Subject: PUB: "We will accept a 51 percent victory"
Date: Sat, 29 May 1999 11:47:29 -0400
From: Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere <>

Source : Publico Date : 14 May 1999 Dateline : Jakarta Byline : Luciano Alvarez Original Language : Portuguese Headline : "We will accept a 51 percent victory" An interview with Herminio da Silva Costa

Herminio da Silva Costa has recently emerged as one of the pro-integration movement’s most radical militants. According to a US reporter, da Silva Costa claimed that the militia groups have been given a green light by the (Indonesian) military to kill independence supporters. Although he denies having said this, in an interview with Publico he claims not only to have created the militias but also to have the authority to issue them with any kind of order.


Publico (P): When did the Indonesian armed forces give the militias the go-ahead to kill independence supporters in Dili? Da Silva Costa

(SC): I never said that. I know a US reporter wrote that in a magazine, but it is not true.

P: Didn’t you talk to Allan Nairn, the author of the article in The Nation?

SC: On several occasions I talked to a reporter who said he was American, but I don’t know if he was because he spoke Spanish. He asked me questions in Spanish and I answered in Portuguese, so he must have misunderstood.

P: Well, what did you tell him? SC: I talked about the situation in East Timor, and how we had to defend ourselves from Fretilin which, for the past 23 years, has been attacking supporters of integration.

P: Nairn presents you as the principle leader of the 13 militias…

SC: That is not correct. The leader of the militias is Mr. Joao Tavares.

P: Then what is your position?

SC: I had always kept myself backstage. However, in August 1998, when we started hearing about the possibility of the Indonesian army and police pulling out of Timor, some others and I began organising militias to defend the people from Fretilin and the Falintil.

P: So you were one of the founders of the militias? SC: Yes. P: What is your relationship with the militias?

SC: Let’s say I have influence, and that I know almost all the commanders, and that I can give orders.

P: What kind of orders?

SC: All types of orders.

P: Did you order the attack on Dili?

SC: No. That was a mistake that resulted from a misunderstanding.

P: What misunderstanding?

SC: On the Sunday, there was a problem in the market place. Some pro-independence activists turned up there and attacked some of our members. As a result, a rumour spread that Fretilin had taken over Dili. The commanders of some militias telephoned and asked me whether they should attack. I said no, that it was just a rumour. The Liquica militia, however, did not phone me, and came to Dili without my prior authorisation. We managed to stop the first five trucks, but others entered Dili without instructions from us. They made a mistake. That is why they are being disarmed.

P: The Liquica militia is being disarmed?

SC: Yes. As of 1400 hrs.

P: By whom?

SC: By us and by the army. They made a blunder and are being disarmed.

P: Militia commanders are always claiming that their men are being disarmed, but then appear later on brandishing weapons…

SC: These (Liquica militia) are really being disarmed, because they bungled it. They are going to hand over everything – machetes, rifles, everything. There is something I want to explain: ever since the Accord was signed on 5 May by Portugal and Indonesia, we have made a point of adhering it. That is why the Liquica militia is being disarmed. It acted outside our command. They made a blunder, so they are disarmed. We are even willing to send the police to arrest our militiamen if they take action without having orders from us. Likewise, however, we insist that if Fretilin people make blunders they too be arrested.

P: Alain Nairn said that you were responsible for the attack on Dili.

SC: That is a lie. I was in Jakarta. He misunderstood because he was talking in Spanish and I in Portuguese. That must be the explanation.

P: But the militias attacked Liquica church on 6 April, killing about 50 people. There is no doubt about that.

SC: The militias attacked Liquica church and killed two people who, the previous day, had killed three of our men. We didn’t make a lot of noise about it because that’s war. They attacked us, so they were attacked back. But, as far as I know, only two people died.

P: But there are several witnesses, some of whom are independent, saying that over 50 people were killed in the attack.

SC: I am only aware of the killing of two members of Fretilin and three of ours.

P: The independence supporters, ordinary citizens, and even several independent sources are saying that it is the militias who are attacking the civilian population.

SC: Let’s get one thing straight. For the past 23 years, Fretilin and the Falintil have been attacking those who favour integration. How many have they killed? No one mentions that. What’s happening now is that Fretilin are ordering people to collaborate with their own men in carrying out attacks on pro-integration targets. We are merely responding to those attacks. Then they say there have been massacres, when all the time it is they who start the trouble. But now, they have fallen into our trap.

P: What trap is that?

SC: They thought that independence was in the bag and all sewn up. They left the forests and came down to Dili and Baucau. Now they’re inside these two pockets we have set up in Dili and Baucau, and there’s no one left in the forest.

P: If there is no one left in the forests, how can they be attacking the militias?

SC: From the cells they have in these two cities, Fretilin orders the people to attack us. Then comes the counter-attack. But they are under control.

P: The National Council of Timorese Resistance denies that the Falintil have disbanded. They say they are waiting for Xanana’s orders to take action.

SC: Then let them come out.

P: Are you going to take part in the referendum campaign?

SC: We support peace and dialogue. We have appealed several times to Jose Gusmao (Xanana Gusmao) for talks, because this can only be resolved through dialogue. There is going to be a referendum. Some will win, some will lose, and there will never again be peace.

P: Are you against it (the holding of a referendum) ?

SC: What are important here are the people, not the politicians. It is the people that suffer. There are only half a dozen politicians and they are just looking out for their own interests. That is why we are in favour of dialogue. The only way to end the war is through dialogue, by reaching an agreement. Jose Gusmao has to talk to us. If an agreement were reached, we would be prepared to accept a 51 percent victory. They could have the other 49 percent.

P: What do you mean by that?

SC: We would give them almost half the seats in the future government.

P: You mean the government of a territory still under Indonesian sovereignty?

SC: Yes, of course.

P: What if the outcome of the referendum was independence?

SC: If there were a referendum, 90 percent would vote our way. Instead of winning 51 percent – in the case of reaching an agreement with Jose Gusmao, we would win by 90 percent.

P: Isn’t there a possibility that the people will reject autonomy?

SC: No. But if that were to happen, the process would last another 23 years, because then there would have to be fresh elections and, perhaps, the war would continue. That is why we are appealing to Jose Gusmao for dialogue. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to Portugal’s President and Prime Minister to talk to Jose Gusmao and tell him to embark on dialogue with us. There has to be an agreement. That is the only way there will be peace.

P: Why do you refer to Xanana as Jose Gusmao?

SC: Because he was baptised Jose Alexandre Gusmao. Xanana is his nom de guerre. It would be like calling him Commander Gusmao. I am not going to address my enemy by his nom de guerre.

P: What is your nom de guerre?

SC: Afoneno

P: And what does that mean?

SC: It has no direct Portuguese translation, but means something like "the man who pulls down the sun", or "the man who is capable of moving or shaking the sun". In other words, "the man who is capable of everything".

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