APSN Banner

Jakarta warns of new rebel group seeking to reunite Timor

Straits Times - December 17, 2001

Derwin Pereira, Jakarta – The Indonesian military is sounding the alarm over a separatist group that is aspiring to unite both halves of Timor island. Just two years after Jakarta lost East Timor in a United Nations-supervised independence vote, hawkish generals cautioned that the Indonesian-controlled West Timor could also secede if rebels from the Greater Timor State movement had their way.

Over the past few months, the armed forces (TNI) had detected activity by this rebel group that suggested moves to unite the two islands, said Colonel Moeswarno Moesanip of the Wirasakti command in the West Timor capital of Kupang.

Political observers, however, were quick to downplay the warning, saying disgruntled military hardliners were hoping to drum up support to crack down harder on East Timor sympathisers in the western border.

Col Moeswarno told reporters that the group had tried to make its presence felt by rallying public opposition to the deployment of an infantry battalion along East Timor's border. Investigations revealed that the rebels were afraid the deployment would impede their plans to create a separate Timor state, he said.

Col Moeswarno's comments were against a backdrop of other threats to Indonesia's unity, primarily from separatists in Aceh and Irian Jaya. These insurgents had been fighting for decades to break away from Jakarta.

Analysts believed that the rebel group operating in West Timor is a pale shadow of the other separatist movements in Indonesia. Little is known about its membership strength or political links. Some in the army see the group allied closely to the new East Timor administration, although Col Moeswarno does not make this connection.

A TNI source noted: "We suspect that there are people in East Timor backed by foreign governments who might want to destabilise Indonesia." The generals, however, refuse to acknowledge that certain military elements are intent on playing the same destabilising game in East Timor.

Not everyone in the TNI is happy about independence for the former Portuguese colony, which Indonesia annexed in 1976. The TNI top brass continues to be resentful because it feels that the East Timor problem is created by the politicians and the military is made to bear the brunt of the policy failure as well as the ignominy when the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Indeed, there is covert support by some in the TNI for the pro-Indonesia East Timor militias. Sustained by disgruntled generals even today, the militias continue to be a thorn in the side of East Timor.

At the broader national level, sources said it also lends credence to calls from within the establishment to keep the territorial command structure in place. The argument is that the territorial command structure – under which the military has a reach right down to village level and ample opportunity to dabble in politics – will enable the TNI to better handle threats by rebels such as the Timor group, the Free Aceh Movement and Irian Jaya separatists.

A Jakarta-based researcher said: "It is common now for the military to wave threats of separatism and all kinds of security dangers emerging in Indonesia. "It is really helping them preserve a system that has served their interests for the last 30 years."

The Indonesian armed forces say they have detected activity by the Greater Timor State group that suggests moves to reunite Timor. The group, they say, has tried to rally public opposition to the deployment of an infantry battalion along East Timor's border, which it fears could impede plans for a separate Timor state.