Subject: Trusted Kopassus stooge may be feeling the heat

also: Militias will disband today, vows leader

South China Morning Post Monday, December 13, 1999

EAST TIMOR

Trusted commander may be feeling the heat

VAUDINE ENGLAND

Joao Tavares wears large cowboy hats and has long enjoyed the fear and status his position as commander of the pro-integration forces has inspired.

"He's been a Kopassus stooge for 25 years," said documentary film-maker David O'Shea, referring to the Indonesian military's elite special forces, which are held responsible for much of the dirty work executed in East Timor.

The former Australian consul in East Timor, James Dunn, believes Tavares had been in some trouble with the Portuguese colonial authorities before their abrupt departure in 1975, prompting his closeness to the Indonesian military.

"He was with the invading [Indonesian] forces when they entered Balibo in 1975, and only the most trusted East Timorese were part of that," said Mr O'Shea.

This year, Tavares has been in regular contact with Indonesian army general Adam Damiri, alleged to have directed and executed the scorched-earth policy in the territory.

The Indonesian Human Rights Commission investigation of the abuses inflicted on East Timor said it planned to call Tavares and the Aitarak militia leader, Eurico Guterres, for questioning, which may explain the commander's new-found desire for peace.

"Maybe things are getting too hot for him," said Mr O'Shea.

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South China Morning Post Monday, December 13, 1999

EAST TIMOR

Militias will disband today, vows leader

VAUDINE ENGLAND and AGENCIES in Dili and Motaain, West Timor

The pro-Indonesia militias which terrorised East Timor will disband, their commander promised independence leader Xanana Gusmao yesterday.

Joao de Silva Tavares, who heads an alliance of the armed groups, made the pledge when the two leaders met to discuss the return of tens of thousands of East Timorese refugees from Indonesian West Timor.

Mr Gusmao met Tavares at an Indonesian military post in Motaain, near the border with East Timor.

In a two-hour meeting, both sought guarantees for the safety of East Timorese who intend to return to their homeland.

Afterwards, Tavares announced the plan to disband the militias, which embarked on an orgy of violence after the August 30 vote for independence in East Timor.

"The militia organisations will be officially disbanded in a ceremony tomorrow in Atambua," he said.

Atambua is an Indonesian town where many East Timorese took refuge from the militias and their Indonesian army backers.

About 230,000 East Timorese fled to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia amid the violence, quelled only when UN-authorised peacekeepers moved in on September 20.

The militias have since been accused of continuing their anti-independence purge against refugees trapped in vast camps which were long closed to all outsiders.

"We, all militiamen and other refugees in western Timor, would be pleased to go back if [independence leaders] guarantee security," Tavares said.

Mr Gusmao promised no retaliation against the militiamen, but said they could face intimidation in some places. The two men agreed to hold further meetings.

Sources said former armed forces chief General Wiranto could be pulling the plug on the military's proxies, like Tavares, in a bid to improve his image at a time when he is the target of investigators probing human rights abuses in Aceh and East Timor.

Such a public relations push by the general would explain Tavares' conciliatory stance, but observers do not believe the militia leaders' words will necessarily be followed by action.

"I wouldn't believe it means anything new on the ground," one source said. "It's just posturing."

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid is eager to restore international credibility by quashing the militias and freeing the 169,800 East Timorese refugees still trapped in West Timor.

"It all depends on what the Indonesian military says," said an East Timorese politician and activist.

"The militias are just constructs of the Indonesian military after all.

"Maybe the political pressure on them has been increasing, maybe Wahid is tired of them, maybe the TNI [Indonesian Defence Force] is pulling back.

"But it wouldn't be because of any change of heart on Tavares' part."

Other sources believe under-the-table funding from the military is drying up, and that militia leaders such as Tavares are beginning to feel abandoned.

Hong Kong businessman Eric Hotung's ship carrying relief goods for the East Timorese dropped anchor off Dili Bay yesterday amid praise from independence leaders Mr Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta. They described Mr Hotung as "our old friend".

Mr Ramos Horta said: "He bought us a ship, paid for with his own money, and it is the first ship East Timor has."


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