As East Timor descended into chaos in September, with militia thugs and Indonesian troops burning buildings, killing thousands, and forcing at least 200,000 people to flee into the countryside, an obvious question arose. How could Western powers have entrusted security during the August 30 referendum on independence to the police and, for good measure, leave 15,000 government troops in place?
After all, it was abundantly clear to anyone with even a basic knowledge of Indonesia’s army that leaving it in charge would put the inhabitants in grave peril. This is the same military force that spent the past quarter-century terrorizing, killing, and torturing the East Timorese. It certainly showed no inclination to let them opt for independence. Well before Indonesia and Portugal signed the accords in May this year – under UN auspices – to hold a referendum, the newly created militias were already running riot through the territory with the army’s connivance.