Subject: Files reveal 1999 East Timor clashes

The Australian

Files reveal East Timor clashes

By Michael McKinnon

November 14, 2005

AUSTRALIAN soldiers shot and killed at least 14 militia and exchanged fire with the Indonesian army and police during the peacekeeping mission in East Timor. Confidential Defence Department documents reveal for the first time the extent of the casualties during Australia's 15-month mission.

Australian soldiers were involved in 33 "engagements", confronting an enemy armed with automatic weapons and grenades.

The high death toll among the pro-Jakarta forces early in the cross-border probes against the superior firepower and quality of Australian soldiers also appears to have dramatically reduced the militia's appetite for battle within weeks of the deployment.

Australia led a coalition of nations in the Interfet operation to restore peace to East Timor and provided 5000 of the 7000-strong force that started entering the country on September 20, 1999.

The documents, obtained using Freedom of Information laws, show the militia paid an immediate and heavy toll in lives for their first foray against Australian soldiers.

Confidential Defence documents show on October 6, 1999, "5-6 trucks carrying militia crashed through an Interfet roadblock near Suai (near the West Timor border)". "Shots fired by Interfet, six militia casualties. 116 militia detained."

The Defence reports detail how an Interfet truck then "escorting militia detainees from the first incident was ambushed. Two Interfet members wounded. Two militia killed". The Interfet soldiers referred to in the document were Australian SAS members.

Just three days later, an Interfet patrol was "engaged by militia in the vicinity of Lebos", about 2km east of the border, with one militia member killed.

Then on October 16, Australian troops came under attack again near Aidabasalala, about 15km from the West Timor border.

The Defence documents show the Interfet patrol returned fire after being attacked by about 20 militia and, while Australian soldiers escaped unscathed, three militia were killed and four wounded.

The Defence records show the next significant loss by the militia occurred on August 2, 2000 when they attacked with automatic weapons and grenades.

"A platoon-size patrol from 6 RAR made contact with three to five militants in the vicinity of Maliana. Fire was exchanged and two militants were killed in the action."

Analysis of the 33 engagements revealed in the documents about East Timor show Interfet forces never started firefights with militia, instead reacting to fire or incursions across the border.

No Australian soldiers died from enemy action, although a handful were wounded in various incidents.

The documents also confirm that the ADF clashed with Indonesian soldiers and police on October 10, 1999, when the Indonesians fired on an Australian platoon over an incident caused by Australian confusion about the border demarcation near Motain hamlet. One Indonesian policeman died.

While the Defence Department released some documents in response to The Australian's FOI request, it has kept secret other papers understood to further reveal links between the Indonesian Army (TNI) and militia on the grounds of national security.

The Australian has lodged a challenge against the decision with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Australian intervention in East Timor followed the overwhelming vote for independence on August 30, 1999.

But the announcement of the ballot result sparked renewed and intense violence by armed pro-Indonesia militias, with the tacit consent of the Indonesia military, against pro-independence supporters.

Hundreds of people died and as many as 500,000 were displaced from their homes; before an international force for East Timor (Interfet) entered the country on September 20, 1999.

Interfet concluded on February 23, 2000, when most ADF personnel came under the command of the peacekeeping force of the UN's Transitional Administration in East Timor.

[This message was distributed via the east-timor news list. Write]


Letter sent to Australian on November 14.

To the Editor,

I was dismayed to see your recent description of the brutal response to East Timor's pro-independence vote ("Files reveal East Timor clashes" Nov. 14), which you wrote generated "intense violence by armed pro-Indonesia militias, with the tacit consent of the Indonesia military (TNI), against pro-independence supporters."

Numerous investigations, conducted by among others the United Nations and Indonesia's official human rights commission, make clear that Indonesian security forces actively organized, directed and participated in the militia since their inception.

Outside of official levels, their was no attempt to hide this during the post-ballot violence. You indicate that he official cover-up is continuing with the denial of The Australian's request for certain documents "understood to further reveal links" between the TNI and militia."

There was nothing "tacit" about the Indonesian military's participation in the events of 1999. It was an active participant, and it is time that its leaders be brought before an international court to be held accountable for their crimes.


John M. Miller
National Coordinator East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
Brooklyn, NY



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