A chilling audience with Dr Strangelove of Jakarta

IT IS a very long drive up the palm-lined, four-lane avenue to the monolithic headquarters of the Indonesia military just outside Jakarta, and the tension in our car is rising. It is 9.30 in the morning and the five ambassadors from New York are finally to meet face to face the man who wields the real power in this country - and the power to stop the desperate suffering in East Timor. He is Chief General Wiranto.

Except that the meeting is not to be with the general alone. The United Nations delegation - and this lone reporter, nervously tagging along incognito - finds itself ushered into a third-floor conference room. General Wiranto has brought out all of his brass - 20 generals ranged around him. The intent to intimidate is obvious. We are severely outnumbered, our nametags are egregiously misspelt. Never mind the cups of cold, sweet tea and pastries.

The ensuing two hours turn almost comical - a script, perhaps, from a Sixties war comedy, with Mel Brooks as General Wiranto. But there is nothing funny here this week. The chance was given to the people of East Timor to find freedom, after 24 years of brutal oppression, with the self- determination referendum, organised by the UN, of 30 August. They voted overwhelmingly for independence. And now that chance is being sabotaged - sabotaged, most say, by this man's army.

General Wiranto, an imposing man with an unsettling ability to conceal all feelings, takes instant charge of the proceedings. His opening remarks are peppered with bland reassurances: the TNI, the Indonesia army, is committed to respecting the results of the ballot. With martial law now imposed, it is well on the way to restoring order in East Timor. The TNI does not need the help of outside peace-keeping forces. "Our commitment to handling the problem should not be doubted," he says.

Then comes a presentation by his "General for Information", complete with graphs. Do they think the UN Security Council ambassadors are stupid or blind? Some of the graphs are surreal in their dishonesty. One depicts the numbers of "attacks, burnings and destructions" in East Timor over 10 days since 30 August. The worst, allegedly, was on 2 September. On that day, the graph tells us, there were five attacks. And the number of burnings on 8 September? Just two.

The leader of the UN group is Martin Andjaba, a former Swapo freedom fighter from Namibia and now Namibia's UN ambassador. Finally, he takes the floor. He forsakes diplomacy. The Indonesian government and military, he begins, have stated repeatedly that they are doing enough now to protect the East Timorese. "We do not believe them. The violence has continued, the oppression, the destruction of property has continued unabated. The killing continues even as we sit here. In fact, the situation has worsened."

Mr Andjaba does not call Chief General Wiranto a liar, or not quite. But he does call him a failure - in front of his generals. "You are failing the international community, you are failing the the people of East Timor and you are failing Indonesia," he continues. "Perhaps it is a question of lack of political will on your side."

Therein resides the key question this week: why has the TNI allowed the carnage to happen, even abetted it? Does it intend to reduce East Timor to rubble before handing it over to the UN - as it is supposed to in November - as a warning to other areas of the country? Or does the TNI mean simply to dishonour the UN agreements and to keep hold of the province for ever?

General Wiranto is not going to answer that in this room. Instead, he launches into a second monologue. All will be well. Only the TNI understands the people of East Timor. Only the TNI can succeed in achieving reconciliation in the divided province. The TNI, what is more, will repair the physical damage so that it can "hand over East Timor in good condition". And how long will that take, you might wonder? Months? Or years?

He will allow foreign humanitarian workers into East Timor again, but the introduction of foreign peace-keepers is another issue, "because it is relevant to the dignity of the TNI". And he tries this: if a foreign force is brought in, bloodshed will follow because, he argues, it will encourage the pro- independence majority to begin attacking those opposed to independence.

At about this time General Wiranto's control of the meeting is punctured by the trill of a mobile phone on our side of the room. It is from the UN compound in Dili, the capital of East Timor. Efforts to evacuate non- essential UN staff to Darwin in Australia have been halted because the compound is under siege again by militia wielding guns and grenades and trying to force their way in. The general is challenged by Mr Andjaba. What is going on? Did you not promise to arrest, even shoot, those carrying arms under martial law?

General Wiranto, however, has his own phone and says he will get the "real information" from his "insubordinate commander" in East Timor. (I imagine I have misheard him, but he repeats "insubordinate" over and again.) "Such kinds of news and rumours have been heard by me many times," he insists, "but when I check the news I find that it is contrary to the facts." Sure enough, the "insubordinate" is confident. General Wiranto reports: "There is no trouble, the situation is peaceful."

Then our phone rings again - more news of trouble in Dili and the general, beginning to sound impatient, promises to check a second time. Oh, so there may be some trouble, yes. But it is only some veterans protesting, because of the proposed evacuation of locally hired UN staff. It is nothing serious. "You must believe me," he tells his guests.

So this is how it is. The UN might not be perfect. But this cameo of the absurd, with two telephones in a single room telling two different stories, captures exactly what the UN is up against. These events are happening now, and still General Wiranto denies that they are happening.

It is in the midst of this exchange that the general surpasses all with an invitation. Recently, he has supervised the laying out of a golf course on ground here that was to have accommodated a new police headquarters. Would the ambassadors come and play a round with him some time? And by the way, it is called the Cobra Course, because of all the snakes found on it. "Cobras," a UN delegate whispers in my ear. "How appropriate."

Timor crisis, pages 12 & 13

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot