Subject: ETObs: FA02/Alas no exception to the
Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 12:51:51 +0100
From: Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Observatory / Observatório Timor Leste / Observatoire Timor-Oriental
All peoples have the right to self-determination... all armed action or repressive
measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable
them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence. (Declaration
on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples - UN Gen.Ass. Resolution
Subject: Alas no exception to the rule !
Reports in November indicated that Timorese resistance attacks on Indonesian soldiers were
followed by reprisals massacres by Indonesias forces against the
civilians of Alas, to the south of Dili. Indonesia denied the reports. For over 2 weeks,
the only sources of information were the few people who had managed to escape the military
operation. Understandably, such circumstances give rise to rumours and difficulties in
checking facts: the six-hour drive separating Alas and Dili, the military blockade
preventing all access to the area from outside, and the terror that silenced the local
civilians, all combined to make it virtually impossible to confirm reports. Houses burned
to the ground, populations fleeing or taking refuge in a church, reveal that the
Indonesian soldiers were behaving like the forces of occupation. Only the presence of UN
observers can prevent this from happening again.
Since Suhartos fall last May, freedom of expression in East Timor, especially in the
capital, Dili, is noticeably greater. In the rest of the territory, however, the situation
is still extremely tense. The Justice & Peace Commission in the Dili Diocese, which
last year registered 511 cases of human rights violation, had registered 369 cases (28
summary executions and 11 "disappearances") in the first six months of 1998
Contrary to Indonesias claims about the withdrawal of its combat troops, official
ABRI (armed forces) documents revealed that over 18,000 troops are still deployed in East
Timor, and that 8,000 of that figure are operational. This number is proportionately 10
times greater than the number of troops deployed in Indonesia itself.
- On 31 October, the Indonesian Military Commander of East Timor, Col. Suratman, announced
that the bodies of two sergeants, Iswanto and Zainal, and that of a civilian engineer,
Prabowo, were found by soldiers near the village of Weberek, in the Alas district. These
men were unarmed, he said, and had left their headquarters on Friday, (30.10.) to go on a
regular patrol. Four individuals were being interrogated. The following day, the same
official said that three men had been killed on Thursday (29.10.) but that, in spite of 7
stab wounds, the soldier Iswanto had managed to escape and reach Same, some 23 miles away
on Sunday. The three (!) bodies of his colleagues had been found dumped in a river. (AFP
Dili, 31.10. and 1.11.98)
- According to a foreigner visitor (who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons),
300 of the 340 families from Weberek, that had fled to escape repression unleashed by the
military, had still not returned to their village by early December. (ETAN, USA, 7.12.98)
- In a message (released by the Indonesian NGO "Solidamor") from Falur, a
Timorese resistance commander, the following Indonesian soldiers, who belonged to the
"Kopassus Group 1" (special combat forces that the Indonesian authorities claim
to have withdrawn from East Timor) were killed during fighting on 29 October 1998:
Sumanto, born in 1975, Zainuddin, born 3.1.71, Slamet Iman Prabowo, born 30.11.55, and
Abdul Latif, born 11.6.61. Strangely enough, their names are not dissimilar to those
released by Col. Suratman!
- On 11 November, Col. Supadi, Indonesian military spokesman in East Timor, announced that
about 50 people, including guerrillas had attacked the military post of Alas on 9
November. The crowd was demanding to see the Post Commander, who was not there at the
time. Three soldiers and one of the attackers were killed during ensuing fighting. Weapons
were stolen. (AFP and Reuters, Dili, 11.11.98)
- The following day, Col. Suratman told the Jakarta Post that guerrillas had taken 13
Indonesian soldiers prisoner. He said 11 of them had been released the next day (10.11.)
but that 2 were still being held hostage. The attacker killed was identified as a young
man from Alas - "a known trouble-maker" (AFP, 12.11.98). Later, in statements to
the same newspaper, Minister Ali Alatas said that the civilian killed was an
"employee at the military command" (Jakarta post, 25.11.98).
- This is the backdrop to reports of arrests, torture, mutilations, murders, and
"disappearances" (all detailed and with respective names, which should assist in
following up the reports). Houses burned down, animals killed, crops destroyed, piped
water cut off, civilians in flight and women and children sheltering in the Church of Alas
these are the results of Indonesian soldiers behaviour. Bishop Belo said he
had received reports of about 30 deaths, 11 of which had been identified. Mário
Carrascalão, Adviser to President Habibie, stated he had information about 44 deaths and
40 wounded. Ramos-Horta said there had been over 50 killings.
- Once again, military authorities reformulated their version of events: the military post
of Alas was attacked by 50 armed men, said Col. Suratman (Antara, 17.11.). Col. Supadi
denied the massacres: "All we know is that many rebels were arrested. Six people were
arrested, but two died, and they all confessed to having taken part in the Alas
attack", the Col told AFP. Four were arrested on Monday, but one died when he was
trying to escape. On Tuesday, two more were arrested, but one of them died. Supadi denied
that the military had burned down peoples homes, saying that there was no reason to
do so: "our methods are persuasive" (AFP, 18.11). Some days later, Suratman
admitted the execution of Vicente, a "liurai" (traditional community leader):
"he was one of the leaders of the Alas attack" (AP, 23.11.98).
- The UN Secretary General and US State Dept. both publicly expressed their concern. The
ICRC, the only organisation allowed to visit the area, denied there had been
"widespread massacres" and, in a press release (26.11.98) stated that the
organisation could confirm that "four persons had been killed in separate incidents
.. in the course of military operations following an attack on an Indonesian military post
in Alas on 9 November in which three soldiers and one civilian were killed". Just
because the ICRC could confirm only 4 killings does not mean that more people had not been
killed. Unfortunately, however, this was the message that the ICRC put out. The
organisation does not define what it understands to be "widespread massacres".
It may correct these statements in time, when it confirms further cases but, without valid
justification, it cast doubts on the alarms raised by the Timorese themselves.
- Civilian and military authorities in Dili agreed to allow the CNRT (Timorese Council of
National Resistance) and a student commission to investigate the alleged Alas massacres.
The Indonesian negotiators in New York agreed to a UN mission. However, neither Mr. Tamrat
Samuel, the UN Secretary General, nor the Timorese commission were given permission to go
- 1. The focus on the number of those killed diverted attentions from the facts that
reveal there is a campaign of terror, and that civilians are the target of that campaign.
That campaign of intimidation and terror was pushed completely into the sidelines by the
denial that there had been no "widespread massacres".
- 2. A scenario identical to that of Alas occurred in early December in the Cailaco area,
from which about 130 young people, fleeing from persecution by the Indonesian army,
recently arrived in Dili (RDP, 4.12; BBC, 7.12).
- 3. It is time to realise that, in East Timor, these incidents are not isolated but the
general rule. Bishop Belo explained why: the political problem is "very much
alive", "everyone is talking about independence and the referendum, and some (a
few) talk about autonomy", and the Indonesian army is in East Timor to prevent
independence. "Massacres will only stop when the political problem has been settled,
when the Indonesian battalions have been withdrawn from East Timor", Monsignor Belo
told "Ecclesia" magazine (USA, Lisbon, 26.11.98).
- 4. The ICRC is an organisation that aids victims it is not a monitoring
organisation. The two functions could conflict with each other, because the ICRC needs to
maintain its relationship with the military.
- 5. The Indonesian authorities have promised a lot: withdrawal of troops, release of
prisoners, unrestricted access
Recommendations: The permanent presence of international observers in East Timor is
- Indonesian or Timorese commissions will always be restricted because of the fact that
they are part of the conflict, and are too dependent on the military authorities.
- The Alas case has proved that the ICRC should not attempt to become a commission of
- That is a task which can only be carried out by UN observers, because of the respect
their position confers on them and the political costs to be incurred by those who prevent
them from carrying out their task.
- Indonesias military presence and the withdrawal of troops promised by the
Indonesian President should be the prime targets of monitoring.
- This will not come about without strong international pressure.
Observatory for the monitoring of East Timors transition process a programme by
the Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere and the ecumenical group
A Paz é Possível em Timor Leste Coordinator: Cristina Cruz
Rua Pinheiro Chagas, 77 2ºE - 1050-176 Lisboa - Portugal ph.: 351 1 317 28 69 - fax:
351 1 317 28 70 - e-mail: email@example.com
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