Subject: DPA: Slaying of UN workers in Indonesia was no surprise

Deutsche Presse-Agentur September 7, 2000

ANALYSIS: Slaying of U.N. workers in Indonesia was no surprise By Joe Cochrane, dpa Jakarta

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the slaying of three U.N. aid workers in Indonesia's West Timor province this week was not the brutality of the murders, but that it took this long for it to happen.

The same pro-Indonesian militias that committed mass murder in East Timor one year ago are still running amok in neighbouring West Timor, despite claims to the contrary by the Indonesian government.

The militias openly carry weapons. They are holding at least 100,000 East Timorese refugees against their will. And they give the appearance that they are unaccountable to the government and police.

The militias, which are allegedly still supported by the Indonesian military, demonstrated their power time and time again in the lead-up to Wednesday's attack on the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Atambua.

Three international staff were killed and one was still missing Thursday after thousands of militiamen and pro-Indonesia East Timorese refugee gangs destroyed the office.

On several occasions in recent months, militiamen have forcibly prevented the UNHCR from registering 120,000 East Timor refugees to determine who wanted to return home and who wanted to be re-located within Indonesia.

The agency, which believes 80 per cent of the refugees want to return to East Timor, briefly suspended operations last month after three of its staff were severely beaten by militiamen.

It is a bitter irony that the UNHCR resumed work in order to repatriate the refugees, who are the only remaining bargaining chip of militiamen opposed to East Timor's independence. The militias were willing to kill the U.N. workers to keep the refugees in West Timor.

"This is really getting out of control, and it's really embarassing to Gus Dur," warned one Western diplomat, referring to President Abdurrahman Wahid by his nickname.

Explanations that the mob attacked the U.N. office in retaliation for the killing of a militiamen by unknown assailants on Tuesday only added to the insanity that now engulfs West Timor.

The brutality that continues day after day - the militias stabbed the three aid workers to death and then set their bodies on fire - continues to be lost on the Jakarta government, which still appears to be in denial about losing East Timor one year ago.

Even after Wednesday's attack, the government continued to claim it had taken steps to disband and disarm the militias, seemingly forgetting repeated warnings from the international community during the past 12 months.

"We have worked for a year to protect the UNHCR and other international elements in that area," asserted senior cabinet minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "This is a special case with this incident. It does not mean we didn't do anything for 12 months to protect refugees and secure the area and solve the problem there."

Yudohoyono's statements mirrored those made by Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab during a fateful press conference last month after militiamen killed and mutilated a U.N. peacekeeper in East Timor.

Shihab, a Wahid confidant, repeatedly ducked questions from Western journalists about why the Indonesian government had neither disbanded the militias nor taken away their weapons.

As late as Thursday, the military and police said they had no plans to raid a militia base in Atambua that is home to militiamen who launched Wednesday's attack.

Why? The events of the past few days appear to confirm a frightening scenario: Wahid's fragile democratic government and its security forces are unable to stop the militiamen or contain growing lawlessness in the world's fourth-largest country.

"This is not only in West Timor but many places in Indonesia where people don't have respect for authority anymore and the capacity of the police and military to contain the situation is very weak," said Andi Mallarangeng, a leading political analyst. "They have been demoralized and there's no respect for authority."

East Timorese independence leaders have categorized the militiamen as "terrorists" and "criminals," but concede some sort of political solution is needed to disband the militias, who are terrorizing people on both sides of the divided island.

"They can confiscate weapons such as guns, but other weapons such as machetes can be found and used," Mallarangeng said. "There should be some political solution quickly because we in Indonesia lack the capacity to control it."

However, a political settlement does not appear likely, at least not any time soon. Wahid remains preoccupied by political battles with legislators in Jakarta, and sectarian violence in separatist movements in provinces deemed more vital to Indonesia's survival than West Timor.

International pressure may force Indonesia to take some action now, including making some arrests, as they did on Thursday.

But with the U.N. having evacuated its remaining staff from West Timor, the 120,000 terrorized East Timorese refugees may once again disappear from the international community's radar screen.

September Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from