Subject: SMH: Timor Devastation Directed From High

Sydney Morning Herald 06/11/99

Rampage directed from high

Indonesia meant to leave its unwilling province a smoking ruin, reports DAVID LAGUE from Dili.

Warrant Officer Andrew Hobbs, like most of the peacekeepers in East Timor, has seen his share of devastation.

The Indonesian-speaking, Royal Australian Navy sailor has travelled widely around the territory but in one small village near Suai, near the border with West Timor, he was shaken when he saw the lengths to which the pro-Jakarta militia and their backers in the Indonesian military had gone in their efforts to destroy everything of value.

"They had even ringbarked the trees," he said.

"Now, that is just evil."

Few would argue that evil was at work in those few short weeks of death and mayhem when a whole people were expelled from their mostly rudimentary homes and - in the case of hundreds of thousands, at least - driven to West Timor or other parts of the Indonesian archipelago while, behind them, the militias and their uniformed backers systematically laid waste to East Timor.

On the evidence so far, hundreds were murdered, some with unspeakable cruelty, but there are fears that the death toll will eventually be much higher.

However, what is now becoming clear as East Timorese, with the help of the peacekeepers and aid agencies, begin rebuilding is that what happened to this long-suffering people was not only evil, it was deliberate.

For many victims, aid workers and soldiers there is no doubt. Indonesia had a plan for East Timor after the majority opted for independence at the United Nations-organised poll on August 30, and the architects of this brutal scheme expected to get away with it.

The first two phases of the plan seem obvious to many. East Timor was to be ruined and then a big proportion of independence supporters were to be moved to other parts of the sprawling archipelago.

The third phase is less clear because it was aborted when a horrified international community called in the peacekeepers, the Australian-led International Force for East Timor (Interfet) on September 20, and Jakarta was forced to withdraw in disgrace from the territory it seized after Portugual withdrew in 1975.

There is speculation that Indonesia wanted to leave Jakarta supporters in the majority, perhaps even bringing in transmigrants from other islands.

It has even been suggested that the aim was to declare the independence vote invalid and hold another poll.

Indonesia's apologists are already trying to explain away the violence as a spontaneous backlash by the militias, furious at the overwhelming vote for independence. However, virtually no-one who has seen the wreckage can agree that the vandalism was random.

Major Mark Nolan, the second-in-command of Sydney-based paratroopers 3 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, now serving at Maliana, on the border with West Timor, has had plenty of opportunity to measure the damage as his soldiers patrol their rugged area of operation.

"The evidence points to a very deliberate and co-ordinated destruction of infrastructure and property," he said. "Multiple villages on different accesses have been targeted. If you follow the spur lines from the air between here and Dili, you can see all the huts are razed. Someone has gone to all the trouble to walk all the way up the hills and burn them down."

In some respects, it is not so much the major acts of destruction - the burning and looting of whole houses, businesses and government buildings - that demonstrate intent, but the minor, seemingly petty attempts to ruin.

In one of the many burned-out villages between Maliana and Balibo, a row of four earthenware potplants on a plank where a thatched hut once stood, had been smashed.

In other villages there is nothing but embers. Not a knife or fork or a child's toy remains.

The director of CARE International in East Timor, Mr Steve Gwynne-Vaughan, has seen first-hand the destruction and suffering in other trouble spots including Angola, Mozambique and Zaire, but he was amazed by the determination to leave East Timor with nothing.

On a visit to a power station in Suai, he noticed that electrical monitoring equipment made in 1997 had been very carefully wrecked.

"It was as if someone had gone along with a ball-peen hammer and smashed every single dial and gauge," he said.

"There is no way you could trash it like that in a couple of hours. It seems improbable that it was some haphazard level of destruction. I have seen places where it took 30 years to reach the level of destruction that people have reached in 10 days here."

There is also no doubt that the forced exodus was deliberate.

Aid workers point out that cargo ships, commercial aircraft and army trucks just don't turn up in a backwater of the Indonesian archipelago and carry hundreds of thousands away. Crazed militias working alone do not have that capacity.

A Dili resident, Mrs Adalgiza Ximenes, and her baby were sheltering in a seminary with thousands of others during the chaos when they were loaded on Indonesian army trucks and driven in a long column across the border to West Timor, where more than 230,000 East Timorese still remain. She came back to Dili late last month on one of the first UN-organised repatriation shipments.

Mrs Ximenes said she believed the major objective was to negate the outcome of the independence vote.

In the chaos it had orchestrated, Jakarta was trying to portray the forced departures as panicked flight from an independent East Timor while at the same time leaving a majority of loyalists behind. There would have then been no need for another vote, she said.

"It would have changed the population base enough so that integration with Indonesia would have been the only outcome.

"The pro-integration people stay here, the rest go to Indonesia. That was their objective. Only that. Everybody knows that. You can ask anybody. They will tell you the same thing."

Ms Teresa Imaculada da Costa Galhos, an aid volunteer and recently returned deportee, readily agreed, saying: "I think they only wanted to leave people here in East Timor who supported integration."

What amazes many observers in East Timor is how the Indonesians managed to move so many people in less than three weeks.

According to figures supplied by Indonesian authorities, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that about 260,000 East Timorese were shifted to West Timor and tens of thousands taken to other parts of Indonesia, although the emptiness of vast areas of East Timor suggests the numbers driven out may be much higher.

Watching a shipload of returning East Timorese disembark at Dili harbour, the UNHCR director for Asia-Pacific, Mr Franc¸ois Fouinat, said it had been suggested that up to 400,000 - or about half the population - had been moved, but he readily understood how it was possible.

"When you have the army, navy and air force helping you, it is easy," he said.

"People didn't resist. Their towns were in flames," he added, gesturing over his shoulder to the charred remains of Dili.

UN investigations into human rights abuses in East Timor are under way, but the UN acting administrator, Mr Ian Martin, said early monsoon rains could have degraded some evidence.

UN special rapporteur Asma Jahangir, a specialist in summary executions, has travelled to the destroyed town of Suai to investigate evidence of a mass killing in a church in early September.


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