Australian troops searching Dili for armed pro-Jakarta militia in East Timor have captured at least 10 suspected members of Indonesia's feared Kopassus special forces, military sources say.
Many other Kopassus members are believed to be active in the territory, said Australian officers in the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET).
INTERFET soldiers involved with the operations said it quickly became clear that these men were different from other militia suspects.
"We'll hang on to them, and when we know for sure they're Kopassus we'll offer to send them back to Indonesia," said one Australian officer. "But how can they accept them back without admitting that they sent them here in the first place?"
On Sept 28, an INTERFET commander said the force had also detained 15 "armed civilians" with military-style weapons in a raid on the eastern town of Com.
"There is a significant Kopassus presence over the whole island," one officer said. "But why they're here, what they're doing, whether they're acting on orders or have decided to fight their own battle, we don't yet know."
Kopassus were the crack troops of former President Suharto and are said to have been behind many covert operations during his 32-year rule. These included the 1997 abduction of a number of antigovernment activists, several of whom are still missing. Kopassus forces also have been used in the troubled Aceh province.
Indonesian President B.J. Habibie's decision to give East Timor the option of independence was fiercely opposed by the military.
Damien Kingsbury, an expert on Indonesian politics from Melbourne's Monash University, said that Kopassus noncommissioned officers had been recruited to organize the pro-Jakarta militia units blamed for the recent terror in East Timor.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society