=Subject: NYT/Op-Ed: East Timor's Bloodiest Tradition
Date: Sat, 08 May 1999 09:26:12 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Op-Ed New York Times May 5, 1999

East Timor's Bloodiest Tradition

DILI, East Timor -- April 6, 1999. Another massacre. April 17. Another. Two more to add to an already lengthy list in East Timor. Since Indonesia invaded my homeland in 1975 and officially annexed it the following year, our history has seemed little more than a succession of massacres, one following the other in a depressingly predictable pattern.

Although the recent attacks have many precedents, they were committed when we were filled with unprecedented hope. Only four months ago, the Government of President B. J. Habibie offered us the chance to vote on whether to remain in Indonesia or become independent. Indonesia began working out the logistics of the vote with the United Nations and Portugal (the former colonial power still acknowledged under international law as the administering authority over East Timor). Today the Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, is due to sign the final agreement on the vote at the United Nations.

The recent wave of violence here reveals that the Habibie Government is reneging on the promise of a peaceful resolution to East Timor's disputed political status. Although the Habibie Government denies it, the military, since last December, has organized its hardened East Timorese camp followers into militias. With arms, money and a license for reckless rampages, the dozen or so militia leaders have openly threatened death to anyone opposed to continued Indonesian occupation. Their spokesman, Basilio Araujo, told an Australian television crew, "We will kill as many people as we want."

The militia bosses boast that they are countering pro-independence guerrillas, but they have not fought a single battle with the guerrillas. They have only attacked unarmed civilians and created a refugee crisis. In sweeps through the countryside, the militias have threatened to kill the families of any male, young or old, who refuses to join their ranks. Many "members" of the militias are ordinary villagers, some of whom I know personally. They are forced recruits sullenly going through the motions and hoping to avoid being hurt and hurting others.

The human rights organization I direct has been trying to care for those who fled the villages to escape the militia threats. According to our figures, about 18,000 refugees are now sheltered in the towns. With little food, money and medicine, they are slowly succumbing to disease.

By unleashing the militias, the Indonesian Government's apparent strategy is to create the appearance of a civil war. Indonesia falsely claims to be an enlightened and neutral arbiter between a factious and primitive people not yet ready for independence.

As is clear to all observers, the militias have not been engaged in any pitched battles with pro-independence forces. They attacked, with axes and machetes, hundreds of helpless refugees sheltered in a church in Liquica on April 6. My staff has recorded the names of 57 dead, many of them women and children. Here in East Timor's capital, they attacked another group of about 150 refugees on April 17. Meanwhile, the pro-independence guerrillas, observing a cease-fire since December, refrained from responding to the militias' attacks on civilians until mid-April, as the Indonesian military spokesman in East Timor has admitted.

The militias have no other aim than to sow chaos and terror.

Instead of allowing us to vote on whether to remain within Indonesia, the militia bosses are killing those who oppose them and vowing to wreck the United Nations-supervised vote scheduled for August. Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, is on their hit list, as are Australian journalists, East Timorese students and human rights workers (myself included). The militia bosses are even threatening to attack United Nations officials who will come to administer the vote.

Sadly, President Habibie and his top military commander, Gen. Wiranto, have done nothing to stop the militias. Over the past five months, the gang leaders have, in public view, committed atrocities and issued death threats. Yet they move around with impunity. The much-publicized "peace pact" Gen. Wiranto arranged in Dili on April 21 was nothing more than a public relations stunt. The militias continue to attack unarmed civilians unilaterally.

For a free and fair vote to be held, Portugal and the United States will have to insist on a disarming of the militias and a substantial withdrawal of Indonesia's all-pervasive troops. The United States, holding considerable leverage over bankrupt Indonesia, should take strong action, like cutting off all military aid and training until a valid vote on independence is held in East Timor.

Every day my staff records more cases of torture, disappearances and killings. All East Timorese, except for a few deranged militia leaders, have experienced enough violence in their lives. We are desperate for a peaceful resolution. Yet the Indonesian military, by allowing these militias to be deployed, is drowning our hopes in blood.

Aniceto Guterres Lopes, an East Timorese lawyer educated in Indonesia, is the director of Yayasan HAK (Legal Aid, Human Rights and Justice Foundation).

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