Subject: Flawed truth and fatal consequences - Hamish McDonald
Sydney Morning Herald
Flawed truth and fatal consequences
Asia Pacific Editor
July 19, 2008
HILARIO MADEIRA was the sort of priest who makes you understand how the balance of the global Catholic congregation is shifting to the developing world, away from a jaded Europe.
I met him in August 1999 about two weeks before his martyrdom, in his simple church in the town of Suai on the south coast of East Timor, after he conducted a mass for the hundreds of villagers taking refuge in the church grounds and the half-built shell of a new cathedral.
It was a tense time, just before East Timorese were to vote on staying with Indonesia or independence in a referendum run by the United Nations but with security "guaranteed" by Indonesia and its armed forces.
Around Suai, two pro-Indonesia militia groups, Laksaur Merah Putih and Mahidi, were terrorising villages, taking out and killing suspected independence supporters, with no visible interference from Indonesian army and police. Indeed, the militias were operating from the local police station, and using government facilities, rice hand-outs and vehicles for their campaigns.
On Friday, September 3, the UN announced that Timorese had voted 78.5 per cent against staying with Indonesia. Retributive attacks were already taking place across the territory as word of the count seeped out. On the Sunday night, Hilario phoned his bishop in Dili, Carlos Belo, saying he feared it was their last night.
At 2.30pm the next day, Laksaur and Mahidi militia gathered outside the Suai church compound, supervised by the head of the surrounding Covalima civil district, a seconded colonel of the Kopassus (Indonesian special forces) named Herman Sediono, along with the local military commander, Lieutenant Sugito, and many police and army personnel.
Sugito fired his pistol, and the militia attacked. Hilario was shot dead on his veranda and a frenzy of shooting and hacking with machetes followed in which at least 40 people were killed (including two other priests), possibly as many as 200. The aim, according to a defecting militia commander, Rui Lopes, was to drive the entire population into West Timor, a "voting with the feet" that would convince the world the UN result was a fraud.
An Indonesian government-appointed human rights investigation, known as KPP-HAM, later found a burial site just across the border where Sugito and militia had hidden the bodies of the three priests and 23 other men, women and children.
What then to make of this week's report of a joint Indonesia-East Timor "Truth and Justice Commission" which has blurred the blame for the horrors of 1999, in which some 1500 people died and a truly scorched earth was left behind the departing Indonesians?
To some extent it is an advance. It accepts "institutional" responsibility on the part of the Indonesian armed forces, or TNI, and the President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, expressed "remorse".
Yet the rush to "friendship" by East Timor's leaders - understandable given the lack of support from countries like Australia for an international criminal tribunal - is coming at the cost of full "truth" and undermines the whole exercise. As James Dunn, the veteran analyst of East Timor, observed this week: "We need to know, and the victims deserve to know, exactly how these crimes against humanity took place - who gave what orders to whom, and what were the roles of senior levels of the military, police or Indonesia's political leadership."
Sugito is the highest-ranking military person among only 14 people named in the commission's report for involvement in atrocities, although he and three others were acquitted in 2002 of charges relating to the Suai massacre. But the chain of responsibility went much higher.
From leaked Australian intelligence and other sources we now know the militia operation was run by a command chain of most Kopassus officers running back to Jakarta, leading to then co-ordinating security minister, General Feisal Tanjung. Defence minister and TNI commander General Wiranto kept his distance.
One mastermind of the post-ballot population transfer to West Timor was the then transmigration minister, General Hendropriyono. In 2001, he was made chief of Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency, BIN, by the new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.
In September 2004, mounting evidence suggests, BIN orchestrated the murder of the human rights activist Munir Said Thalib on a Garuda flight to Amsterdam.
Hendropriyono was sacked by Yudhoyono when he won office later in 2004. Last month, Indonesian police arrested the former deputy head of BIN, General Muchdi Purwopranjono, a former Kopassus commander, also appointed to BIN in 2001. He had been phoned 41 times by the off-duty Garuda pilot alleged to have given Munir arsenic but claims not to have known the pilot.
A proper accounting for crimes against humanity in 1999 and earlier would have kept such sinister individuals out of Indonesia's government. Instead, their patron, Megawati, is leading the polls for next year's presidential election. Even more tainted figures such as the former Kopassus chief and son-in-law of the late president Suharto, Prabowo Subianto, and General Wiranto think they have a chance too. Ex-BIN chief Hendropriyono is still seen about with Megawati's husband, Taufik Emas. Incomplete truth can have fatal consequences.