Subject: AU: Timor: rock, shock and smoking barrels
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 11:24:09 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Australian 14 May 99

Timor: rock, shock and smoking barrels

THERE was a party in Dili the other night; some say the most splendid party in East Timor since 1975.

The hosts were chuffed when the local paper gave it a bigger write-up than the gunplay that turned the city centre into a no-go zone the following day.

On the flat concrete roof of the Mahkota Hotel, rock music, downloaded from the Internet, boomed into the humid night.

Conversation rarely strayed from conventional, neutral topics. The quarter-century legacy of an entrenched security apparatus constructed from such materials as military occupation, the guerilla war, brazen daylight massacres and early morning raids is a kind of professional paranoia that expresses itself in one rule: don't trust anyone.

Instead, everybody talked about how pretty Dili was and what a marvellous tourist spot it would be if it wasn't the capital of one of the world's most dangerous places.

The danger, like the smog over Jakarta, is ever-present and the violence, at its militia-driven worst, can be quite random. But to simply brand the pro-Indonesia militias as thugs and looters who enjoy almost total immunity from the law is to misjudge the situation.

Think of them more as well-organised death squads, unleashed by a hidden, or partly hidden, hand – the public expression of a private and calculated intelligence.

The militias claim their primary role is to raise a structured civilian defence against raids by combat-experienced, pro-independent Falintil guerillas. But this year's militia activity has three purposes.

One is to raid known or suspected pro-independence properties, to threaten, kidnap or kill elected independent activists.

Another is to generally terrorise the populace.

The third is to inflate, largely through intimidation and public display, the real strength of pro-integration sentiment.

All have the same political objective, which is to suppress an expression of the popular will that would assuredly lead to an independent East Timor.

Despite the international pressure on Indonesia to end the Timorese agony, the persistent terrorism makes it possible for the UN to rethink its plan to send forces to monitor the referendum.

On some attacks, people riding with the militias carry photographs of intended targets. Journalists are kept well away from these scenes through the use of roadblocks, threats and harassment.

But it is possible to pierce the often unreliable accounts of numerous witnesses and survivors to discern much of what happened. There also is evidence that cannot be hidden – physical evidence, such as spent army issue cartridges, and material evidence, such as watching who is on the vehicles that enter and leave.

The amity between the militias and the uniformed services is obvious, as is the refusal of the police to intervene against serious crimes that occur in front of their noses. The careful planning and use of intelligence gathering in these attacks shows the Indonesian security forces have the capacity to use the militias as their tool – as does the employment of uniformed units such as Brimob, the mobile police, to escort the militias in and out of areas selected for attack.

Villagers also allege units of ABRI, the Indonesian army, have on occasion moved in to retrieve dead bodies for secret disposal, although a reporter from The Australian has been unable to find substantive evidence of this.

Why, then, if the connections are so blatant, have the security forces bothered to raise a militia organisation? Why not do the dirty work themselves? Three reasons suggest themselves. One, the militias serve the useful purpose of deniability. When their outrages become too excessive for the international community to stomach, their victims too obviously innocent, the authorities can pretend it has nothing to do with them.

Two, the militias can be used to convey the impression East Timor is a province at war with itself.

Their members and nominal leaders are Timorese. If Timorese are fighting each other this hands the Indonesians more options for addressing the international aspect of the crisis. Three, the militias are ultimately dispensable. Were the security forces to seriously withdraw their support, the militias would be drained overnight of most of their recruitment incentives, such as money, food, weapons, transport and accommodation.

Only the fear of retribution from the military wing of an ascendant independent movement could keep the diehards together as a hostile force. But they would revert to being bandits outside the law, rather than bandits above the law, as they are now.

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