Subject: Militiamen get warm welcome in East Timor

The Jakarta Post April 2, 2002

Militiamen get warm welcome in East Timor

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Dili

Rumor had it that all members of the anti-independence militia would be killed if they returned to East Timor. It was so intense that Americo Pinto, a Timorese who was once a part of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and later a militia member, once vowed never to return to the newly independent country.

But he could not resist his longing to return and participate in the development process of the country. He eventually returned, and to his surprise he received a warm welcome.

"I returned later in 2001 with some 25 East Timorese former officers of the TNI. We were warmly welcomed by the East Timorese, particularly some independence activists," he said.

"Despite the fact that we were former members of the TNI and militia, there was no revenge pursued against us," he said.

Americo, 47, a former officer of the Indonesian military TNI's Kodim (District Military Command) 1629 in Lautem regency, was one of more than 200 former officers of TNI, Police and anti-independence militiamen, who returned and received a peaceful welcome in East Timor.

The militia leaders who returned included Nomencio Lopes de Carvalho, the deputy commander of militia sector C (comprising Covalima, Ainaro, Bobonaro and Liquisa regencies) and Konstantio, the commander of the notorious MAHIDI (mati atau hidup dengan Indonesia, live or die with Indonesia) militia.

According to Americo, such a warm welcome was the result of the pro-independence groups' understanding that not all problems should be tackled violently and emotionally.

"People here now strongly believe in the importance of legal supremacy. They do suspect that the TNI was involved in the scorched-earth policy after East Timor separated from Indonesia. But because there is no strong evidence against me personally, they just received us and did not try to take justice into their hands," said Americo, who claimed to be a sergeant first class and once a commander of a military company.

"Now after returning here (East Timor) we're charged with betraying Indonesia. But for me East Timor is my country of birth and its my duty to take part in its development," he said.

Separately, the village head of Fuiloro-Lospalos in Lautem regency told the press last week that East Timor had become an independent country and there is no reason to be involved in hostility.

"Since we are fellow East Timorese, we have tried to forget the past. Let the law try the wrongdoers. There is no street justice here anymore," he said.

Another militiamen, Jamaica Muare, 47, shared Americo's view, saying that he returned to East Timor not because he was persuaded by other people but because of his desire to live in the new country.

"As a former official with the Indonesian government and a treasurer of an East Timorese militia, I felt it necessary to return and to explain what really happened after the plebiscite in East Timor in 1999," said Jamaica, a former head of Lautem's District Investment Coordinating Board, and the treasurer for Alfa militia.

He said that initially when he came to East Timor with Bonifacio do Santos, a former head of Lautem's social welfare agency, a number of East Timorese came to scorn them. But there were also members of pro-independence groups who expressed their sincere welcome with tears in their eyes and commended our decision to return.

"Actually, I was accused of committing the scorched-earth action in Lautem. But there was not enough evidence on my involvement. And I'm free," he said.

He admitted that he was a former treasurer of Alfa militia. "I was entrusted to manage the militia's funds which were about Rp 188 million," he noted.

He called on the East Timorese refugees, including former Indonesian military or police officers and militiamen, to return to their respective hometowns in East Timor.

"They shouldn't be reluctant to return. The law is well enforced here. All legal cases will be processed fairly. And there is no street justice here," he noted.


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