Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned Indonesia's military today to conform to civilian rule or face economic collapse, political isolation and pursuit by an international war crimes tribunal.
Holbrooke's blunt warning came as Indonesia's new president engaged in a power struggle with defiant elements in the military, and it reflected growing concern among U.S. policymakers that the armed forces might seek to topple him rather than submit to an investigation of alleged war crimes in East Timor last year.
On Thursday, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid fired the army's powerful spokesman, Maj. Gen. Sudrajat, the latest in a series of staff changes.
"There is obviously a profound struggle going on in Indonesia between the forces of democracy and the forces that look backward to protect their own skins," Holbrooke told reporters at the United Nations.
In a telephone interview with Indonesian and American reporters earlier in the day, Holbrooke said that if Indonesia fails to prosecute officers responsible for war crimes, it will only increase pressure from the outside world for the creation of an international tribunal.
Holbrooke also charged that Indonesian military leaders are seeking to block political reforms. "It is vitally important that the military in Indonesia, who are trying to protect themselves, understand that they are going to bring the whole house down," he said.
In coming weeks, U.N. peacekeepers are scheduled to replace an Australian-led force that went into East Timor last year to stop the rioting, looting and killing by militia members--encouraged and equipped by Indonesian troops--who opposed East Timor's independence.
Holbrooke warned that if the remaining militia members attack the U.N. peacekeepers, they will meet a swift and violent reaction.
"We know that there are some militia out there that may flirt with the idea of testing the United Nations," he said. "They will suffer severe consequences."
Holbrooke urged the Indonesian government to remove the militia members from their base of operations in refugee camps in western Timor, where he said they are terrorizing many of the more than 100,000 East Timorese refugees living there.