Subject: GLW: Facts and fictions about the militias

Green Left Weekly, Issue #428 November 15, 2000

EAST TIMOR: Facts and fictions about the militias


On November 5, the Channel 9 Sunday program screened a special report titled "On Patrol in Timor", which claimed to show "how moderate militia factions are politically battling hardline groups still ready to attack the UN peacekeepers". The report, however, muddied many facts and issues surrounding the militia.

The Sunday team visited West Timor, under the protection of the Indonesian military, and met with various pro-Jakarta militia leaders. Their report, which was repeated in the evening on 60 minutes program, completely failed to explain why the militias are still active and why 120,000 East Timorese refugees remain hostage within militia controlled camps.

The two key militia leaders that reporter Ross Coulthart interviewed where Joao Tavares and Filomena Hornay. Tavares, a landlord from Bobonaro district in the west of East Timor, has a history of close collaboration with the Indonesian military, spanning 25 years. He was appointed commander of the militias last year. His deputy is the infamous Eurico Guterres, praised and awarded by Jakarta's elite for being an Indonesian national hero.

Hornay is one of the main representatives of the Union of Timorese Warriors (UNTAS), an umbrella organisation of pro-integration groups that formed in Kupang earlier this year. UNTAS has waged a tireless propaganda campaign in the refugee camps, spreading lies and misinformation about the conditions within East Timor.

Both Hornay and Tavares have repeatedly attacked and criticised the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and believe that last year's referendum was rigged. They have not shown any remorse for the crimes they committed or for the dire circumstances of the East Timorese refugees.

While Coulthart questioned the sincerity of the remarks made by Tavares and Hornay, he nonetheless portrays them as different from other militia leaders; he hails them as "moderates" and as a "hopeful sign" in the militia movement.

The split within the ranks of the militia leaders is primarily between opportunist thugs over how they can best improve or maintain their political status under the patronage of the Indonesian military and Jakarta's civilian elite. Differences within the ranks of the militia on how to do this have surfaced due to increasing international pressure upon the Indonesian government to reign in the militias (especially in the period following the murder of UN workers in Atambua in September).

Curiously, Coulthart failed to make any mention of the letter sent by one group of militia leaders to the UN in which they stated their desire to reveal information about the extent of involvement of the Indonesian military in the organisation of the pre- and post-referendum terror campaign. The letter called for UN protection, claiming their lives are in danger because they are prepared to reveal the truth.

While their action is no doubt a self-seeking ploy for amnesty, they were condemned by the so-called moderate Tavares for their letter, as well as for their call for the UN to oversee the handing in of weapons by the militias.

The Sunday report also distorted the complex issue of reconciliation and the investigations underway into war crimes and human rights abuses.

For example, during the interview with Tavares, Coulthart threw in the leading question and comment, "The truth is that there has been wrong on both sides, hasn't there? Isn't that the first step to reconciliation, that both sides should admit crimes?"

Other than comments made by militia members, Coulthart presented no evidence as to what "crimes" where committed by the national liberation movement. There was no discussion with any East Timorese leaders the alleged abuses and war crimes committed by Falintil or pro-independence activists in the struggle for freedom.

The most "serious" form of "violence" against pro-integration supporters that Coulthart could point to is the fact Tavares' house in the town of Maliana has been vandalised.

It is true that there has been some instances of retribution against pro-integration supporters and former militia members who have returned to East Timor. This has largely involved beatings and intimidation, an understandable response from a population that was terrorised in the most cruelest ways over a long period of time.

But there have been no widespread or systematic attacks upon pro-integration supporters. There have been no assassinations or disappearances of former militia members, even though there have been plenty of opportunities for this to take place. There have been some reports of revenge killings taking place, though these remain largely unconfirmed.

East Timorese political and religious leaders have made reappeared calls upon pro-independence supporters to refrain from violent retribution. There have been slow and painstaking efforts to reintegrate pro-integration supporters back into their communities.

"On Patrol in Timor" rightfully points out that the UN personnel responsible for investigating killings and other human rights abuses are being hampered by lack of resources and red-tape. But here again, Coulthart failed to explain that the United States, Australia and other Western powers do not want an international war crimes tribunal to go ahead, despite the recommendations of the UN investigative team that visited East Timor late last year.

The Western powers would rather have Indonesia bring to account those responsible for war crimes in East Timor. This is, however, looking increasingly less likely.

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