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Subject: Comment by TAPOL on Human Rights Watch statement
Date: Mon, 23 Nov 1998 21:17:35 GMT

Comment by TAPOL on a statement issued today by Human Rights Watch which starts with the following opening paragraph:

'Human Rights Watch today urged all parties to the conflict in East Timor to respect humanitarian law after reported abuses by both the Indonesian army and East Timorese independence supporters near the town of Alas, Manufahi district, East Timor. Major military operations have been underway in the area since early November after armed guerrillas executed three suspected intelligence agents on October 31 and fatally wounded a fourth. Villagers, apparently with some guerrilla support, then attacked a subdistrict military command post on November 9, killing three soldiers and taking thirteen others into custody. Two men, both East Timorese, remain in captivity; the others were released. '

The reference to an incident at a meeting on 31 October in Weberek at which four Indonesian soldiers, suspected of being intelligence agents, were taken out and killed by Falintil guerrillas has not been reported before. This appears to have been one of a series of meetings at which options for East Timor's future were being discussed, so what were army intelligence officers doing there? This would need to be investigated carefully before accusing Falintil of violating the humantarian laws of war. To what extent was this a deliberate provocation by ABRI forces to stir up trouble and create the basis for a massive military operation against the population of Alas?

While going on to say that reports of massacres are unconfirmed although the East Timor Human Rights Centre in Melbourne has already confirmed a number of deaths, Human Rights Watch ignores the fact that the forces of occupation are clearly involved in deliberate actions to destabilise the situation and have brought in huge reinforcements along with their para militaries to intimidate and terrify the local population. To talk about the need for 'the two sides' to recognise the humanitarian laws of war in such a situation ignores the pressure under which the population have been living, not just for the last few weeks but for 23 years. As the Trouw article reveals, the Falintil attack on the local Koramil on November 9 came after persistent provocation by Indonesian troops against the local population.

It would be more to the point if Human Rights Watch were to recognise that the key obstacle to the protection of human rights in East Timor is the massive and uncontrolled presence of Indonesian troops. It should be calling on the western powers to press for the withdrawal of these troops, for an immediate end to military operations in Alas and for immediate access to independent monitors to investigate the reported violations that have been going on their since 9 November. This would better serve the cause of human rights.

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: Campaigning to expose human rights violations in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh

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