Arms aid adds to Timor terror
by Brian Toohey

WHILE Australian troops wait in Darwin for the order to fly into East Timor on a tension-packed rescue mission, Royal Australian Air Force personnel are in Jakarta and Surabaya helping train their Indonesian counterparts in the finer points of air defence.  

The training, during an exercise called Eland Austino, covers the defence of airfields against such activities as unwanted landings.

Other members of the rescue mission who are due to be deployed by ship from Darwin will no doubt be comforted by the knowledge that elsewhere in the city another group of Indonesians completed a maritime surveillance exercise called Albatross on August 27.

Troops on high alert in Darwin might also be interested to learn that next month Australian Army officers will begin training Indonesian instructors in "close country" (i.e. jungle) warfare during a course in Bandung. 

Last week, Defence Minister John Moore defended the training program on the grounds that it was in Australia's interest.  But it is becoming harder and harder to understand why we should continue to assist a military force which is attracting widespread international condemnation.

Officially, our troops have no need to worry that they could come to harm as a result of the training the Indonesian military is receiving from Australian instructors.  Mr Moore is adamant that no troops will be sent to East Timor without the permission of the Indonesians.

In this case, Australian troops should not find themselves on the wrong end of the military techniques taught to the Indonesians.  But it does not mean that Australian civilians, including unarmed police and military liaison officers working for the United Nations, will not be killed by militia groups armed and trained by the Australian military.

According to Australian intelligence analysts, some members of the militia groups are actually undercover soldiers from brutal Indonesian special forces units.  Consequently, it cannot be ruled out that Indonesian soldiers -- including some previously trained by Australia -- are among the militia members who have been firing on Australians with automatic rifles during the past week.

In any event, there is no dispute that the Indonesian security forces have not been carrying out their own Government's clear undertaking to maintain order in East Timor as part of a UN agreement signed on May 5.  In an extraordinarily dangerous move, the Australian Government is willing to send more unarmed police and military officers to East Timor to liaise with the Indonesian forces who refuse to pull the militia groups into line.

YET the Government remains reluctant to back steps to put an armed UN peace-keeping force into East Timor to do the job the Indonesians are refusing to do.  The Government's attitude, as expressed by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, has been that the Indonesian military will only give a blunt "no" if asked to step aside.

Mr Downer claims the only alternative is to invade Indonesia, something he accuses Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Laurie Brereton, of promoting.  Apart from the fact that there is no legitimate reason to regard East Time as part of Indonesia -- it only acquired the territory by force in 1975 -- Mr Brereton is not advocating an invasion.

Mr Brereton's realistic option has been to put strong pressure on the Indonesian Government to change its mind.  The case for doing so became even more persuasive once it became obvious the Indonesian military had no intention of reining in the militia groups it established last October with the express intention of creating havoc if East Timor looked like moving to independence.

Nevertheless, the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ashton Calvert, argued strongly against a peacekeeping force during talks in Washington in February with a senior American State Department official, Stanley Roth.

According to a leaked record of the conversation, Mr Roth described Australia's position as "defeatist".

Mr Calvert argued that the East Timorese should be encouraged to sort out their differences without resorting to the UN.  The record of conversation, which is likely to find an uncomfortable place in Australian diplomatic history, is remarkable for the scant regard Mr Calvert paid to the way the Indonesian military was exacerbating the differences by inciting the militia groups to attack pro-independence supporters.

Last month in Parliament, Mr Downer described Mr Roth as being "grateful" for Mr Calvert's explanation about the Indonesian position.  It is now clear that Australian diplomacy was woefully astray.  Neither Mr Roth, nor the East Timorese people, have any reason to be grateful for the stand Mr Calvert took with Mr Downer's backing.

It would have been much more prudent to have pushed the Indonesian Government to allow a UN peacekeeping force before the August 30 ballot -- and certainly after it.  If Indonesia still refused, at a least a decent attempt would have been made to stop the bloodshed rather than the alternative policy of emphasising Indonesia's right to say "no".

But it is far from obvious that the Indonesians would have refused if they were subjected to enough pressure, especially from the United States.  Instead of urging the US to step up the pressure, however, Australia urged it not to push for a peacekeeping force.

IN MANY ways, Indonesia is in a weaker position than the Serbs when Nato [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] took extremely tough military action against them a few months ago for human rights violations in Kosovo.  Though the UN General Assembly has passed motions calling on Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor, it never denied Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Don McKinnon reflected growing public impatience when he said last week that consideration should be given to deploying an international force without waiting for UN endorsement.

Predictably enough, Mr Downer was quick to chastise his conservative counterpart from across the Tasman.

Meanwhile, Mr Moore refuses to exert any leverage on the Indonesian Government by cutting back on the current military training program. One of the core justifications for the training is that it gives us crucial influence over the behaviour of the Indonesian military.

It is now blatantly apparent that the exercises afford us no influence.

Instead, the Indonesian military has wilfully ignored our requests to stop its militia groups from firing on unarmed Australians, let alone innocent East Timorese.

All that is left of Australia's tattered policy is to rely on sheer luck to prevent courageous, but unarmed, Australian police from being killed by Indonesian bullets in the next few weeks.

©Brian Toohey