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A Fight To the Death
And the military seems to be winning

It was, said President Abdurrahman Wahid, an incident designed to embarrass him. But leaving aside motives for the slaying of four United Nations workers in Atambua, West Timor, on Sept. 6, the president should indeed be embarrassed — and should have been long before this mess exposed his lack of control over Indonesia's military to an international audience. One military intelligence officer has revealed that just before the latest violence, a group of special forces was sent to West Timor to stir up trouble. They succeeded. Then, according to witnesses, soldiers and police merely stood back and watched. Observes one foreign diplomat: "Wahid is avoiding confrontation with the military because he's afraid of diminishing his own power by issuing orders that aren't obeyed."

Perhaps. But certainly the president, previously credited with reining in the military, is looking less able to keep the peace. Beset by business scandals, a moribund economy, a raft of separatist conflicts and a series of unexplained bombings (the latest at the stock exchange), Wahid is now the target of international ire over his inability to protect those trying to help.

After the deaths in West Timor, the U.N. immediately pulled the rest of its team from the area. Indonesia is now obliged to comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution that militias there be disarmed and disbanded. A U.N. delegation is on its way to assess progress — though the government has said it is not welcome and has refused to meet its delegates. The U.S., the country's major investment benefactor, has issued strong condemnations. Even the World Bank has produced a veiled threat about continued support. Some are calling for the navy — which has restored some order on strife-torn Maluku, and is trusted — to be sent in. Instead, the government has dispatched an elite police squad and a division from the army's Strategic Reserve Command. "The Indonesian military has failed to disarm feuding factions [elsewhere]," says Munir, chairman of the country's Committee for Victims of Violence and Missing Persons. "West Timor is no different."

It is more than a year since rampaging militias, backed by the military, reduced East Timor to rubble. No one has been brought to trial, although 19 have been summoned, including the military chief in charge of East Timor during the independence ballot. Absent, however, is the former armed forces commander, Gen. Wiranto. And summoned at the last moment was Eurico Guterres, the former head of a militia allegedly responsible for a score of murders. Guterres is also the youth wing leader of Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle. His lawyer says it is unlikely that he will answer the summons. Megawati says all the militias have been disbanded anyway. Perhaps a dose of wishful thinking. Meanwhile, the 120,000 refugees who fled, or were herded, to West Timor face starvation in the wake of the U.N. pullout.

Then there is former militiaman Olivio Moruk, one of the 19 suspects, whose murder in West Timor apparently triggered the attacks against the U.N. Reportedly used by Kopassus, the army's elite special force, as an intelligence agent in East Timor, Moruk was virtually given a military burial (televised nationally), with armed guerrillas standing in ranks alongside military and police units. "The fact that he continued to operate as a thug with complete impunity in West Timor indicates how unwilling the Indonesian government has been to act," says Joe Saunders, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Six people have been arrested in connection with Moruk's death. Those who butchered the three foreign and one local U.N. staffers have not been found.

That is not surprising. First reports said a 1,000-strong mob attacked the U.N. office, killed the workers and left. U.N. staffers now say those responsible were 25 men on motorcycles, who killed one worker, regrouped at the police station, no less, then went back to kill the others. Gathering again at the police office, the killers returned a third time to burn the bodies.

Certainly hardliners within the armed forces are hard nuts to crack, but international patience is wearing thin. "Our international friends demand us to do this and that, but they don't give us the necessary tools to operate," Wahid has complained. Taking away aid still due to be given may well be the next step.

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