(New York) -- Human Rights Watch said today that President Habibie's declaration of martial law in East Timor, apparently at the urging of Indonesian armed forces commander General Wiranto, could make a terrible situation worse. It urged Indonesia's donors to continue to press Habibie to invite an international peacekeeping force to East Timor.
The text of the September 6 decree had not been made public as of Tuesday morning, Jakarta time, but was expected to include authorization for the army to shoot on sight and make arrests without warrants. As many as 6,000 new army troops were expected to be sent to East Timor as a result. Indonesian officials gave no indication of how long martial law would last.
"The army says the violence is out of control, but in fact, the army's behind it," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "It says pro-autonomy groups are clashing with pro-independence groups, but this is not a two-sided conflict. It's a one-sided, well-organized, premeditated rampage, led by fully armed militias and backed by local troops."
Jones said the militias were systematically attacking refugees, journalists, and people associated with the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). "The army organized and armed these militias in the first place," she said. "Since senior officers at any time could have arrested soldiers and militia leaders involved in murderous attacks but did not, why on earth should anyone believe that martial law and more troops will solve the problem?" Jones said the existing troops in East Timor did not need the extraordinary powers that martial law confers. "They just need the political will to act," she said.
Human Rights Watch said it was concerned that with almost all international journalists out of East Timor and most foreigners evacuated save for some 100 UNAMET staff holed up in the UN compound in Dili, the army could now use martial law as a cover for furthering the work of the militias. "One test will be whether members of the Aitarak militia, responsible for some of the worst violence over the last three days, will be arrested and charged," Jones said. The international community has been urging Indonesia to either stop the violence or invite international forces in to do so.
A five-person delegation from the U.N. Security Council left for Jakarta Monday evening New York time with a mandate to insist that Indonesia take steps in the next forty-eight hours to curb the violence. The martial law decree appears to be Indonesia's response to growing international pressure to act. In interviews with Jakarta newspapers, General Wiranto continues to insist that Indonesia is fully capable of resolving the problem without international assistance and maintains that no international forces will be permitted in East Timor until November, when Indonesia's highest legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly, ratifies the results of the referendum held last August 30. In that ballot, almost 80 percent of East Timorese voted to reject an offer of autonomy and separate from Indonesia.