Subject: GLW: Indonesian troops out now!, interview
Date: Sat, 20 Feb 1999 08:56:43 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

GLW/East Timor: Indonesian troops out now!

Green Left Weekly [Australia] February 17, 1999

*East Timor: Indonesian troops out now!

East Timor solidarity activist ANDREW McNAUGHTAN visited East Timor earlier this month, his third visit since 1994. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's JON LAND about his impressions.

Question: What is the current situation in East Timor, and how does it compare with when you were there last JulySeptember?

In many respects, things feel less positive than they did six months ago. People seem more confused and apprehensive.

I know that people have responded quite strongly and positively to the signs that the Australian government has shifted its position, and apparently there was euphoria when [Indonesian foreign minister] Ali Alatas talked about independence [last month].

So the people are definitely aware that major changes are occurring in the diplomatic arena. But many are confused and feel threatened because of the activity of the pro-integration paramilitary thugs armed by the Indonesian military.

Some of these paramilitaries are not East Timorese but from other provinces in eastern Indonesia. Some might be transmigrants from other areas who live in East Timor. But some are Timorese -- probably a majority.

I believe that many of those who have joined these militias are doing it for the money. They are being paid 250,000 rupiahs a month, about A$50, which is a lot of money if you are unemployed in Indonesia.

The paramilitaries add a very volatile mix to the equation. This is obviously the intention of the Indonesian armed forces.

When I last visited East Timor, the army was still active but the paramilitary groups, like the ninjas, appeared to have been disarmed by September. Now, the pre-existing paramilitary groups seem to have been reactivated, and an increasing number of other people are being armed and paid.

They have been stepping up their activity since November, especially in remote areas. Their raids on numerous villages have caused a serious refugee problem.

Question: What is the situation of the refugees?

I saw refugees in Suai and Dili. There are other areas where there are refugees, like Liquisa on the north coast.

When I was in Suai, there was at least 3000 refugees around the church compound in the centre of town. People where living in sheds, tents and a partly built cathedral. There had been more refugees -- up to about 6000 after the wave of paramilitary terror -- but some had returned to their villages.

Now the majority have gone back to their villages, reluctantly because the danger of being killed still exists, but the circumstances in which they were living were not good, with poor sanitation and few facilities.

In Dili, at Manuel Carrascalao's house, there are a few hundred people living in the backyard. In other areas of Dili, like Becora, there are many other refugees. Others have been taken in by their extended families, so they are not visible out on the streets.

The refugee problem has involved something like 10,000 people. They have come mainly from the hinterland, where the majority of East Timorese live.

There has been a clear pattern of attacks, starting with the Alas killings [in November] then spreading north to Turiscai, and then west and north-west to Maliana, Atabae and across to Maubara and Balibo. The attacks then spread through Viqueque on to Ainaro and the south-west in the Covalima and Zumalai subdistricts near Suai. It has been a coordinated and orchestrated campaign to create terror and instability.

Before I arrived in Dili, there were reports that militias were patrolling the streets in trucks. When I arrived, there was a very large foreign media contingent, and the military and militias were maintaining a low profile. I suspect that after the media have gone, they will re-emerge.

While I was in East Timor I saw two paramilitary groups. The most significant was a group we saw in a town called Cassa in the south of Ainaro district. This group was responsible for brutal killings of six villagers in Covalima district. We saw about 50 in Cassa, though there may have been many more.

When I left East Timor, travelling at night, we passed through roadblocks controlled by groups of men with spears and crossbows. We were told these groups were called mahidin and were paid by the Indonesian military.

A source who is very reliable told me that the Indonesian government has invested 26 billion rupiahs (more than A$5 million) in arming the paramilitaries and fomenting “civil war” in East Timor. The funds are also being used to bribe or encourage people to support integration. In an economically depressed Indonesia and a poor East Timor, this is a huge amount of money.

I also heard from an Australian bar owner in Kupang [capital of West Timor], someone who is not particularly interested in East Timor, that for months the Indonesian military have been landing large numbers of troops and trucking them east with weapons. When they return, they no longer have their weapons.

This confirmed information from the East Timorese resistance, the church and other sources that the Indonesian military was amassing arms for the paramilitaries. It is said that the military is planning to distribute 20,000 weapons.

<Picture: Picture>Question: Were you able to meet with resistance and student activists? Are the students still organising the free-speech dialogues?

I was able to meet with people connected to the resistance and also go to the National Council of Timorese Resistance office in Dili to meet with activists, including David Ximenes, one of the significant resistance leaders. I also met with students from the Student Solidarity Council, who now have a base in a number of houses in Dili.

I did not get any indication that the students are planning more dialogues at the moment. The latest events -- positive on the external, diplomatic front and with the paramilitaries internally -- have combined with the wet season to put the dialogues on hold. The students feel it could be politically inflammatory to go ahead with the meetings because of the paramilitaries.

The students are, however, holding a lot of smaller meetings to talk about economics, about the viability of the country and about systems of administration in preparation for an independent East Timor.

These discussions are occurring in an incredibly oppressive environment. Resistance leaders like David Ximenes and well-known student activists spend some of their time in hiding because of death threats.

Question: How do East Timorese view the announcements by Australia and Indonesia that they are changing their policies towards East Timor?

An Australian who had been there before me told me that when the Indonesian government started talking about independence there were parties all through the night. When I was there, there was growing optimism, with a tinge of apprehension, about what the Indonesian government and military were up to. I sensed that people could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but also that there are turbulent times ahead.

<Picture: Picture>Question: What do you think the solidarity movement should do to pressure the Australian government and Labor opposition, and what demands should be raised at the moment?

A number of things need to be done simultaneously. We need to do what we can to safeguard against the attempts by the Indonesian military to foment civil war by exposing and denouncing it.

One of the most important demands is for an international United Nations presence on the ground as soon as possible. Pressuring the government to support this and take a lead by committing resources and playing a role in a UN context ought to be a focus.

We also need to hold the government to its alleged change of position. We can't rely on its good faith. The government needs to be forced to be transparent, to explain and answer questions about what it is up to.

Also, developmental needs will emerge as important. People with English language training, computer and technical skills will be needed. This assistance, provided through fundraising and awareness raising in Australia, will become more important.

Back to February Menu
Main Postings Menu

Postings of Human Rights Violations in Timor