Subject: JP: Recalling East Timor Mayhem

The Jakarta Post August 31, 2000

Recalling East Timor's mayhem By Aboeprijadi Santoso*

AMSTERDAM (JP): One year on, the killings and rampage by Army-backed militias following the vote for independence in East Timor, remain an intriguing issue with many questions left unanswered. The September mayhem marks one of the worst atrocities by Army elements since the 1965-66 bloodbath.

"This is the day I have been waiting for years," a young Timorese student, Rosa, cried at Mahkota Hotel, Dili, shortly after the United Nations announced the victory of the pro-independence camp on Sept. 4 last year.

Sadly, she was among some 1200 victims reportedly killed in the aftermath of the referendum. Furthermore, thousands of people fled and about 250,000 or one third of the population were transported over the border and public utilities were burned or destroyed. The scorched earth operation sent much of the territory to the "Year Zero".

Not even under Soeharto's New Order had a turn of events developed into a human disaster so sharply, quickly and extensively as in East Timor last year. Like Rosa, human rights advocates greeted the Aug. 30 ballot and its outcome as a "victory for human rights". Yet, it changed into the worst of human wrongs within only a few days and, in some cases, such as in the Suai area, merely hours.

It was during these critical days, between Aug. 30 and Sept 6, that militiamen like Eurico Guteres, carrying automatic weapons, suddenly ruled the streets, watching every port, issuing "exit permits" and controlling anyone who attempted to leave the country, while preparing a witch hunt.

The pro-independence camp and most local people had anticipated some kind of "danger" after the vote. Instead of celebrations, there was an uneasy peace which quickly turned into tension. No public meetings were planned. Not a single voice of joy was heard in public, despite the victory. Silence ruled as a backlash was expected.

Dili was unusually quiet, but tense. Except for military vehicles transporting soldiers' families to the harbor and the arrival of new troops on Hercules aircraft at night, the city was dead. Houses were abandoned and chickens and pigs ran freely on the streets, revealing how terrified the inhabitants were when they fled or were forced to board military vehicles to West Timor.

In what appeared to be the signal to begin, the Mahkota Hotel, the residence of Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo and the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) were attacked on Sept. 6 and soon the backyard of the Red Cross office was flooded with refugees, while students and activists were selected for execution near Pantai Makassar.

From the windows of the last flight of Merpati leaving what used to be the 27th province of Indonesia, one could see how the capital was shamelessly transformed into Dante's inferno. The pro-integration leader F. Lopes da Cruz, whom I met onboard, refused to make any comment but his face showed the tension, apparently realizing that the moment of truth had come for his homeland.

But wasn't it also a moment of truth for the Indonesian Army in East Timor?

For once Dili was burnt, men in militia uniform, including Army members, went on a rampage across much of the territory. Eight Indonesian accredited observers, led by two brave activists, Mindo Rajaguguk and Yeni Rosa Damayanti, were hunted and had to take refuge before wandering across the country until mid-September.

Shocked by the atrocities, they concluded that the military emergency enforced by then chief of restoration command Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, rather than controlling and disarming the militia, continued to allow the militia to act at will.

Few observers were surprised by the September violence. Abuses, atrocities and impunity were, after all, seen as part of the continuing New Order pattern.

For the East Timorese, too, there was little reason to be surprised. Given their experience of years of guerrilla war and harsh rule, they must have realized too well that the Indonesian Army would not simply pack and leave after it had suffered so many victims, loss of resources and humiliation to keep the territory within the republic.

People like Guteres were, after all, merely creations of the special troops. He magically changed his image from being the son of a Fretilin "terrorist" to a kind of Army hero.

Yet there was something seemingly mysterious behind the whole tragedy. It was not only the Timorese, who since Aug. 30 had basically expected some sort of Army revenge, but also many civilian officials.

Some army officers, if for different reasons, must have anticipated clashes and prepared, as Gen. Garnadi of the foreign affairs mission did, systematic evacuation plans. Indeed, it may be argued, any Army commander with past experience in East Timor should have expected a nightmare when it came to the point when the Army had to give the province up, precisely because such an option had always been considered unthinkable.

Now the East Timorese voters had finally made that point possible, but it was the diplomatic process which brought the nightmare closer.

The New York May 5 agreement, for one thing, was a big gamble. Particularly as it entrusted the Indonesian Army -- the very force responsible for past atrocities -- with the security arrangement, without first disarming the militia's.

That, indeed, was what the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urgently requested in his last minute memorandum attached to the accord.

Since the special Lorosae police units, which according to the deal had to ensure law and order in East Timor, were in effect subordinated under the local Army command, obviously it was the military chain of command that was responsible for the mayhem.

But other questions need to be raised as well. Where were the provincial and district key authorities when the people desperately needed help to survive? Why did some leave the country soon after the vote, leaving an administrative vacuum, and why did others stay. And why did both provide the crucial opportunity for men like Guteres to act as warlord and start a violent campaign?

Such a conspiracy would have been very difficult to implement had the UN been able to continue its operation freely and safely. So, once the UNAMET staff and personnel were finally beleaguered, where were other international authorities in those critical days when they were supposed to help control the post-ballot security?

Foreign missions, including the Portuguese and Indonesian teams, were assigned as liaison officers, but they too had probably left Dili even before the vote process had ended, thus leaving the UN staff alone.

And, what was the UN sanctioned Committee for Peace and Stability (KPS) for if they were absent when peace and stability were most seriously threatened? Why did the diplomats of the foreign affairs mission P3TT, Agus Tarmizi, Dino Pati Djalal, and the KPS leading figures, Djoko Soegianto, Koesparmono Irsan, B.N. Marbun, Bambang Soeharto and Benjamin Mangkudilaga, leave Dili in such a hurry on Sept 3 by special Air Force Hercules planes just as the rampage was about to be unleashed?

Finally, where was Indonesia's security liaison officer, Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim, when he was most needed as security deteriorated? Was he in Los Palos in mid-September when the journalist Agus Moeliana and nine Catholic nuns were killed by militias, as unconfirmed reports suggest?

Many questions, few answers. But, inevitably, one is led to wonder whether some civilian officials might have had knowledge about the conspiracy or, at least, about the mayhem that was about to occur.

In any case, some leading Army officers had urged public officials and the national media representatives to leave East Timor at the very latest on Sept. 3. Therefore, some authorities in Jakarta must, somehow, have known in advance about the rampage. One correspondent at Cilangkap military headquarters called his colleagues in Dili shortly after the vote, and yelled "Go home! There will be a clean-up after the referendum!"

A "clean-up"? Or a purge reminiscent of the 1965-1966 events (albeit on a smaller scale)? In any case, now the time has come for impunity to end. That, at least, would be a payment of respect to many East Timorese, like Rosa, who have made great sacrifices for their freedom.

*The writer covered the election in East Timor last year for Radio Netherlands.

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