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New Vote Or We Burn Everything

A commander of the pro-Indonesian militia's in East Timor said yesterday his men were ready to "burn everything" if the territory's vote is not held again. John Howard reports.

"We have to work together, but if that can't be done and the international community does not review the vote process, we are ready to destroy everything, Herminio da Silva da Costa said.

Mr da Costa said the numbers of militiamen in East Timor would increase dramatically over the coming days.

He said he arrived in Kupang, West Timor, on Saturday, and was returning to the area bordering East Timor today "to consolidate my troops for peace or war.

He said he was second in command under Joao Tavares, of the joint militia forces in East Timor.

The militia's charge that last week's vote was rigged in favour of independence by the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET)

"The poll was rigged. We have people inside Unamet," he said.

Asked if the army was supporting the militia, Mr da Costa said: " There is no support by TNI (the Indonesian armed forces) and now there is a little bit of conflict between the militia and the TNI."

However, he contradicted himself when he added: " The TNI got orders from the central government and in the past couple of days we received an order from TNI not to commit violence."

Meanwhile, President Habibie is in a no-win situation. He has compromised with the military in order to stay in office. Politicians, including Mr Habibie and armed forces chief General Wiranto, are all setting their sights on the presidential poll for early November.

The military has around 80 dedicated seats in the Indonesian parliament and has enormous influence.

Some politicians, such as Muslim leader, Adi Sasono, are playing the populist card, saying, " Great, now we can retrieve all our assets from East Timor."

But much bigger than that is the whole issue of Indonesia's nationalistic pride and the shock of the potential loss of territory.

For Mr Habibie, the perception was that if there was no action and if the security situation remained out of control, then his chances of staying in presidency would be gone.

Behind these moves, a triumvirate of General Wiranto, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the State Secretariat appears to be have been the initiator of the martial law idea to which Mr Habibie consented.

Domestic repercussions for Mr Habibie can be expected to multiply regardless, with his fate as a leader still hostage to the behaviour of the military.

General Winarto now has massive power to shoot on sight, to control the media and any expression of opinion and to assume all authority in East Timor.

Based on General Winarto's past actions, and his penchant for arriving at the scene of conflict just in time to oversee a peace deal and take credit, some observers now believe the general has managed to create a win-win situation for himself. A future Jakarta-coup would not be out of the question.


ENDS

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