Timor military retreat `a sham'

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SECRET MILITARY papers obtained by The Independent reveal that 23 years after its brutal invasion of East Timor, the Indonesian government is systematically lying about its continuing occupation of the territory.

The 100 pages of documents, which have been authenticated by Western embassies in Jakarta, show that in spite of Indonesia's repeated claims to be reducing its military presence in East Timor, it is continuing to station about 18,000 troops there. Indonesia publicly owns up to fewer than 13,000.

The forces include large numbers of battle-ready combat troops, and include commando units held responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed during the Indonesian occupation.

The documents also show that the Indonesian military is directly supervising teams of paramilitary thugs, engaged in what appear to be attempts to foment violence among the East Timorese themselves.

The confidential documents were compiled by the personnel section of the Indonesian armed forces (Abri) in the East Timorese capital, Dili. Obtained by The Independent in Jakarta, they provide a detailed breakdown of the military presence in East Timor, by unit and by rank. They show that Indonesia's alleged "withdrawal" of combat troops over the summer was a publicity stunt.

In the presence of 100 invited journalists, the government shipped 400 troops out of East Timor on 28 July and 700 more on 8 August. At that time, an army information officer, Captain Tri Yogabudi, said: "Their tour of duty is over, there will be no replacements." The military claimed that before the "withdrawal" its total strength on East Timor amounted to 12,700.

But a document dated July 1998 shows the total number of troops was 17,834, a figure that remained unchanged in a later document, marked "Early August". If civilian "People's Militias" and groups of militarised civil servants are included, the total increases to more than 21,500. A table of troop strengths dated simply "August 1998" suggests a reduction of fewer than 300 troops.

Even yesterday, the Foreign minister, Ali Alatas, was still repeating the government's claim that troop levels in East Timor had been cut. "About 1,300 battle troops have been withdrawn," he said, after addressing a human rights workshop, funded by the British government. "Almost 100 per cent [of the remaining troops] are territorial troops who do not fight but help people in agriculture, road and bridge development."