The Indonesian military said today it will reinforce the border with East Timor with hundreds of troops because of a clash there between its soldiers and international peacekeepers.
The clash Sunday, in which the Indonesian military said one policeman was killed and two wounded, was the first direct fighting between the Australian-led international forces and Indonesian security forces since the foreign troops arrived in East Timor last month.
Indonesia accused the peacekeepers of sparking the fighting. The Australian government called for high level talks to defuse tension over the incident.
The Indonesian regional military commander, Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri, said a battalion of soldiers, usually 700-1,000 troops, will be sent to defend the border from the peace force, known as Interfet. Damiri heads the military command stretching from Bali to Timor island, which is divided between western Timor, part of Indonesia, and East Timor, which has voted for independence.
Indonesian lawmakers called on the military to shoot any foreign troops who cross into the western part of the island. Foreign Minister Ali Alatas denounced "trigger happy" Australian troops, who Indonesia says strayed over the border into western Timor and fired first.
"I am quite surprised that the Interfet, which is supposed to be equipped with very sophisticated equipment, can make such an error," Alatas said.
But in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Australian commander Maj. Gen. Peter Cosgrove insisted that pro-Jakarta forces had fired first and said they admitted they were in East Timor when the incident occurred. He called their actions an "act of villainy."
"I can't have people coming into East Timor to shoot up my soldiers. It's just not on," Cosgrove said.
The peacekeeping force has killed three members of the militias that oppose independence for East Timor in the past week. Its mandate allows it to use lethal force if necessary to restore peace to East Timor, but the mandate ends at the border.
Prime Minister John Howard of Australia called for urgent high level talks in Dili and Jakarta to try to resolve the issue of border security. There is a serious chill in relations between the neighboring nations over Australia's leadership of the force.
There were new protests outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta today, for instance, and legislators from all sides meeting in Jakarta before Oct. 20 presidential elections urged the military to defend Indonesia's sovereignty.
"The incident has made it more obvious there is no goodwill from Interfet toward Indonesia. The [military] should take stern action. If they enter the Indonesian territory, just shoot. Don't tolerate it!" said Slamet Effendy Yusuf, deputy chairman of the former ruling party, Golkar.