Subject: SMH: Fears of bloodbath grow as militias stockpile arms
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:09:32 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

Sydney Morning Herald Monday, July 26, 1999


Fears of bloodbath grow as militias stockpile arms


Fears are growing in East Timor that the United Nations-brokered referendum on self-determination will trigger a new civil war, rather than end almost 25 years of festering insurgency.

The Herald has learned from diplomatic, church and militia sources that hundreds of modern assault rifles, grenades and mortars are being stockpiled, ready for use if the autonomy option is rejected at the ballot box next month.

The worst scenario for the unarmed UN mission in East Timor is that hardline pro-Jakarta militias lose their nerve after a successful drive to get voters registered and launch a series of deadly prepoll attacks against student-led independence supporters.

Violent and bloody street battles then erupt in Dili and south-western Maliana, led by well-armed militia groups. The UN mission evacuates East Timor for Darwin and the Indonesian military intervenes to restore order. East Timor's referendum on self-determination is put off indefinitely. That scenario is not so far-fetched. A militia source in Maliana, the district capital of Bobanaro, bragged of 400 M-16 assault rifles being held at the residence of former Bupati (mayor) and militia commander-in-chief Mr Joao Tavares. He said the weapons were given by the Indonesian armed forces, which are resisting moves towards independence for East Timor out of fear that could trigger a flow-on effect to other provinces, such as Aceh and West Irian.

At least 400 indigenous troops are also based in Bobanaro. All support autonomy, according to the senior army officer in Maliana, Lieutenant-Colonel Berhanudin Syagian.

In south-western Suai, near the West Timor frontier, church sources have warned 400-500 assault rifles, grenades and mortars are being held at various Kodim (military district command) posts, ready to be handed out to militias. Weapons also include the M-203 assault rifle fitted with a 40mm grenade launcher.

One Western security expert with a good knowledge of East Timor said: "If the autonomy side wins, and that is unlikely, then the independence side [Falintil] might do something, but they are so under-gunned. If independence wins, these autonomy guys will go berserk. We know they are planning to move in a lot of their supporters from West Timor." At a recent meeting in Maliana, one senior militia commander, Mr Paulos Feireira of Dadurus Merah Putih (Typhoon) warned of a "general uprising" if the pro-autonomy side lost the ballot. "It will be like 1975 all over again," he was quoted as telling local officials.

Better than expected voter registration so far spells bad news for the pro-autonomists. "Every voter signed up is a vote for independence," one UN official said.

Security sources in Dili say some of the main pro-Jakarta militias are becoming cash-strapped, with funds expected to last only until the end of the month, prompting a rash of recent trips to their Jakarta-based bankers by commanders such as Aitarak's Mr Eurico Guterres.

A campaign of terror and intimidation by pro-Jakarta militias waged against independence supporters earlier this year created an estimated 60,000 refugees but failed to prevent widespread voter registration for the ballot.

Indonesian national police whose responsibility it is to maintain security in East Timor will be stretched to the limit trying to protect the civilian population in the event of post-poll violence, one diplomat said.

With voting day now less than five weeks away, the Lorosae Contingent of the Indonesian Special Mobile Police (Brimob) have been earning high praise from many UN officials for their even-handedness. "They are busting their guts to live up to their obligations. They do not have a security relationship with the militias," the diplomat said. Police support in implementing the UN mandate in the province has already led to several armed stand-offs with the army. At least one senior Indonesian police officer with experience in UN operations in Bosnia has complained about officially sanctioned protection for the militias he described as "illegal".

A leaked internal government memo assessing security conditions in East Timor recommended as a contingency plan covert assistance to the militias it described as "heroes of integration".

Embarrassed by the revelations, the Indonesian Government branded the July 3 document a forgery, but diplomats and UN experts believe it is genuine.

The UN Assistance Mission in East Timor, well aware of the risks of renewed violence, has organised an evacuation plan for all non-essential staff to be implemented within three to four days of polling. The plan will include all UN staff except about 450 civilian police and military liaison officers. Two evacuation sites have been organised in Dili and Atabae, about 80 kilometres west of the provincial capital.

Whether a UN vote is held at all is likely to be determined by security conditions in Maliana, the provincial capital of Bobanaro district and a major pro- Indonesia stronghold where the Bupati, Mr Guillerme dos Santos, has warned of "fatal consequences" if independence supporters are allowed to campaign in the town. A key question to be resolved if the situation deteriorates is when Australian Defence Force personnel would become involved.

Legal experts and diplomats said "all the rules go out the window" if UN personnel are targeted by the militias and their supporters. The elite Special Air Service Regiment in Perth is known to be on a high state of readiness for a possible extraction operation in East Timor.

However, apart from statements of support, Canberra should not expect a great deal else from the international community, according to some Western diplomats who view any fallout resulting from East Timor's political evolution as an Australian pickle. "We've been trying to drum up some heat on this issue in Ottawa but the feedback we're getting is that this is an Aussie problem," a Canadian diplomat said. A senior United States diplomat summarised the issue neatly: "East Timor is Australia's Haiti."

Portuguese and Indonesian diplomats signed a UN-brokered agreement on May 5 that paved the way for a referendum on self-determination for East Timor. If there is a pro-independence victory at the ballot, some Western diplomats believe the May 5 agreement allows the immediate deployment of a peacekeeping force in the province. Talks between the UN, Portugal and Indonesia are continuing in New York to discuss post-ballot issues.

Meanwhile, Australian journalists and aid workers in East Timor should not expect the Australian Government to come to their rescue if violence erupts, consular officials in Dili said.

Back to July Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99