The commander of the Indonesian armed forces, Gen. Wiranto, responded to intensifying international pressure to accept foreign peacekeepers in East Timor today by saying that such troops eventually may be allowed in--but not before the army could "calm down the situation."
His comments, apparently intended as a concession, did not seem likely to stem mounting condemnation of the violence, which has taken hundreds of lives since an overwhelming majority of East Timorese voters rejected an autonomy plan that would have left it part of Indonesia and opted for independence.
Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands driven from their homes by local anti-independence militia groups, and President Clinton said today "it is now clear that the Indonesian military is aiding and abetting the militia violence. This is simply unacceptable." He and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called on Indonesia to accept foreign peacekeepers to restore security in the tiny territory.
European foreign ministers will discuss the possibility of economic sanctions against Indonesia next week, while Australia, Britain and New Zealand said they were also reviewing military ties with Jakarta.
On Thursday, the United States cut military ties with Indonesia, and the International Monetary Fund effectively suspended its multibillion-dollar lending program to the economically troubled country.
Elements of the Indonesian military had supported local militias in East Timor--including supplying them with arms--in an effort to turn voters against independence. When that failed, Indonesian troops, police and the militias erupted in a frenzy of killing, looting and destruction across the territory.
In Lisbon today, East Timor's spiritual leader, Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo, who escaped the bloodletting by fleeing under a false name, said, "The situation is one of genocide, with a cleaning out of the villages and towns of their inhabitants." In Jakarta, additional reports emerged today of mass killings, as well as new signs that Roman Catholic clergy and facilities have been targeted.
Wiranto, speaking to reporters here, said martial law in the territory was taking hold after four days and "the security is getting better." If foreign troops arrive prematurely, he said, popular anger against the United Nations "will be shown and aimed at the incoming international peacekeeping forces."
More than 26,000 Indonesian troops and police are in East Timor, but as the United Nations evacuated most of its remaining staff from its besieged headquarters in Dili, the devastated capital, the militias and their army backers appeared to rule the deserted streets.
Militiamen in the heart of the city fired on an army convoy escorting evacuees to Dili's airport; the soldiers protecting the civilians in the trucks ducked for cover but did not return fire. And hours after most of the U.N. staff left, about a dozen militiamen raided a schoolyard adjacent to the headquarters, firing at refugees and smashing and looting U.N. vehicles parked there.
About 80 U.N. employees stayed behind to maintain a symbolic presence in the city and to try to provide some protection for about 1,000 East Timorese refugees who clambered over the walls five days ago fleeing the rampaging militias and soldiers.
At nightfall, some of the refugees tried to escape into the surrounding hills by climbing over the compound's back fence. A journalist who remained inside, Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times of London, told a television interviewer that "the army started shooting at them as if it were target practice."
Those who left Dili today described a scene of vast destruction, with most houses and buildings looted and burned and the city largely empty except for soldiers and militiamen. On some charred walls was scrawled "BMP," for Besi Merah Putih, meaning "Red and White Iron," the name of one of the most ruthless militia groups.
"The destruction of the capital was greater than anyone expected," said Lindsay Murdoch, a journalist with the Melbourne Age newspaper, who spent the past five nights barricaded inside the U.N. compound. "Hundreds of houses are blackened shells. . . . The streets are littered with burned-out buses, cars and motorbikes." Speaking by telephone from Darwin, Australia, Murdoch also said he saw green military trucks piled high with furniture and other looted goods.
In Jakarta, the Catholic Bishops Conference said at least four priests were known dead in East Timor and that 60 nuns were missing. A seminary was burned down, a convent next to the U.N. compound was set ablaze, and the Motael Church in Dili was torched, the conference said. The bishop of Baukau, Basilio do Nascimento, is still in hiding after being wounded in a machete attack.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, is overwhelmingly Catholic. Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, invaded in 1975, after Portuguese colonial authorities departed, and annexed the territory a year later, setting off massive bloodshed.
The violence since the Aug. 30 independence referendum, particularly the attacks on Catholic institutions and clergy, prompted a plea from Pope John Paul II for the militias and their backers to "abandon their murderous and destructive intentions." In a letter released here, the pontiff, who once visited East Timor, said: "It is also my heartfelt wish that as soon as possible, Indonesia and the international community will put an end to the slaughter and find effective ways to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Timorese people."
Many of the missing clergy are said to have fled to the mountain camps of pro-independence guerrilla groups.
The Indonesian government has issued varying statements on the violence in East Timor and who bears responsibility for it. At first, officials blamed fighting between pro-independence and pro-Indonesian forces. Then they tried to play down the extent of the violence. When Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer telephoned his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, on Sunday to request permission for evacuation flights to land in Dili, Downer was surprised that Alatas said the situation in Timor was "not that bad" and that the foreign press was "exaggerating" the problem, according to sources familiar with the exchange. Downer suggested that Alatas turn on CNN and watch for himself.
This week, the explanation has shifted, with officials now saying that pro-Indonesian militias are "emotional" over losing the independence referendum. On Thursday, Alatas said the killing and burning was being done by "rogue elements" of the Indonesian military outside the normal command structure. Today, Wiranto called the violence "an emotional reaction against" the U.N. mission in East Timor.
The crisis is believed to have left Wiranto substantially in control of decision-making in Indonesia, with President B. J. Habibie effectively sidelined. Habibie broke a three-day silence today, using a speech to warn his critics not to try to exploit the crisis for political advantage and denying that he has abrogated all authority on the Timor issue to Wiranto.
Special correspondent Atika Shubert contributed to this report.