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SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 12

The Hard Part
An international intervention force led by Australia heads for the devastated ground of East Timor, aiming to bring an end to the recent violence but at the same time raising nationalist passions that could spark a wider and bloodier conflict

Stephen DuPont/Contact Press Images for TIME

At military headquarters in Dili, Indonesian troops are making a show of moving out. Two battalions have sailed for the island of Flores. Portraits of former local commanders--several of them now among the army's top generals--have come down. In the complex's largest assembly hall, soldiers rip a giant map of Timor off the wall--"lest other people use it," one explains.

They could spare themselves the trouble, for there is no road map to what comes next in East Timor. After two weeks of destruction both wanton and calculated, as pro-Jakarta militias and regular troops terrorized East Timorese who voted to break away from Indonesia, the way has been cleared for foreign powers to intervene and restore order. A projected 7,000-member International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) must now traverse a dangerously uncertain landscape. Australia's leadership role in the contingent has sparked ugly threats from Timorese militias--and warnings that rogue soldiers could set off a firefight as bloody as the recent rampages. Dili commander Maj. General Kiki Syahnakri says five battalions of soldiers will be transferred out of the territory within a week, but that leaves six battalions of infantry on the ground. Listening to Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, the world might have thought the hard part was over: the same man who warned that foreign troops would have to fight their way ashore was, by last Tuesday, saying, "We want them to come as soon as possible." But the most difficult stage is, of course, only beginning.

Marching into Trouble
The multinational peacekeeping force that lands this week is entering a minefield--just the first on what promises to be a long road to independence

In a terror-struck village outside Dili, the Indonesian army makes a show of taking food aid to hungry refugees

Descent Into Chaos
The brutal rampage that has paralyzed the half-island has also severely damaged Indonesia's reputation in the world (Sept. 20, 1999)

Breaking news from Southeast Asia

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

Indonesia and East Timor

These first days may prove to be the most fraught. Nine warships set out for the waters off Timor on Saturday evening. The next day Australian force commander Maj. General Peter Cosgrove was scheduled to fly into Dili with an advance team to meet Indonesian commanders and lay out a deployment plan. Soon thereafter seaborne troops would land, joined by paratroopers ferried from Darwin by cavernous C-130 Hercules transport planes and long-range Blackhawk helicopters. INTERFET commanders were careful to include British Gurkhas in that spearhead--and to name Thai Maj. General Songkitti Jagabatra to be Cosgrove's deputy. But the mission's obvious Western influence still irked many in the region. "In Asia you offer, but you don't push," says Malaysia's United Nations ambassador, Agam Hasmy. "The Australians have pushed a lot." Kuala Lumpur, once expected to provide the second-largest detachment of troops, first pulled out of INTERFET completely then committed only a token unit. Thus far Asian countries have volunteered only 20% of the troops offered; Australia alone plans to contribute 4,500 soldiers.

They will find precious little to work with in devastated East Timor. Thick jungle, high mountains and poor roads will hamper the peacekeepers' mobility. Some electricity and phone lines have reportedly been restored to the capital, but Dili remains a city of ash and shattered glass. Row upon row of blackened shells have replaced homes and businesses. Refugees sleep next to the piles of loot they have collected in the past week--sacks of rice, bicycles still in their wrapping, plastic mats, a guitar. An estimated 2,000 patients suffering from stab wounds and burns have no doctors to treat them, and have only rice to eat. Syahnakri claims that all gunfire, arson and looting in the city had ceased as of last Monday. But militia members still roam the streets, armed and arrogant. "I have not managed to take full control of the town," Syahnakri concedes. INTERFET commandos will have to secure the port and airport, then the rest of the brutalized city.

The most pressing needs, however, lurk not in the capital but up in the green hills, where as many as 150,000 refugees--many of them ill and hungry--have fled for safety. On Friday two C-130s dropped a combined 20 tons of rice and blankets to mountain areas on the north coast, and more such aid was promised soon. (This week the World Food Program plans to begin dropping 300,000 meals provided by the U.S., each contained in a wing-like package that floats gently to the ground.) Aid agencies have stockpiled mountains of supplies in Darwin--more than 100 tons of food, shelter materials and medical supplies--and hope to follow close on the heels of the first troops into the territory. Their convoys will require armed escorts. But INTERFET troops face far more daunting challenges if they are to coax refugees down from the hills. They must drive off or disarm the remaining militias; they must secure major towns and villages; they must convince terrified Timorese that those various tasks have been accomplished.

How hard that will be depends in large part on how much fight is left in the swaggering militias. "It would be better to expect the worst," warns a three-star general in Jakarta. On the one hand, the militias are estimated to number close to 20,000 and have proven to be extremely vicious. In the past, U.N. peacekeeping forces have shown themselves particularly vulnerable to that sort of enemy--undisciplined bands that are unpredictable, passionate and bloodthirsty. One militia leader has sworn his men will "eat the hearts" of Australian troops.

On the other hand, several observers have reported seeing militia units fleeing the territory--either from fear of U.N. peacekeepers or of Indonesian troops, who would supposedly kill them to hide evidence of the military's complicity in the rape of Timor. Many Western military analysts see little spine in the irregulars. "The militias have outlived their usefulness to Jakarta, and I think they will quickly fade away," says retired Lieut. General John Sanderson, the Australian military commander for the U.N. transitional authority in Cambodia. Though cross-hatched by differences in language and military culture, the INTERFET force will be infinitely better armed and better coordinated than the militias. And their brief--to use "all means necessary" to restore peace to East Timor--intentionally loosens any shackles that on-site commanders may have felt. "This is Iraq language," says a U.N. official in New York. "It means 'no holds barred,' go in with whatever hardware is necessary and do the job.'"

Those Indonesian soldiers who will remain in the territory as peacekeepers move in pose a far greater threat to foreign troops. By asking for international assistance, military chief General Wiranto effectively admitted that his men have sided with the militias in their campaign. "I'd be a hypocrite if I denied that we are emotionally close to them," says Syahnakri. (The normally spit-shined Wiranto himself broke into a karaoke rendition of the song Feelings when he tried to explain to a gathering of military wives why his troops could not control the militias.) Nico Schulte Nordholt, a Dutch expert on Indonesia, thinks the military plans to continue the destabilization of East Timor by launching guerrilla attacks from across the border. "The Australians should be prepared," he warns. Elements of the military could ignore orders to withdraw and harass foreign troops from within militia ranks. Even those who maintain discipline have an interest in showing that East Timor cannot be pacified so easily.

On the surface, though, the withdrawal that began last week seems sincere. In some ways the more difficult decision was taken on Sept. 12, when President B.J. Habibie asked for help in quelling the violence. An array of forces pushed Jakarta into that corner: threats of diplomatic and economic repercussions from Western capitals, widespread displeasure among Indonesia's Asian neighbors, strong words from U.S. President Bill Clinton. White House sources believe that Indonesian minds were ultimately swayed by the sword that continues to hover above them--the potential loss of billions in International Monetary Fund and World Bank funds. After a series of increasingly terse phone calls to Wiranto, General Hugh Shelton, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid into his counterpart on Sept. 10, warning bluntly that he was on the verge of ruining his country. The Indonesian pleaded for time to inspect Dili personally. Members of the U.N. Security Council delegation that met Wiranto in Dili the next day say the devastation he witnessed there gave him the excuse he needed to call for U.N. intervention.

Three days after Habibie had opened the door to peacekeepers, the Security Council passed Resolution 1264, authorizing the military intervention. But that task hardly ends the U.N.'s responsibilities in East Timor. Many analysts expect INTERFET will need up to six months to accomplish its mission, before it can hand authority over to a U.N. peacekeeping force that could last another year. After that a U.N. civilian administration is expected to help run East Timor for an additional five years.

The problems that will require attention at that point loom as large as those faced now. A civil service that once counted 28,000 members will have to be reconstituted. João Mariano Saldanha, executive director of the East Timor Study Group in Dili, says that 10,000 of those jobs represented ministries in Jakarta and can be abolished. Not all of the locals who filled the remaining positions will necessarily stay on, though, and given the fact that 75% of teachers in the territory hail from other Indonesian islands, the new nation will be hard-pressed to train a new set of officials. "The international community will have to support East Timor for at least a generation," says Edward Masters, president of the U.S.-Indonesia Society in Washington. Saldanha estimates that even with international aid the territory will need at least five years to return its infrastructure to its pre-crisis level--which wasn't high.

At the same time, says Sanderson, the U.N. must establish a credible legal system, a civilian police force and democratic procedures. As for the economy, many experts are pinning their hopes on micro-credit loans and small cash crops like coffee, sandalwood and vanilla beans. A similar approach worked well in resettling both returning refugees and reformed guerrillas in Guatemala after a 1996 peace settlement there. The high cost of exploring Timor's offshore oil and gas reserves will likely delay that project for years.

Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta says he has been promised at least $100 million in aid from international institutions and another $100 million annually from Portugal over the next five years. Father Vitor Milicias, assigned by Lisbon to oversee transition aid to East Timor, asserts Portugal is now willing to cough up five times that much. Such expectations can prove disappointingly thin, however. "We asked for $120 million in aid" for Kosovo, notes the U.N. official. "So far we have received $21 million."

Support for the INTERFET mission--running at about 70% in Australian opinion polls--could also wane if the force takes casualties or is bogged down by protracted guerrilla attacks. Australians have thus far welcomed hundreds of East Timorese who have fled the recent violence (even moving Kosovars from refugee camps in Western Australia to Tasmania and back to Kosovo in order to make room). But that goodwill could prove limited if the numbers increase dramatically.

Jakarta, though, may have the most to fear from continued unrest. Those who watch the Indonesian military say the battle has shifted from East Timor to the broad avenues of the capital. The armed forces have made their point, says Arief Budiman, professor of Indonesian studies at the University of Melbourne: "The message is not only to Habibie, but to any future government: 'If you want to rule Indonesia, you have to deal with the military.'" The nationalist protests that have dogged Jakarta in the past week could thus be meant to concentrate civilian leaders' minds on the powder keg they administer.

But given the wildfire rhetoric being flung about, they could just as easily spiral out of control. The anger directed against INTERFET has not supplanted the disgust many Indonesians feel for their own military. "Indonesia hasn't suffered defeat, but the military has," says Bob Lowry, an expert on Indonesia's military at Canberra's Australian Defence Force Academy. Public pressure, and the rise of a moderate young officers corps, could help force far-reaching reform. Something similar took place after the 1982 Falklands War, notes U.N. East Timor adviser Charles Sampford. "You could also argue that the defeat of Argentina was the beginning of the end of military juntas in South America," he says. "Maybe East Timor will do the same for Asian democracy." That may be wishful thinking. It could also be a blueprint worth following.

Reported by Jay Branegan/with Clinton, Lisa Clausen/Darwin, Martha de la Cal/Lisbon, William Dowell/New York, Eric Ellis/Singapore, Barry Hillenbrand and Douglas Waller/Washington, David Liebhold/Hong Kong, Zamira Loebis/Dili and Jason Tedjasukmana/Jakarta

This edition's table of contents
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