Subject: GU: President pleads for leniency for ex-East Timor governor

President pleads for leniency for ex-East Timor governor

John Aglionby, south-east Asia correspondent Friday August 2, 2002 The Guardian

East Timor's president, Xanana Gusmao, has unexpectedly pleaded for a non-custodial sentence in the trial of the former Indonesian-appointed governor, Abilio Soares, who is accused of crimes against humanity in connection with violence during the territory's independence referendum.

In a letter to the presiding judge read out in a Jakarta court yesterday, Mr Gusmao said the former senior civilian official, who is East Timorese, often tried to promote peace and should not be singled out.

"Mr Soares' self-imposed exile must be considered punishment in itself and imprisonment would be a double punishment," the letter read.

Prosecutors want a 10-and-a-half-year jail term for Mr Soares, who is accused of not acting to stop the killing and destruction by the Indonesian military and pro-Jakarta militia before and after the ballot in which the East Timorese voted to end occupation.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence.

Mr Gusmao's chief of staff, Agio Pereira, explained last night that the president believes Mr Soares is being made a scapegoat for the crimes of the Indonesian military.

"The reality is that East Timor was ruled by the Indonesian military and the intelligence services, not the civilians," Mr Pereira said.

Eighteen government officials, military and police officers and militia leaders have been indicted by the ad hoc tribunal. However, Indonesia's armed forces commander at the time, General Wiranto, is not among the defendants.

Mr Gusmao's intervention shocked analysts and observers in East Timor. Many believe he is acting beyond his powers, and that he is out of step with public opinion.

A western diplomat said: "He needs to cool it. He's risking losing existing support both as an individual and also in the office he holds."

[Poster's addition]

From Masters of Terror:

Jose Abilio Osorio Soares Governor of East Timor

Together with East Timor military commander Col Tono Suratman (qv), Abilio Soares strongly opposed the offer of a ballot announced by President Habibie late in January 1999. He appeared less than committed to implementing it.[1] Almost immediately he began using warlike language, and said that he rather favoured partitioning East Timor into an Indonesian west and an independent east. Sources said he took part in a survey of likely pro-Indonesian bases in the western districts around Suai, Maliana and Ambeno.[2]

On 26 March 1999 at a secret meeting of military and militia leaders he allegedly urged that pro-independence leaders, and even nuns and priests, should be killed.[3]

In late March a source in his office revealed that Abilio Soares claimed that President Habibie had personally promised to nearly double the provincial budget from Rp 400 billion to Rp 750 billion (US$ 75 million). 'Habibie said that the money could be used for anything at all, especially to maintain integration [with Indonesia]', the source added. Abilio also said he had an agreement from Armed Forces Chief of General Affairs LtGen Sugiono (qv) to supply '15,000' guns via the district military commands (Kodim) commencing on 5 April. The extra budgetary resources were to be used to pay for these weapons, he said. A new united pro-integration front would also soon be launched whose military forces were to be led by Joao Tavares (qv) - this actually happened a few days later. On the day of the ballot, these pro-integration forces would withdraw to a 'base camp' to be located in Suai. But afterwards, with the UN gone, they would emerge and launch simultaneous attacks on 'Dili, Baucau, Lospalos, Same, Ainaro, Viqueque and Manatuto', killing all pro-independence leaders in those places. This had been decided in a meeting at Abilio's home, the source said.[4]

At the time, many foreign observers tended to dismiss such plans as fanciful. As it happened, though, they turned out to be remarkably accurate. There was an enlarged budget controlled by the governor, there was a coordinated militia front, extra weapons were channeled to militias through local district military commands, ballot day was quiet, and there were massive, well-coordinated attacks immediately after the ballot in which many pro-independence figures were murdered. Abilio Soares stood at the heart of these plans.

Abilio Soares was present at a large show of militia force in Dili on 17 April 1999, at which Aitarak militia leader Eurico Guterres (qv) said that pro-independence leaders should be killed. Afterwards on the same day, the same militias killed at least a dozen people in the house of opposition figure Manuel Carrascalao. Abilio Soares took no action against those who had committed the murders.

Throughout 1999 he also took no action against those district heads under his control who were clearly identified with acts of violence: Leonito Martins (qv), Manuel de Sousa (qv), Domingos Soares (qv), Edmundo Conceico (qv), and Guilherme dos Santos (qv). Instead, for example in the case of the Liquica church massacre on 6 April 1999, he traced violence by pro-Indonesian militias to pro-independence 'provocation'.[5]

In May 1999 he ordered the police and military, as well as local government all over the territory, to run a program to 'socialise' the pro-Indonesian autonomy option. This contradicted the 5 May 1999 UN Agreement not only because it began the campaign early but because it involved the threat of force. In June 1999 letters were leaked in which Governor Abilio Soares promised to use millions of dollars in World Bank poverty relief to pay for the 'socialisation' program. Five percent of the allocation for each district was set aside for the pro-Indonesian militias there. Other documents showed the militias were part of the military structure.[6]

In February 2001, a year and a half after the Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor, he angrily rejected President Abdurrahman Wahid's apology for human rights abuses committed against the population of East Timor, and said he would continue to campaign for the 'return' of East Timor to Indonesia.[7]


Born in Laclubar, Manatuto district in central East Timor, Abilio Soares was aged 52 in 1999. His elder brother Jose Fernando Osorio Soares was the secretary-general of the pro-Indonesian party Apodeti, and died at the hands of the pro-independence party Fretilin in the civil war before the Indonesian invasion late in 1975. Abilio Soares himself worked with the military to facilitate the invasion. In 1976 he became (in his own words) 'very close friends' with (then) Lieutenant Prabowo Subianto. He is not well educated.

Before being appointed governor in late 1992 he was first mayor of Dili, then district head (bupati) in his native Manatuto. As governor, he was much closer to the military than his predecessor Mario Carrascalao had been. Just after becoming governor he triggered international outrage by an unrepentant remark about the Santa Cruz massacre of 11 November 1991 ('many more should have died').[8]

The three ('inseparable') pillars of East Timor society, he said on one occasion, are 'the military, the provincial government, and the church'.[9]

He was assisted throughout his tenure as governor by a succession of largely invisible but almost always military deputy governors: (1) Timor veteran Col/ BrigGen Johanes Haribowo, (2) Col Johanes Suryo Prabowo (no relation to Prabowo Subianto), who resigned prematurely, (3) former provincial secretary Rajakarina Brahmana, apparently very briefly if implemented at all, and (4) Air Commodore Musiran Darmosuwito, known as 'an intel man' who went on to become acting governor in Irian Jaya in 2000.

In May 1994, again with the backing of Prabowo Subianto, he put forward an autonomy proposal for East Timor, but President Suharto rejected it as 'unconstitutional' and Abilio Soares was sent to a military course in Jakarta for four months as an apparent disciplinary measure.

During his career as governor he faced a growing nationalist revolt within East Timor. He combated this revolt by frequently threatening to sack civil servants who favoured independence, and cutting off scholarship funding for students thought to feel the same way. In 1995 he presided at the inauguration of a military-backed vigilante group called Gadapaksi (sometimes spelled Gardapaksi) which, along the lines of the militias that terrorised East Timor in 1999, engaged in violence and intimidation against people suspected of pro-independence sentiments.[10]

In September 1997 he was appointed for a second term as governor. It was widely reported that corrupt business practices involving Suharto's family were crucial sources of support. His corruption - through his family's Anak Liambau Group - was so odious that it led his deputy governor Suryo Prabowo to resign within a few months of arriving in 1998. In the first weeks after Suharto's resignation in May 1998, Abilio Soares' corruption was the theme of strong demonstrations against him. However the demonstrations soon acquired a political character, demanding a referendum.

Like his own sponsorship of Gadapaksi, his relatives sponsored a range of organisations that were in fact fronts for military interests. Among them were the East Timor Student Movement led in Yogyakarta in 1996 by his nephew Octavio Soares, Klibur Klibur Oan Timor Badame (KOTB) set up in February 1999 and run by his brother-in-law Gil Alves as a moderate pro-autonomy forum, and the Morok militia in Manatuto district run by his family members in 1999.[11] All these organisations were insufficient to dam the East Timorese nationalist surge of 1998-99.

Back to 

Main Postings Menu

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