International Federation for East Timor
Observer Project

Report on the Militia Attack on the Humanitarian Team in Liquiça

For Immediate Release: 8 July 1999
For further information contact either:

East Timor field office (Dili)
Tel. 62-390-321969 fax:62-390-321264

International coordinator (New York)
Tel:1-914-428-7299 fax:1-914-428-7383

A pro-Indonesia armed militia, Red and White Iron Rod (Besi Merah Putih), attacked a convoy of 77 persons in the town of Liquiça on July 4, 1999. The convoy was returning to the capital city of Dili after delivering food and medicine to thousands of internally displaced persons in and around the village of Sare (Ermera district). The coalition that organized the convoy, the Humanitarian Team, consisted of workers and volunteers of six East Timorese NGOs: Yayasan Hak, Etadep, Caritas East Timor, Yayasan Kasimo, Timor Aid, and Posko for Emergency Aid to Internally Displaced Persons. It was accompanied by an official of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the Humanitarian Affairs Officer of the United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor, Patrick Burgess. Dan Murphy, an American medical doctor, and Max White, a member of the IFET Observer Project, also accompanied the mission.

The militia attack on the Humanitarian Team in Liquiça on July 4, 1999 must be seen in the context of the humanitarian crisis created by the militias. According to the UNHCR, an estimated 30,000 East Timorese have fled their homes over the past six months in the face of attacks by pro-Indonesia militias such as Besi Merah Putih (BMP). The displaced persons have fled to forests and villages of the remote interior where they are struggling for survival. They lack adequate food, medical care, and shelter.

The IFET Observer Project (IFET-OP), in East Timor to monitor the popular consultation, is greatly concerned about this humanitarian crisis because it directly affects the validity of the vote. Right now, at least 30,000 people, by virtue of their displacement and seclusion, are being excluded from voter education. Under present conditions, they will find it nearly impossible to register themselves as voters. If the Indonesian government does not immediately provide a secure environment so that they feel safe enough to return to their home villages and towns, they will be unable to effectively participate in the popular consultation scheduled for August.

Despite the severity of this humanitarian crisis, the Indonesian government has not taken steps to relieve the suffering of the displaced persons nor assisted the work of NGOs wishing to provide relief. The Indonesian military in East Timor has allowed the pro-Indonesia militias to surround the camps and set up check posts on the roads leading in and out. Charitable organizations delivering aid have felt intimidated by the presence of these militias and have had their work hindered by them. Those who have visited the camps and spoken to the displaced persons and the militia members report that the militias receive food and money from the Indonesian military to maintain themselves in these remote locations.

Max White, an IFET-OP member accompanying the humanitarian mission, reports that tuberculosis and malaria are of epidemic proportions among the displaced persons in Sare: "They are sleeping outside or in crudely assembled shacks. According to our count, seven out of every ten persons there had malaria. We saw many indications of malnutrition and heard many stories of recent deaths. That they are contracting and succumbing to diseases is directly attributable to their displacement from their own homes and means of subsistence."

The exact number of displaced persons in and around Sare is difficult to determine given the lack of regular access by aid organizations. The coordinator of the Humanitarian Team, Jose Luis de Oliveira, has told IFET-OP that he estimates that about 3,800 displaced persons are in Sare and another 3,000 are in nearby Faulara. From discussions with the displaced persons in Sare, Jose and other Team members learned of the deaths of about 70 people who had died from disease since February. Another five had been killed by the militia that surrounds the settlement.

IFET-OP spoke to a priest in late June providing food and medicine to displaced persons in two villages within sight of Sare. He and his staff have been able to compile a list of the names of 1,654 persons in the villages of Madebau and Quelima. He said that the psychological suffering of the displaced persons is just as severe as their physical suffering: "They feel stressed out and traumatized because of the intimidation and terror they have experienced at the hands of the militias." Most of those now in Sare and its environs originally hail from the Maubara sub-district of Liquiça district, from villages such as Lisadila and Maubaralisa. The BMP militia attacked their villages and burned down their homes during the months of February to April this year. One can see on the road to Sare the charred remains of numerous deserted villages.

To date, the Indonesian government has taken no action against the Besi Merah Putih despite the fact that they have destroyed villages in Liquiça district and caused the displacement of thousands of people. The BMP was responsible for the gruesome massacre in the Liquiça church compound on April 6 where hundreds of displaced persons were sheltering. The BMP hacked to death about 60 people, including women and children, and severely injured dozens more. The BMP also participated in the militia rally in Dili on April 17 and the subsequent massacre of displaced persons sheltering at Manuel Carrascalão's house. The involvement of the Indonesian government in the militia violence is beyond question. The BMP members have been photographed while being trained by the Indonesian military in military buildings. The BMP members stand at checkposts on roads throughout Liquiça district. Though Indonesian law forbids gun ownership by private individuals, the BMP members openly carry rifles, automatic guns, and pistols through the streets. For the past six months, the BMP has rampaged through Liquiça district with official sanction and encouragement.

This latest attack on a group of humanitarian aid workers could have been prevented if the Indonesian government had taken action months ago against an organization that has already committed heinous crimes.

The facts of this latest attack are sufficiently clear from eyewitness testimony, video footage, and photographs. The convoy of eight vehicles stopped in the town of Liquiça at about 4 pm (still daylight) on their way back to Dili. Patrick Burgess of UNAMET reported to the police station that the convoy had gone on a humanitarian mission to Sare and was returning to Dili. While the convoy was parked by the roadside and the members of the mission were standing around their vehicles and nearby storefronts, a van load of BMP members arrived. The militia members, carrying rifles, pistols, swords, and knives, piled out of the van and immediately began running towards the group. The van departed and, within minutes, returned with another load of militia members from further down the road. In all there were about thirty BMP attackers. Some of the humanitarian aid workers fled into the police station, others ran back to their vehicles and attempted to drive away. In the melee, they were slashed at, shot at, beaten, and stoned. This was clearly an unprovoked aggression by a pro-Indonesian militia against a group of unarmed persons.

One must note that the attack occurred in front of two of the main offices of Indonesia's security forces in Liquiça. The attack was at an intersection at which stand the local police station and the military headquarters for Liquiça district (Kodim 1638). The mayhem continued for approximately ten minutes while the police and the military stood idly by. The police did not emerge from the station to disperse the BMP until after the humanitarian aid workers had managed to flee and save themselves.

One must also note that one day prior to the convoy's departure from Dili on July 2, the humanitarian NGOs requested the police provide an escort. The police initially agreed to provide one and then, later that evening, informed the group that it would not. The NGO group requested a police escort prior to their departure from Sare on July 4. Again, the police declined to provide one.

All members of the convoy are now accounted for. One member of the humanitarian mission, Laurentino Soares, suffered severe head injuries. He is recuperating from his wounds in the military hospital in Dili.

Although the Indonesian government issued a statement deploring the attack on the humanitarian workers (July 5, 1999), many of its officials have issued statements that fault UNAMET staff and the humanitarian aid workers. The military headquarters in Jakarta (Mabes TNI) alleged in its press statement that the UNAMET civilian police in the convoy were escorting three armed pro-independence guerrillas. (Kompas, July 6) Gen. Wiranto, the Commander-in-Chief and Defense Minister, alleged that the incident was the product of a lack of discipline among both the pro-Indonesian and pro-independence groups. (Kompas, July 6) Deputy military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Sudrajat, similarly alleged the violence derived from a confrontation between pro-independence supporters riding inside the UNAMET vehicle and the militia. (Agence France Press, July 7) The East Timorese police have alleged that the UNAMET staffer fired shots from a pistol and thereby provoked the attack. (Suara Timor Timur, July 6) Officials in the Indonesian government in East Timor alleged the humanitarian organizations did not coordinate the trip with the government beforehand. (Suara Timor Timur, July 6) All of these allegations are false. They serve to divert attention from the facts of the attack and the responsibility of the Indonesian government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Perhaps most disturbing is the term the Indonesian military headquarters in Jakarta is using to describe the displaced persons in Sare: "anti-integration refugees" (pengungsi anti-integrasi). (Kompas, July 6) For the military, displaced persons dying of disease and malnutrition are viewed in political terms. The military does not appear to agree with Father Baretto of Caritas East Timor who has argued that "charitable aid is above ideology."

In light of the above facts, the IFET Observer Project, concerned about the fairness and openness of the upcoming popular consultation, makes the following recommendations:

  1. That the Indonesian government bring the perpetrators of the attack on the humanitarian aid workers to justice.

  2. That the Indonesian government disarm the BMP and other paramilitary groups and close their checkposts on the roads.

  3. That the Indonesian government facilitate the return of internally displaced persons to their home villages and towns and assist in constructing new houses.

  4. That the Indonesian government fulfill the responsibilities it assumed in signing the May 5 agreement with Portugal and the United Nations. Under the terms of the agreement, Indonesia must ensure an "environment devoid of violence or other forms of intimidation" as a "prerequisite for the holding of a free and fair ballot in East Timor."

For more details on the Humanitarian Aid Mission, see "HUMANITARIAN MISSION FOR INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE," Joint Statement by Yayasan HAK, Yayasan Etadep, Caritas Dili, Yayasan Kasimo, Posko Bantuan Darurat Untuk Pengungsi Internal, and Timor Aid; July 6, 1999. Copies of this statement are available from the IFET Observer Project International Office.

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