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Subject: ETObs: FA02/Alas – no exception to the rule!
Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 12:51:51 +0100
From: Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere <>

East Timor Observatory / Observatório Timor Leste / Observatoire Timor-Oriental

All peoples have the right to self-determination... all armed action or repressive measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence. (Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples - UN Gen.Ass. Resolution 1514, 14/12/1960)

Ref.: FA02-1998/12/11eng

Subject: Alas – no exception to the rule !

Reports in November indicated that Timorese resistance attacks on Indonesian soldiers were followed by reprisals – massacres – by Indonesia’s forces against the civilians of Alas, to the south of Dili. Indonesia denied the reports. For over 2 weeks, the only sources of information were the few people who had managed to escape the military operation. Understandably, such circumstances give rise to rumours and difficulties in checking facts: the six-hour drive separating Alas and Dili, the military blockade preventing all access to the area from outside, and the terror that silenced the local civilians, all combined to make it virtually impossible to confirm reports. Houses burned to the ground, populations fleeing or taking refuge in a church, reveal that the Indonesian soldiers were behaving like the forces of occupation. Only the presence of UN observers can prevent this from happening again.

Since Suharto’s fall last May, freedom of expression in East Timor, especially in the capital, Dili, is noticeably greater. In the rest of the territory, however, the situation is still extremely tense. The Justice & Peace Commission in the Dili Diocese, which last year registered 511 cases of human rights violation, had registered 369 cases (28 summary executions and 11 "disappearances") in the first six months of 1998 alone.

Contrary to Indonesia’s claims about the withdrawal of its combat troops, official ABRI (armed forces) documents revealed that over 18,000 troops are still deployed in East Timor, and that 8,000 of that figure are operational. This number is proportionately 10 times greater than the number of troops deployed in Indonesia itself.

The Facts:

  • On 31 October, the Indonesian Military Commander of East Timor, Col. Suratman, announced that the bodies of two sergeants, Iswanto and Zainal, and that of a civilian engineer, Prabowo, were found by soldiers near the village of Weberek, in the Alas district. These men were unarmed, he said, and had left their headquarters on Friday, (30.10.) to go on a regular patrol. Four individuals were being interrogated. The following day, the same official said that three men had been killed on Thursday (29.10.) but that, in spite of 7 stab wounds, the soldier Iswanto had managed to escape and reach Same, some 23 miles away on Sunday. The three (!) bodies of his colleagues had been found dumped in a river. (AFP Dili, 31.10. and 1.11.98)
  • According to a foreigner visitor (who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons), 300 of the 340 families from Weberek, that had fled to escape repression unleashed by the military, had still not returned to their village by early December. (ETAN, USA, 7.12.98)
  • In a message (released by the Indonesian NGO "Solidamor") from Falur, a Timorese resistance commander, the following Indonesian soldiers, who belonged to the "Kopassus Group 1" (special combat forces that the Indonesian authorities claim to have withdrawn from East Timor) were killed during fighting on 29 October 1998: Sumanto, born in 1975, Zainuddin, born 3.1.71, Slamet Iman Prabowo, born 30.11.55, and Abdul Latif, born 11.6.61. Strangely enough, their names are not dissimilar to those released by Col. Suratman!
  • On 11 November, Col. Supadi, Indonesian military spokesman in East Timor, announced that about 50 people, including guerrillas had attacked the military post of Alas on 9 November. The crowd was demanding to see the Post Commander, who was not there at the time. Three soldiers and one of the attackers were killed during ensuing fighting. Weapons were stolen. (AFP and Reuters, Dili, 11.11.98)
  • The following day, Col. Suratman told the Jakarta Post that guerrillas had taken 13 Indonesian soldiers prisoner. He said 11 of them had been released the next day (10.11.) but that 2 were still being held hostage. The attacker killed was identified as a young man from Alas - "a known trouble-maker" (AFP, 12.11.98). Later, in statements to the same newspaper, Minister Ali Alatas said that the civilian killed was an "employee at the military command" (Jakarta post, 25.11.98).
  • This is the backdrop to reports of arrests, torture, mutilations, murders, and "disappearances" (all detailed and with respective names, which should assist in following up the reports). Houses burned down, animals killed, crops destroyed, piped water cut off, civilians in flight and women and children sheltering in the Church of Alas – these are the results of Indonesian soldiers’ behaviour. Bishop Belo said he had received reports of about 30 deaths, 11 of which had been identified. Mário Carrascalão, Adviser to President Habibie, stated he had information about 44 deaths and 40 wounded. Ramos-Horta said there had been over 50 killings.
  • Once again, military authorities reformulated their version of events: the military post of Alas was attacked by 50 armed men, said Col. Suratman (Antara, 17.11.). Col. Supadi denied the massacres: "All we know is that many rebels were arrested. Six people were arrested, but two died, and they all confessed to having taken part in the Alas attack", the Col told AFP. Four were arrested on Monday, but one died when he was trying to escape. On Tuesday, two more were arrested, but one of them died. Supadi denied that the military had burned down people’s homes, saying that there was no reason to do so: "our methods are persuasive" (AFP, 18.11). Some days later, Suratman admitted the execution of Vicente, a "liurai" (traditional community leader): "he was one of the leaders of the Alas attack" (AP, 23.11.98).
  • The UN Secretary General and US State Dept. both publicly expressed their concern. The ICRC, the only organisation allowed to visit the area, denied there had been "widespread massacres" and, in a press release (26.11.98) stated that the organisation could confirm that "four persons had been killed in separate incidents .. in the course of military operations following an attack on an Indonesian military post in Alas on 9 November in which three soldiers and one civilian were killed". Just because the ICRC could confirm only 4 killings does not mean that more people had not been killed. Unfortunately, however, this was the message that the ICRC put out. The organisation does not define what it understands to be "widespread massacres". It may correct these statements in time, when it confirms further cases but, without valid justification, it cast doubts on the alarms raised by the Timorese themselves.
  • Civilian and military authorities in Dili agreed to allow the CNRT (Timorese Council of National Resistance) and a student commission to investigate the alleged Alas massacres. The Indonesian negotiators in New York agreed to a UN mission. However, neither Mr. Tamrat Samuel, the UN Secretary General, nor the Timorese commission were given permission to go to Alas.


  • 1. The focus on the number of those killed diverted attentions from the facts that reveal there is a campaign of terror, and that civilians are the target of that campaign. That campaign of intimidation and terror was pushed completely into the sidelines by the denial that there had been no "widespread massacres".
  • 2. A scenario identical to that of Alas occurred in early December in the Cailaco area, from which about 130 young people, fleeing from persecution by the Indonesian army, recently arrived in Dili (RDP, 4.12; BBC, 7.12).
  • 3. It is time to realise that, in East Timor, these incidents are not isolated but the general rule. Bishop Belo explained why: the political problem is "very much alive", "everyone is talking about independence and the referendum, and some (a few) talk about autonomy", and the Indonesian army is in East Timor to prevent independence. "Massacres will only stop when the political problem has been settled, when the Indonesian battalions have been withdrawn from East Timor", Monsignor Belo told "Ecclesia" magazine (USA, Lisbon, 26.11.98).
  • 4. The ICRC is an organisation that aids victims – it is not a monitoring organisation. The two functions could conflict with each other, because the ICRC needs to maintain its relationship with the military.
  • 5. The Indonesian authorities have promised a lot: withdrawal of troops, release of prisoners, unrestricted access….

Recommendations: The permanent presence of international observers in East Timor is essential.

  • Indonesian or Timorese commissions will always be restricted because of the fact that they are part of the conflict, and are too dependent on the military authorities.
  • The Alas case has proved that the ICRC should not attempt to become a commission of inquiry.
  • That is a task which can only be carried out by UN observers, because of the respect their position confers on them and the political costs to be incurred by those who prevent them from carrying out their task.
  • Indonesia’s military presence and the withdrawal of troops promised by the Indonesian President should be the prime targets of monitoring.
  • This will not come about without strong international pressure.

Observatory for the monitoring of East Timor’s transition process a programme by the ‘Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere’ and the ecumenical group ‘A Paz é Possível em Timor Leste’ Coordinator: Cristina Cruz

Rua Pinheiro Chagas, 77 2ºE - 1050-176 Lisboa - Portugal ph.: 351 1 317 28 69 - fax: 351 1 317 28 70 - e-mail:

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