=Subject: AU: Interpreting fear in E Timor
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 09:08:59 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

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The Australian 1 May 99

Interpreting fear in E Timor


WE were in the middle of a square flanked by 1000 people attending a militia rally in East Timor's Maliana district when a man strolled up to my interpreter.

He spoke a few words and beckoned him off to what would become an interrogation, beating and threats to his life by a group comprising militia men, the district military commander and an officer believed to be from Kopassus – Indonesia's special forces.

It was the beginning of an afternoon of high tension that would put lie to Indonesian military denials of claims it is arming and supporting the pro-integrationist militias.

"I'll just be a minute," our interpreter – let's call him John – had said as he followed the man into the crowd. I waited in the crowd, observing Dili militia leaders, including Eurico Guterres and Joao Tavares, as they sat with Maliana government-appointed district head Guilherme do Santos watching the show put on by the Halilintar militia.

Having decided it was time to start work, I began looking for John but after twice walking around the crowd he was nowhere to be seen.

I was becoming worried. John, who is from Maliana, previously had been a student activist associated with the independence movement. But because the Halilintar had invited journalists to the rally, and because various agreements supposedly had made things safer for an open political debate about the future of East Timor, John and I had thought it safe to make the two-hour drive to Atabai – a short way from Balibo.

We were wrong.

I had been looking for John for more than 30 minutes when the man who had approached him touched my arm and escorted me to a few seats about 50m from the rally.

John was sitting with another man – who he later identified as someone he had known two years ago to be a Kopassus officer. John, who does not smoke as a rule, had a cigarette in his lips and looked far from comfortable. "We have a problem," he told me.

In the intervening period, I learned from him later, John had been beaten about the legs, stomach and head by five militia men. His bag had been searched and his identity documents removed and not returned. All the while he was explaining he was at the rally as my employee.

"They said, 'you're lucky because you came with journalists. If you had come by yourself we probably would have killed you'," John told me.

I knew none of this as I first sat with him. All John could tell me in front of the Kopassus officer was he had been guaranteed safety for now, but that we needed to leave – and quickly.

When I returned a few minutes later having found our driver, there were uniformed soldiers nearby and a moustached man in civilian clothes, wearing one of the red and white scarves that earlier had been draped around the necks of the most important people attending the rally. He later was identified by John, although not by name, as the district commander for the Indonesian army.

The man had a camcorder and clearly wanted to speak further to John. I was reluctant to leave him alone and said so. The commander said in the only English used during the few minutes I was there: "You are not the problem. He" – pointing at John – "is the problem."

John listened as the man spoke to him, then told me: "If you get the car here I will be safe. If you stay I will be bruised and bloodied."

Our party was then taken away from the rally under escort. Fifteen tense minutes later we stopped to allow our escorts to peel off back to the rally.

John said the militia men had said they knew who he was and would look for him in Dili at their convenience. If they found him, he quoted them as saying, they would kill him.

"I should leave this country," he said. "I should go to another country. I need you guys to help. Otherwise I will die, I think."

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