The International Federation for East Timor Observer Project

East Timor field office
Bairro Pite Kec. Dili Barat, East Timor (via Indonesia)
RT/RW 01 (di depan SD 4)
Tel. 62-390-321969 fax:62-390-321264

Dili, East Timor
24 August 1999

The Honorable Kofi Annan
United Nations Secretary-General
New York, NY 10017 USA
By fax to: 1-212-963-2155

Your Excellency:

We are writing to you to express our grave concerns regarding the security situation surrounding the Popular Consultation in East Timor. When we wrote to you on May 3 and May 23, 1999, we expressed serious reservations about leaving responsibility for security in the hands of the Indonesian authorities, rather than in those of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the Indonesian military has indeed seriously undermined the Popular Consultation, and has done so to such an extent to throw into question the legitimacy of the August 30 vote.

More specifically, the International Federation for East Timor Observer Project (IFET-OP) believes that elements of the Indonesian security apparatus and the pro-integration militias with which they are allied have created such terror in the territory so as to skew the vote in favor of those using intimidation and violence. Such an outcome could have far-reaching negative repercussions both for East Timor and the United Nations.

IFET-OP is the largest international observer mission in East Timor, with over 100 volunteers now deployed throughout the territory. We base our concerns, for the most part, on evidence gathered by our 15 teams in the field, and numerous interviews with individuals and representatives from organizations representing the diversity of East Timorese society.

Less than one week remains before the scheduled vote. Our gravest concern continues to be the safety of the East Timorese people. There are pervasive fears within the East Timorese population that the Indonesian military-backed militias will launch a wave of terror around, or shortly after, the time of the ballot in an effort to derail the United Nations consultation process. IFET-OP is not in a position to predict exactly what will take place around the time of the vote. We do, however, feel that fears of a bloodbath are based on a variety of credible factors. Furthermore, we believe that the international community, as represented by the United Nations, has a duty to ensure that these fears do not come to fruition. If the U.N. fails to fulfill its responsibility, the East Timorese population will be exposed to great violence in the face of a formidable Indonesian military establishment that is extremely hostile to the right to East Timorese self-determination.

We are also concerned about the security of our own observers. On three separate occasions, militia forces and/or Indonesian police have directly intimidated IFET-OP observers.

Ten days of the two-week campaign phase of the Popular Consultation have now passed. It is clear that the playing field is not a fair one, but is extremely biased in favor of the pro-autonomy forces. Indeed, in many areas of East Timor, pro-independence forces are not able to campaign publicly. In towns across the territory, militia forces have attacked, and/or prevented from opening, offices of pro-independence groups. While 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 casting their votes on August 30.

The United Nations must act quickly to ensure that the vote and the days and weeks following the vote are times of peace, and not of slaughter. We appeal to Your Office, and the international community more generally, to provide the security resources needed to facilitate a free and fair vote, and a peaceful transition to special autonomy or to independence, depending on the outcome.

Specifically, we call upon the United Nations to strengthen the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) by doing the following:

  1. Demand that the Indonesian police, in cooperation with UNAMET civilian police officers, immediately disarm and disband all militia or paramilitary groups;

  2. Call publicly and work for the immediate withdrawal of all Indonesian military personnel from East Timor; and

  3. Facilitate the introduction of a much larger international security presence, preferably armed, to maintain security following the vote. These personnel should be in place before the announcement of the results of the ballot. Many East Timorese fear that the Indonesian military and its paramilitary groups will engage in widespread terror at the time of announcement of the ballot result, especially if the vote rejects the autonomy option.

Attached are accounts of a variety of recent events and developments that inform our concerns. As a whole, they describe a context in which a "free and fair" vote cannot take place. If the situation does not change quickly, the result may not accurately reflect the will of the East Timorese people. The percentage of people voting for autonomy may be significantly higher than it would have been if the security situation were adequate to ensure freedom of assembly and conscience. IFET-OP calls upon Your Office and the Electoral Commission to seriously consider these issues when you determine how well the consultation reflects the collective wishes of the East Timorese population.

Saskia Kouwenberg
Project Co-Coordinator

Randall Garrison
Project Co-Coordinator

Appendix: Recent events in East Timor Indicative of Problems with the Consultation

One of the areas of East Timor about which we have the greatest worry is Suai (Covalima district). Currently, about 3,000 refugees who have fled paramilitary violence are living in the compound of a Catholic church still under construction in the town. Paramilitary groups have attacked the refugees and frequently threaten them. Most recently, local authorities cut off the compound's water supply for a number of days. In addition, the refugees lack adequate food as the administrator of the district (bupati) refuses to sell them subsidized food (food subsidized, to a significant degree by the international community) for which people living as internal refugees are certainly eligible. Instead, IFET-OP observers have witnessed and photographed Indonesian authorities in the last few days selling such food to individuals who attended a pro-autonomy rally in the area. An army truck carried the food to the demonstration. The local bupati has promised that such food will be available at other pro-autonomy gatherings in the Suai region.

On August 19, IFET-OP observers interviewed seven male refugees from Beco I village at the church compound in Suai. The previous day, 60 militia members had attacked five of the houses of the refugees. The paramilitary members also attempted to kidnap the other two refugees. All seven of them fled into the forest and escaped to Suai, leaving their wives and children behind.

We interviewed one refugee at the Suai church who was an East Timorese UNAMET staff member in the subdistrict of Fatululik. On August 19, 20 members of Laksaur militia attacked his house. The militia fired nine shots at him as he fled.

Throughout Suai, militia members walk openly through the streets and villages carrying machetes, threatening the local population and creating a climate of profound fear. IFET-OP observers have asked the local police why they allow armed militia members to move around freely. Police officials have responded by arguing that machetes are not weapons, but that they are work tools.

Indonesian security personnel in the area make little effort to hide their support for the pro-autonomy option. IFET-OP observers have seen and photographed at least two Indonesian army trucks with pro-autonomy bumper stickers. Such partisanship is, of course, a direct violation of the UNAMET Code of Conduct.

In the town of Maubisse (Ainaro district), members of the area's militia group (Mahidi) openly mix with the local military and police, belying any pretense that the militia is independent of the Indonesian security apparatus. On August 20, an IFET-OP observer watched as Indonesian riot police (BRIMOB) distributed two automatic weapons to militia members gathering at the main marketplace to drive to a nearby pro-autonomy rally. Immediately thereafter, UNAMET personnel arrived and observed the militia members carrying these weapons. A few minutes later, IFET-OP observers photographed BRIMOB officers riding in the back of trucks carrying people to the pro-autonomy rally.

The area of Maliana (district of Bobonaro) is one of the tensest areas in East Timor. From the beginning of the UNAMET mission, the Indonesian authorities and their militia groups in the region have worked consistently to derail the consultation process. It is well established that East Timorese members of the TNI are among the leaders of the local militia. Over the last two weeks, the climate of fear has only intensified, causing an estimated 2,000 individuals, anticipating pending violence, to flee into neighboring West Timor or into the mountains. In numerous areas, IFET-OP observers have received reports of militia members and TNI personnel threatening people, warning them of violent recriminations if they participate in any pro-independence activities. Recent events in the area give substance to these fears.

On August 18, 1999, members of the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron, a militia group) kidnapped a 20-year-old student named Agosto Marques, a resident of the village of Holsa, near the town of Maliana. Agosto Marques was well known as a pro-independence activist. Two days later, the police found his body. An autopsy by a doctor revealed that the young man had been badly tortured. His captors had cut off his left hand, and four of the fingers on his right hand. His forehead and jaw also had fractures, and his throat had been slashed.

On the same day as the kidnapping, about 100 local members of the Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron, a militia group) attacked and destroyed 15 houses in the village of Manapa (Maliana subdistrict). According to eyewitnesses interviewed by IFET-OP, the attackers were armed with four automatic weapons, at least 12 homemade guns, firebombs, and parangs (samarai swords). The victims lost all their possessions in the resulting fires, including their UNAMET voter registration cards. About 80 people fled from the attack, and are now refugees at the nearby Colegio Maliana, but militia members continue to terrorize them, threatening to attack the Colegio and to kill all the adult male refugees after the vote. The refugees have given the Indonesian police the names of some of the attackers, but until now the police have made no arrests.

Aileu has been one of the quieter districts in East Timor. On August 23, however, militia members stopped three IFET-OP members, an East Timorese translator, and their driver just outside the town of Namaleso, 45 minutes outside of the town of Aileu. Members of the IFET-OP team were heading to Namaleso to investigate reports of violence. One hundred meters before the roadblock, the group passed approximately 12 militia members carrying machetes, one homemade gun and one submachine gun. At the roadblock, about 25 machete-carrying militia members surrounded the car and threatened to kill the translator and driver and burn the vehicle. Three Indonesian riot police arrived almost immediately. The police did nothing to intervene on behalf of the IFET-OP personnel. In fact, the police supported the detention of the IFET-OP team by the militias. After about 10 minutes, UNAMET civilian police intervened and, over the next half-hour, persuaded the militia and the police to allow the team to pass, although by that time the team's driver was too frightened to continue. During the discussions, one of the militia members, identified as Domingos Amaral, the kepala desa (the village head, an Indonesian government official) of Namaleso threatened to shoot the IFET-OP members and UNAMET personnel; he did so in front of ten Indonesian police officers.

The incident in Aileu is the third act of intimidation against IFET-OP observers in the last week. On August 19 in Manatuto, following an attack by four militia members and a Kopassus soldier on the local CNRT office, a group of Indonesian police passed slowly by the IFET-OP house in the town. The police shouted at the IFET-OP observers and a group of about 30 local people who had sought sanctuary in the house following the attack. One of the police fired two rifle shots in the air in front of the house. Three days later in Ermera, militia members threw rocks at IFET-OP team members, but the rocks did not strike anyone.

These events provide a sampling of the context in which the current phase of the consultation process, that of the campaign, is taking place. The purpose of the campaign is to allow the different sides to engage in peaceful, public political advocacy. While there have been numerous peaceful campaign events by pro-autonomy and pro-independence forces in many towns throughout the territory, the playing field is extremely biased in favor of the pro-autonomy groups as there are many areas of East Timor where pro-independence forces are not able to engage in public campaigning because of insufficient security.

In Maliana, one of the biggest towns in East Timor, the pro- independence National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) has not been able to open an office, nor to have any public campaign events. In the town of Ainaro, the CNRT has opened an office, but its key members do not feel safe to attend meetings there. Similarly, in Suai, the CNRT has an office but does not feel sufficiently secure to occupy it due to threats by the local militia group, and the impunity granted to the group by the Indonesian security apparatus. Instead, the CNRT operates out of the second floor of the church building outside of which the refugees have gathered. On August 20, the CNRT had to cancel a rally planned for Suai due to security concerns. In both Liquica and Same (Manufahi district), the CNRT has not been able to conduct any public events. In summary, the CNRT has not been able to campaign publicly in areas that contain a large portion of the territory's population.

As the above accounts suggest, participation in CNRT events can result in a high cost to those doing so. According to a couple interviewed in the village of Beco I (near Suai) on August 21, for example, members of the Mahidi militia burned the couple's house on the night of August 20 because two of their sons had attended the August 18 CNRT rally in Suai. TNI soldiers reportedly stood guard while Mahidi members carried out the attack. The family lost 2,500 kilos of recently harvested rice. The same couple also reported that militia members had burned a total of three houses in their village because family members were suspected of having attended the CNRT rally.

CNRT supporters also often face active hostility from Indonesian government officials. On August 23, for instance, IFET-OP received a report from UNAMET sources in Suai that the local bupati (Herman Sedyono) had evicted two civil servants, one retired civil servant, and their families from their government-owned housing. Members of their families had attended the August 18 CNRT rally in the town.

At the same time, pro-integration forces often compel individuals to attend their events. IFET-OP observers interviewed villagers who attended an August 18 rally held by PPI (Integration Struggle Forces), the coalition of all militia groups in East Timor, in Cailaco (in Bobonaro district). They reported that members of the SGI (the Special Intelligence Unit) dressed in civilian clothes and local militia members had gone to every house the previous day in the surrounding villages and told people in a threatening manner that they had to attend the next day's rally.

Similarly, on August 21, the IFET-OP team went to the Bobonaro subdistrict where the BRTT (East Timor Popular Front, a pro-autonomy group) was holding a campaign rally. According to Catholic nuns present, militia had forced many of the people to attend.

Although IFET-OP observers are working in every subdistrict of East Timor, the events listed above are only a sampling of what is taking place in the territory. Nevertheless, we believe they represent the overall situation, and present a compelling case for rapid and forceful action by the United Nations, the international community, and the Indonesian government.

Dili, East Timor
24 August 1999  

Return to IFET's Main Page