Three weeks after the East Timorese people voted for independence from Indonesia, U.N. peacekeeping troops finally landed Dili. The mobilization, however, is minimal: only about 3,500 U.N. troops (eventually there will be 7,500) versus around 30,000 Indonesian troops and paramilitaries. Wow. So far, the U.N. presence has been bogged down, fighting paramilitaries street-by-street in Dili. A small contingent of U.N. troops have moved into Baucau, East Timor’s second largest city, but the rest of the country remains under the control of the paramilitaries and Indonesian troops, which has prevented the U.N. and aid workers from reaching some 190,000 starving refugees (about one-fourth of the total population) camped in the mountains and surrounding countryside. The U.N. has air-dropped food to some of the refugees, but even this has been a fiasco. The air drops have been hampered by a lack of airplanes (only one French plane and two Australian planes are being used for the aid flights), and the drops reveal the locating of hiding refugees to marauding, hungry militiamen. Truckloads of food sent out to the refugees from Dili have been intercepted and confiscated by militias. Sources include: “Dili Residents Return From Camps,” AP, 9/21/99; “Aid drops suffer amid rapid military build-up,” Sydney Morning Herald, 9/22/99; and “Indonesian Troops Torch As They Go In Dili,” Reuters, 9/24/99.
The East Timor militias have threatened to regroup in Western Timor and fight the advancing U.N. troops. Eurico Guterres, Commander of the Aitarak (“Thorn”) militia wants to plunge East Timor into a civil war, and other militia commanders have called openly for a partition of East Timor. “We will eat the heart of those who come to East Timor,” one of them declared. Truckloads of militiamen and Indonesian police have moved out of Dili and Baucau towards Liquica and the Western border. Many militia have crossed over into Western Timor and are holding over 100,000 Timorese refugees in camps, while denying aid workers and members of the United Nations Humanitarian Committee for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the camps. The government of Indonesia is beginning to build barracks and permanent housing on the border, ostensibly to resettle refugees, but more likely to be used as a base camp for the militias to run a long-term insurgency in East Timor. In the meantime, militias under the protection of the Indonesian police have taken over Kupang, the capital city of West Timor. Fighting between local residents of Kupang and the “arrogant militias” may erupt very soon.Sources: “Pro-Indonesia militia leader defiant as peace force approaches,” Agence France Presse, 9/19/99; “Indonesia to House Militias on E. Timor Border,” Washington Post, 9/14/99, A26; “City ready to erupt, warns aid worker,” Sydney Morning Herald, 9/24/99.
Under an agreement with the U.N, some Indonesian military troops are beginning to withdraw from East Timor, but their role in the whole conflict is becoming clearer. Numerous sources are coming forward to tell what they know. Most damning is Tomas Goncalves, former head of a militia group named the Peace Force and Defender of Integration (PPPI). He fled East Timor in March and spoke with a journalist from the South China Morning Post on Sept. 16. He claims that the East Timor militia rampage was planned back in February in a meeting between all of the East Timor militia commanders and the Indonesian military intelligence chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Yahyat Sudrajad. The Feb. 16th meeting was arranged by Sudrajad, head of the local branch of the notorious Indonesian special forces unit KOPASSUS. The colonel urged the militiamen to kill pro-independence leaders and their families (including their children), and he made arrangements to fund, feed, and arm the militias. At the meeting, the militiamen agreed to begin their terror campaign on May 1, but were unable to restrain themselves, and the killings began the next day. Goncalves, who is Catholic, fled East Timor because he “could not kill priests and nuns and attack the church.”From: “Killings were ‘planned in February,'” Australian Financial Review, 9/17/99.
Another damning report comes from Allan Nairn, a reporter for The Nation who has extensively covered excesses by the Indonesian military and KOPASSUS. Nairn was captured and detained in Dili on Sept. 14, a week before U.N. troops landed. While at the military headquarters in Dili, Nairn saw Aitarak militiamen living and working out of the back half of the military base. One of the officers who questioned him said that the militiamen “live here, they work out of here.” Nairn said: “You can see them going out on their motorbikes and their trucks, fully armed to do their attacks on Dili.” When Nairn was transferred to the police station in Dili, he saw the same arrangement there. Nairn reminds us: “Organizationally in the Indonesian military, the only person that both the army and police report to is General Wiranto.” When Nairn was flown out of Dili to Jakarta, he also shared his plane ride with militiamen. “I actually recognized by face some of them from the streets of Dili as being among the street-level militia leaders. But it turns out all these men were police intelligence and they were being rotated back … after having fulfilled their assignments in Dili.” From: “U.S. Journalist Detained in E. Timor,” AP, 9/14/99 and “Deported American activist says military chief behind Timor killings,” Agence France Presse, 9/20/99.