Subject: Obs: Indonesian army talks peace but makes war
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 08:40:28 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

The Observer [UK] Sunday April 25, 1999

Army talks peace but makes war

The Indonesian army has sent death squads into East Timor, an attempt to crush the independence movement.

John Aglionby reports in Ermera

East Timorese village chief Bartholomew Borromeu learnt the hard way that the Indonesian army, despite imposing a peace agreement on the territory's warring factions this week, is not interested in peace at all.

Having survived a torture session after being seized on his way home from church last Sunday, Borromeu was arrested by soldiers again on Wednesday morning.

This was just as Indonesian armed forces commander General Wiranto was persuading the leaders of factions loyal to Indonesia and their pro-independence counterparts to sign a pact 'to end terrorism and violence' and 'work together to achieve an atmosphere of peace and security in East Timor'.

While General Wiranto was preaching peace in the capital, Dili, his subordinates in the district of Ermera, 40 miles to the south-west, were systematically beating Mr Borromeu to death. 'His skull was completely smashed,' said Old Ermera's priest, Father Sancho Amaral.

There was no reason for the attack on Mr Borromeu, according to Father Sancho, 'except that he was a local leader of the pro-independence National Council for East Timorese Resistance (CNRT). It's all about intimidation.'

At least a dozen other innocent East Timorese have been killed since Mr Borromeu, in various parts of the former Portuguese colony which Indonesia invaded in 1975. The difference between their deaths and Mr Borromeu's is that they were killed by the militias the Indonesian army has created since last November to wage a campaign of terror across the territory to disrupt the United Nations-sponsored peace process.

The army has therefore been able to deny involvement in killings and maintain its self-righteous public commitment to peace. But The Observer, the first news organisation to visit Ermera since the terror began there, can expose that commitment as sham.

Ermera is a prosperous coffee-growing centre, one of the few thriving areas in a territory Jakarta has mercilessly stripped of its wealth. There are practically none of the destitute villages found elsewhere in East Timor and, because of the coffee, few of the impoverished people the army has found to be such willing militia recruits.

'We all here reject the Red and White Iron, the Thorn and the other militias,' Ermera regent, Constantino Soares, said. 'It is my job to look after the people and keep the peace.'

Soares denies there is any tension in the area and says only 11 people have been killed in the district since last September. 'Most were victims of the pro-independence guerrillas,' he maintains.

But like all civilian officials in East Timor, he is just a puppet for the military; the public face to cover up what is really going on. The truth is that in the last two weeks the military has begun a vicious campaign of terror in Ermera.

'People are being taken away every day to be interrogated and beaten,' Father Sancho said. 'They have to move around every night and no one can discuss anything in the open.'

There have been two prongs to the army's strategy. The first, to spark widespread fear across the whole area, was to massacre a number of people in the remote village of Talimoro. 'We know at least six people were killed there,' one bus driver said. 'But everyone is too afraid to go and find out what really happened.' Other sources say the toll could be as high as a dozen.

That was two weeks ago. Since then at least seven other people have been killed in Ermera. The army is picking off CNRT leaders to crush the people's pro-independence movement ahead of the referendum on the territory's sovereignty, due in July.

First to die was local councillor Antonio da Lima. He was shot by the army in the market in the village of Gleno. The military claims he tried to throw a grenade at soldiers on patrol. Eye-witnesses say he was shot in cold blood.

Two days later, two more CNRT members were killed and, two days after that, another two people. 'All were killed by soldiers or the East Timorese territorial troops,' Father Sancho said.

Father Sancho, who says the current terror is the worst in his two and a half years in Ermera, has tried to plead with the local army commander. 'Every time I go and see him he says he will do something, but then does nothing.'

The military declined to comment on the situation in Ermera, beyond admitting that there had been trouble and that 'one or two people have died recently'. But it is clear they do not believe in their own peace agreement.

When the military commander of Dili, Colonel Tono Suratman, visited Ermera on Friday, he was accompanied by a van of heavily armed police and two trucks full of soldiers in combat gear. Everyone in what is a strongly anti-Indonesian area is also flying the Indonesian flag. 'Officials came here two weeks ago and told us to do so,' the stallholder said. 'Considering what's going on, it's the safest thing to do.'

With the peace process continuing in New York, it is doubtful the terror campaign will achieve its short-term goal of cancelling the independence ballot. Judging by people's opinions in Ermera, the long-term goal of coercing support of continued Indonesian rule is also doomed.

'We've had terror and intimidation for 23 years,' CNRT leader David Ximenes said.

• East Timorese villagers in southern Suai, about 120 miles southwest of Dili, pulled rotting corpses from the ocean yesterday after new attacks by pro-Jakarta militia. Human rights workers said the final death toll from last week's killing could top 100.

Back to April Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99