The Age [Melbourne]
Saturday, September 11, 1999
Australia, UN were warned before the voting
By BRENDAN NICHOLSON CANBERRA
The United Nations and Australia encouraged the Timorese to vote even though intelligence services had warned that the Indonesian military was orchestrating a violent campaign to hold on to the territory.
The strongest warning was delivered on 4 March by Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation, which warned that the Indonesian military was ``clearly protecting and in some cases operating with'' the militia groups.
Although the weight of intelligence analysis made it clear there was no evidence that the Indonesian military would soften its approach, the political decision was taken to accept President B.J. Habibie's assurance that his forces would ensure a peaceful transition.
The same intelligence analysts were last night trying to work out how many East Timorese died since they cast their first vote and the real slaughter began.
When this warning was delivered, the official Australian response was that the militias were being supported by rogue elements within the military.
The DIO's view was that the lack of any vigorous action by the commander of the Indonesian armed forces, General Wiranto, to rein in his forces implied he was at least turning a blind eye.
Australian intelligence was able to keep track of militia activities by monitoring the mobile phones used by their leaders and the satellite phones used by Indonesian military commanders to communicate with Jakarta.
Australian military intelligence operatives have intercepted ``damning'' conversations between militia leaders and commanders in the field.
In July, leaked Indonesian Government documents predicted a win for independence supporters, and outlined a scorched-earth plan. The memo, dated 3 July, said Jakarta should put the army on alert and consider increasing its support for the militia groups.
Early last month an Atlanta-based watchdog group, the Carter Centre, said the Indonesian armed forces were continuing to support the militia groups. If anyone had any doubts about the quality of the warnings, these should have vanished when a militia gang led an attack on a UN regional office in Maliana, on the border with West Timor. UN staff there included three Australian Federal Police officers.
A comprehensive report, prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs with the help of senior military intelligence officers, was handed to the UN by the Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer.
The intelligence warnings were not ignored completely. Australia and the UN accused the Indonesian military of arming and supporting the militia but the decision was taken to push on with the ballot and to rely on the Indonesia forces to prevent violence.
In July 1998, Mr Lansell Taudevin, who ran an Australian Government aid project in East Timor, warned officials at Australia's embassy in Jakarta that the Indonesian army was arming and training militia.
Mr Taudevin said he was convinced the worst of the bloodshed could have been avoided if Australia had heeded such warnings and applied more pressure on Jakarta earlier to rein in those supporting the militia groups.