Subject: AFP - Australian journalist accuses Indonesia of Timor refugee crisis
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 20:24:23 -0000
From: "Paula Pinto" <>

Australian journalist accuses Indonesia of Timor refugee crisis

SYDNEY, Jan 29 (AFP) - An Australian freelance journalist Friday accused Indonesia of supporting paramilitary groups carrying out atrocities in East Timor and creating a refugee crisis.

Army-trained death squads operating in East Timor's southwest were systematically terrorising villagers and had forced thousands to seek refuge in the town of Suai, journalist John Martinkus told ABC Radio from Dili.

Martinkus said about 4,500 villagers from the region were now camped out in Suai, having fled paramilitary East Timorese supported by the Indonesian military.

"The paramilitaries are going from village to village, terrorising the villagers, beating some people, shooting their rifles in the air, those sorts of things," he said. "That's why you've got the refugee problem happening in Suai."

Martinkus' report from the East Timorese capital Friday was the first independent confirmation of recent atrocities in the former Portuguese colony's southwest.

It stood in stark contrast to this week's announcement by Indonesia that it may be willing to give East Timor the independence it has been fighting for since it was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed the following year.

East Timorese opposition leaders have charged 22 deaths in the Suai region were carried out by a army-backed group calling itself "Live or Die with Indonesia" in the last month.

Four people have been killed in the Suai region in the last week alone, according to Martinkus.

Three men were killed Monday in one village after they tried to flee when Indonesian soldiers surrounded the hamlet, he said. Their mutilated bodies were later put on display by the death squads in an effort to frighten villagers.

"Their object seems to be to create a climate of fear for whatever strategic purpose that is," said Martinkus, adding that Suai was full of terrified people.

He said a former member of a paramilitary death squad had told him he was recruited by Indonesian police in Suai and trained by Indonesian army officers in Dili.

The former member, who was in hiding and had fled before he could take part in any operations, told Martinkus he and his colleauges were provided with traditional Indonesian issue weapons and paid a wage.

"He was basically told they would be going into villages to flush out pro-referendum (on independence) elements who were causing trouble. That was what he said to me through a translator," Martinkus said.

The men in the paramilitary groups were mostly 18-25 and often illiterate, the journalist said. "They're recruited from some of the more remote areas basically with the promise of a job."

The East Timorese refugees in Suai were "absolutely terrified that the parmalitaries are going to overrun the camp," Martinkus said.

"They haven't tried at this point to move into Suai. But the people there believe it's inevitable."

Addressing journalists at the United Nations on Thursday, Indonesian UN delegate Nugroho Wisnumurti acknowledged the south-east Asian country viewed East Timorese independence as a "worst case scenario".

Jakarta considered the best possible option autonomy within Indonesia, he said.

Indonesia drew praise worldwide earlier this week when the government said it was prepared to give East Timor its independence.

Leaders of the East Timorese resistance greeted that announcement skeptically, saying they would need further proof of Indonesia's good intentions before they would believe Jakarta.

©AFP 1999

Back to January Menu
Main Postings Menu

Postings of Human Rights Violations in Timor