International Federation for East Timor
Observer Project

IFET-OP Report #5:
Campaign Period Begins Amidst Widespread Intimidation by Militia and Indonesian Security Forces Follows Generally Successful Voter Registration

For Immediate Release: 17 August 1999
For further information contact either:

East Timor field office (Dili)
Sabine Hammer or Joseph Nevins
Tel. 62-390-321969 fax:62-390-321264

International contact (Toronto)
Maggie Helwig

[Note: The International Federation for East Timor Observer Project (IFET-OP) is composed of trained volunteers from a variety of countries throughout the world. We are the largest international observer mission in East Timor, with more than 75 observers now in the territory. IFET-OP has teams of observers in Aileu, Baucau, Maliana, Manatuto, Maubisse, Same, and Suai; we expect to have teams in all 13 of East Timor's districts on Consultation day. IFET-OP is accredited by UNAMET as a non- partisan observer mission. IFET-OP carefully monitors the human rights situation as it relates to the UNAMET-run consultation process, voter registration, political campaigning, and the actual vote. IFET-OP publishes and distributes reports, including a final one evaluating the entire consultation process.]

Dili, East Timor (17 August) -- On Saturday, August 14, 1999, the 14-day campaign portion of the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor began. Although there have already been many peaceful campaign events -- both pro-autonomy and pro-independence -- throughout the territory, they are taking place in a continuing context of insecurity, intimidation, and widespread fear of impending violence. Indeed, in many parts of East Timor, pro-independence forces do not feel sufficiently secure to campaign publicly. Although political campaigning itself may not change the minds of a significant number of would-be voters, the context in which the campaign takes place has serious implications for the sense of security voters will have in freely casting their votes on August 30.

Incidents of paramilitary and military violence directed at supporters of East Timorese independence have continued over the last two weeks. As discussed in the August 3 IFET-OP report, the Indonesian authorities in East Timor have not made serious efforts to fulfill their security obligations under the May 5 accord signed by the governments of Portugal and Indonesia. To the contrary, the Indonesian government continues to tolerate and, by its inaction, condone and encourage violence by pro-integration forces. In addition, in some instances, the Indonesian military (TNI) has directly participated in the violence.

This report is based on IFET-OP field observations throughout East Timor between August 2 and 16, 1999, as well as discussions with UNAMET officials and staff, with East Timorese civilians, with representatives of different East Timorese political organizations, and with representatives of international, Indonesian, and East Timorese non-governmental organizations.

As in our last report, our major preoccupations concern the continuing activities of TNI-supported paramilitary groups in the form of violence and intimidation directed against independence supporters in many areas of East Timor. In addition, warnings by government officials and pro-autonomy spokespersons of large-scale violence if the East Timorese people reject the autonomy option in the August 30 vote, along with widespread reports of arm shipments entering the territory, is cause for worry.

Paramilitary Violence and its Relation to Indonesian Authorities

Continuing violence by paramilitary groups is the greatest obstacle to the UNAMET-conducted consultation process. The militia groups and their allies in the Indonesian security apparatus seem to be focusing their violent attention on anyone who appears to favor the independence option, especially students. The following incidents over the past two weeks illustrate that this problem is widespread across East Timor.

Ainaro, August 5: About 20 militia members hurled rocks, sticks, and pieces of concrete at a group of 50 students holding a discussion on the UNAMET registration process at a private home. UNAMET officials invited by the students were present to explain the registration. One UNAMET civilian police officer was injured, leading to the closure of four registration sites for the day.

The students had advised the Indonesian police of the meeting, but the authorities refused to provide security. The police did respond to the attack but did not make any arrests, despite the continuing presence of militia members at the time of their arrival at the home.

Batugade, August 5: A pro-integration militia group attacked a UNAMET registration center and threatened the local staff. UNAMET had opened a special registration post in Batugade and extended the registration period to accommodate registrants coming in from West Timor. The Indonesian government had arranged the transportation for hundreds of West Timorese residents who claimed to have been born in East Timor. After the UNAMET staff at the Batugade center rejected some of the applications in the morning, a crowd of about 75 militia members loitering nearby forcibly entered the compound, threatened the UNAMET staff, and beat two East Timorese staff members. The incident resulted in the closing of the UNAMET site for the rest of the day as well as the following day.

Same, August 6: A militia named ABLAI attacked students and refugees sheltering at the local Catholic church after receiving threats from the very same militia group (see IFET-OP Media Alert dated August 9, 1999). One of the refugees, a man of approximately 50 years of age, was severely cut on the wrist and shoulder by a machete and a knife. The militia also cut a female student with a knife.

POLRI, the Indonesian police force, witnessed the attack, but did nothing to prevent or stop it. According to IFET-OP observers present in Same, the police walked slowly toward the disturbance.

Indonesian police have not yet arrested any of perpetrators of the attack. Eyewitnesses report that the militia member who hacked the man with a machete is still walking around town. According to the IFET-OP team in Same, the individual has been involved in two subsequent attacks on local persons. Reportedly, the identity of the militia member, a man by the name of Alexandre, is well known to the authorities, but they refuse to arrest him, stating that more eyewitnesses must come forward before they can do so.

Viqueque, August 10-11: On August 10, 1999, the Student Solidarity Council opened its regional center in Viqueque. Despite threats of attack by a militia group, the Indonesian police refused the student organization's request to provide protection. At 7:45 pm that evening, militia members armed with automatic and homemade weapons attacked the center, approximately 300 yards from a police station. Forcing their way into the building, the militia members shot into the roof, broke all the windows, stole all the equipment, and beat a number of the students. The paramilitary group also kidnapped one of the students, holding him overnight.

The next day, at 12:30 pm, the militia members attacked again. This time, according to eyewitnesses, uniformed members of the Indonesian military and police joined in the attack. The assailants shot and killed three students, all in their early 20s. The Indonesian authorities have taken no action against the suspected perpetrators.

Paramilitary Posts and Intimidation

In addition to acts of direct violence, paramilitary forces continue to engage in shows of force, and to man militia posts and roadblocks throughout the territory, thus inhibiting freedom of movement and creating a general climate of insecurity.

On Saturday, August 7, two IFET-OP members traveled to Same to meet with the local team. On the way, the vehicle had to pass through two militia checkpoints (13 and 11 kilometers north of Same). About a dozen militia members were at the second post, and six of them armed with knives approached the IFET-OP vehicle as it passed.

Even in Dili, there are numerous militia posts in and around the city. On August 11, for example, IFET-OP members interviewed Mateus de Carvalho, the local commander of Pam Swakarsa, a militia organization under the guise of a "civil defense group" in the village of Akananu, to the immediate east of Dili. Mr. Carvalho had usurped the position of village head (kepala desa) and admitted to having 80 homemade guns, one of which he proudly displayed for the IFET-OP members. Carvalho's group has constructed a guard post and a mechanism to block the road upon which his house faces. An Indonesian military post was located 500 meters down the road.

In the town of Maubisse, the militia presence has intimidated UNAMET officials so that they are afraid to fly the United Nations flag at their local office. Similarly, UNAMET tried to place a United Nations flag at the central registration center in the town, but Indonesian police immediately warned them that this was probably a bad idea and that the police would not be able to guarantee the safety of the UNAMET staff if they did so.

In the few cases where Indonesian authorities have taken actions to punish perpetrators of militia violence, their activities have been more for show than for substance. Seven members of the militia group Besi Merah Putih were sentenced on August 11 to four months suspended sentence and 10 months probation for their roles in the widely publicized July 4 attack on the humanitarian aid convoy in Liquica (see IFET-OP Report #1). None are serving prison time, although the charges against them would normally result in many years in jail.

Intimidation and Climate of Fear

Such events undoubtedly undermine the sense of security needed to guarantee that the people of East Timor are able to vote freely. Frequent warnings by paramilitary groups of impending widespread killings if people do not vote for continued integration with Indonesia only exacerbates the sense of fear and insecurity. IFET- OP has received numerous reports of such warnings from East Timorese civilians throughout the territory.

Even more worrisome is the fact that such warnings (albeit, often less direct ones) often come from local Indonesian government officials, or from representatives of pro-autonomy political organizations. On Saturday, August 16, 1999, for example, Basilio Araujo, spokesperson for the for Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice (FPDK) reportedly made such a veiled threat at the first campaign event of pro-autonomy forces in Dili. "Believe it or not," Araujo warned, "we will have to face a war if there is any attempt to bring down Indonesian flags in East Timor."

Such threats reinforce a pervasive climate of fear, one in which there are widespread reports and rumors of the stockpiling of weapons and weapons shipments by the TNI and paramilitary forces. Based on IFET-OP's numerous field visits, it appears that a significant portion of the East Timorese population believes that the time of the vote will be a time of war. This fear has caused thousands of people to flee their homes since the beginning of August. Near the border, many have fled into West Timor. Many others have fled into the mountains. In the last few days, for example, several families living in the neighborhood of the IFET- OP team in Maliana have packed up their belongings and gone into the mountains. Although some families plan to come back to vote and then return to their place of refuge, many will not be able to participate in the August 30 ballot unless the Indonesian authorities fulfill their obligation to provide security. The international community has a duty to help eliminate the cause of these fears and to ensure that the consultation process and its aftermath are peaceful.


The current situation in East Timor demands an immediate and radical change in the behavior of the Indonesian security forces. Unless that happens, there is a serious possibility that the TNI- backed paramilitaries and the Indonesian military itself will engage in widespread violence aimed at disrupting the vote and/or engage in large scale violence against the general population around the time of the vote. In this regard, IFET-OP makes the following recommendations:

IFET was founded in 1991 by East Timor support organizations from four continents as a clearinghouse for non-governmental initiatives on East Timor. IFET is accredited with the United Nations Department of Public Information. Our Secretariat is in the Philippines and we have a representative at the U.N. in New York. IFET includes more than 35 members from 22 countries, including both single-issue East Timor groups and others with a wider range of concerns, and has formed a sub-group to organize this nonpartisan observer project.  

Return to IFET's Main Page