/Jakarta

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