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Troops leave, but will be replaced

The Guardian - July 29, 1998

Indonesia began its much publicised troop withdrawal from East Timor yesterday but the army immediately announced they would be replaced.

As 398 special forces and commandos sailed away to Jakarta, the military commander in East Timor, Colonel Tono Suratman, said 800 military doctors, teachers and engineers would soon arrive. Nor did he rule out recalling the troops. "It depends on the situation. We're still hearing about terrorising and intimidation against the people," he said.

The local police commandeer, Colonel Timbul Silaen, said he would request hundreds of reinforcements. "The withdrawal of troops means the police will be playing a more active role in maintaining public order, and the numbers are not enough," the state Antara news agency quoted him as saying. The Indonesian police are part of the armed forces.

Colonel Suratman said the new arrivals would not replace the elite combat troops, some of which he accepted were guilty of human rights abuses, but would work in community development projects.

Six hundred more soldiers are to leave within a week, but observers say that until yesterday there were 12,700 Indonesian troops and police in the former Portuguese territory that Jakarta invaded in 1975 and then annexed.

Military analysts believe there are 250 armed rebels fighting for independence in East Timor's hilly interior. "We want to see more [troops] go," said Filomeno Hornay, dean of agriculture at the University of East Timor. "But we have to try to maintain security ourselves. If there's chaos, it's useless for them to withdraw."

Indonesia's president, B. J. Habibie, says the pullout is part of his commitment to give the territory greater autonomy. The foreign minister, Ali Alatas, is to explain the proposal to the United Nations and the Portuguese foreign minister in New York next week.

[On July 30, the South China Morning Post reported East Timor police chief, Colonel Timbul Silaen, as saying two additional companies of anti-riot police will be sent to East Timor. Although human rights workers acknowledge that the police have a "slightly better reputation", they say that it will actually increase the military presence on the streets and that police have their own detention centres where torture was not uncommon - James Balowski.]