Indonesia has been widely condemned over the past two weeks for its failure to keep order in East Timor. With calm apparently restored inside the Indonesian territory, Scoop's Alastair Thompson today brings you the first glimpses of the inside story of what really happened in East Timor last week.
When order was apparently restored in East Timor on Thursday night NZ time Scoop was surprised.
Only three days after martial law was declared in the territory - which till then appeared to be in the grip of anarchy – the TNI was apparently claiming that it had succeeded in restabilising the rule of law.
The speed with which order was restored begged more than a few questions.
Firstly it is clearly not possible to mobilise six battalions of troops in two days.
Secondly, given that the Indonesian military did move so quickly, how long had Indonesia been preparing for the operation? Two weeks, three weeks even? Perhaps even before the referendum took place?
Indonesian delegation media liason officer Wahid Supriyadi today told Scoop a bit of the background to the Indonesian army’s operation “Restore Order”. (Scoop has also put in a call to Jakarta and hopes to receive more information shortly.)
Mr Supriyadi told Scoop East Timor’s native military command structure included a large number of troops with economic and emotional ties with the pro-integration militia. Thus for Indonesia the referendum was always expected to have problems associated with it.
As a result the TNI – the Indonesian military – prepared “contingency” plans in the event that the situation in East Timor went awry after the referendum.
These plans included the placement on alert of six battalions of soldiers to go into the territory on very short notice and restore order. These, Mr Wahid said, were stationed in West Timor and in other neighbouring provinces.
It appears that as soon as martial law was declared in the territory the six battalions – approximately 6000 troops – moved into East Timor and commenced operation “Restore Order”.
As part of the operation the existing troops – who could not be relied upon because of their “sympathies” – were withdrawn from active duty.
Scoop pressed Mr Wahid on the question of the TNI’s involvement in the forced removal of the civilian population of Dili to West Timor but he was unwilling to divulge a great deal at this stage.
Nevertheless Scoop has pieced together the following.
Reports of the forced evacuation of Dili in the West suggested that the removal was part of a cynical “de-population” plan. Many observers warned that it could be part of an “ethnic cleansing” operation of a Kosovo type nature.
The Indonesian Leadership meanwhile always claimed it was an evacuation, and it appears that we can now conclude that they were always telling the truth.
From a miliary perspective replacing a standing garrison of 15000 troops who show all the hallmarks of being out of control is not an easy task. The last thing military planners would want to happen would be to get involved in a shooting war with their own troops.
The operation is made considerably more difficult when there is a vulnerable civilian population interposed between the loyal and not-so-loyal troops. Hence the evacuation.
Thus it appears that far from being an ethnic cleansing operation, in fact the forced evacuation of Dili was always part of the TNI’s contingency plans designed to minimise civilian casualties during what was clearly an extremely sensitive and dangerous military undertaking. (NATO planners take note.)
Scoop suggested to Mr Wahid that in the final analysis the Indonesian military which has been so widely criticised over the past three weeks in international media might even in fact have a claim at heroism. “We are not claiming to be heroes,” he replied.
In the final analysis it would appear that many of the world’s leaders, and most of its media, will soon be eating at least a few of their words.