Subject: Report from Alas
Date: Wed, 09 Dec 1998 01:20:53 -0500
From: Charles Scheiner
The following is a report I received Dec. 7 from a foreign observer who was in East Timor recently. It indicates the clear need for more international attention to the recent events in and around Alas.
-- Charlie Scheiner, ETAN/US
On December 2nd I accompanied two people on a tour around East Timor. We had the opportunity to drive to Alas and did so with extreme difficulty. The roads are in severe disrepair, and we had to ford rain-swollen rivers at several places.
It is clear and verifiable that the Indonesian military mounted an operation to terrorize, displace, injure and kill more than a hundred residents of two villages suspected of supporting resistance forces.
While in Alas we interviewed a resident who has very reliable credentials. He provided the following narrative of events, and his testimony was corroborated by a second, equally reliable source.. One of these people was an eye-witness to one of the events described here; however, I've chosen not to specify which event because to do so could identify the witness.
One precipitating event to the actions of the military was that resistance forces killed three members of the Indonesian military. (Later an official of the Catholic church told me that he had been informed by members of the resistance that they were attempting to capture or kill the area commander of KORAMIL.)
On Nov 9 KOPASSUS forces went to the Alas region. They forced all residents of two villages Turi and Kopi -- to flee to the main town of Alas. People were not allowed to pack any of their possessions before being driven out. The people first took refuge in a church, but were then ordered to a nearby school building. For five days (November 11-16) they were not given food, bedding or clothing. On November 17th the military allowed some relief to be brought in by a nun and a priest. Later the ICRC was allowed to visit. An ICRC vehicle was in the village when I was there.
On November 15th, the Indonesian military burned all houses in both villages. The person we interviewed estimated that forty houses had been burned; later a journalist told me he counted over thirty destroyed houses as he made his way by foot along the river to Alas.
As I write, the people are still being detained. Further, those who have visited them have described injuries and evidence of torture. The military has killed several people, and has been observed beating people so severely that it is likely they are dead. Because of several relatively recent events in East Timor, knowledgeable observers are concerned for their safety.
It is nearly impossible to get a reliable count of those captured, killed or disappeared. However, following are names of known dead:
Vincente Ximenes Head of one of the villages. A military commander confirmed his death. Others have stated that his son was badly wounded and that two young women in his family were arrested; one is reported to have been raped.
Adriano Shot while trying to escape; his family was prevented from retrieving his body.
Ernesto Gaspar, Domingos Soares and Julio Soares were killed by paramilitary gangs (see below) one day after they had been released from detention by the military.
Octavio Da Costa and Alessandrio Da Costa are missing.
Very credible witnesses who fled to Dili have estimated 40 to 60 killings; I have an eyewitness report from a surprisingly credible witness of torture which led to a killing.
A major problem is that the military has armed vigilante paramilitary groups; their actions are even harder to determine than it is for regular military operators. These paramilitary groups are still active, and promises to disarm them and for the military to withdraw from the area are as yet unrealized.
While there, we chose not to visit the people in the school because it was manifest that to do so would endanger them further.
Three journalists who made their way to Alas and to the school building were forcibly ordered to leave the area. The military threatened to kill their guide. The same day I was in Alas, the military in the area forced a party of 32 Timorese investigators to return to Dili, despite their having been given official permission to visit Alas. When the military confronted the party near Samé, soldiers fired indiscriminate "warning" shots to intimidate the members of the group.
I recommend the reliable reports filed by John Martinkus for the Sydney Morning Herald. Much of what he observed, I confirmed separately.