Subject: How strong militias remain will be mainly up to army
Date: Sat, 25 Sep 1999 10:21:29 -0400

Militia threat

The Guardian [UK] Tuesday September 21, 1999

Gunmen unite to face uncertain future

How strong the gangs remain will be mainly up to the army

John Aglionby in Jakarta

East Timor's pro-Jakarta militias and political movements have joined forces to try to sabotage the territory's transition to independence and to campaign for its partition into areas for and against Indonesia, it was reported yesterday. The militias - the Forum for Peace, Democracy and Justice (FPDK), the East Timor People's Front and the Alliance of Socio-Political Organisations - formed the alliance on Sunday in the symbolically chosen location of Balibo, the town near the border with West Timor where Indonesia stage-managed its annexation of East Timor in July 1976.

The head of the new coalition, Domingos Soares, said the National Struggle Front (FPB) was a union of "the necessary components to defend integration [with Indonesia]". He said the front rejected the results of the August 30 referendum, in which the East Timorese voted 78% for independence, because the UN mission which organised it had manipulated the outcome.

Joao Tavares, commander of the 13 militias which caused havoc across East Timor before the ballot and joined the Indonesian army in the destructive rampage of the last three weeks, said his forces would not attack the multinational force, Interfet, which landed in East Timor yesterday to try to restore security.

"We only want to defend our ground," he said, meaning the western half of the territory where the militias are threatening to wage a guerrilla war against Interfet.

Balibo, little more than a strategic crossroads at the top of a hill, was chosen for yesterday's declaration ceremony because it was the first place attacked when Indonesia invaded East Timor in December 1975. Eight months later it was the site of the Balibo Declaration, in which 12 community leaders signed away the territory to Indonesia.

The international community has never recognised the annexation, commemorated by a large statue in the town. Balibo is now thought to be an armed camp for a hard core of 10,000 militiamen.

Most of these paramilitary gangs were formed by the Indonesian army at the end of last year. They are a mixed bag of political ideologues and thugs recruited, equipped and trained by the army. Most are poorly educated farmers who have been tempted with money or threatened with death if they resisted.

In the run-up to the inde pendence referendum, militia leaders claimed to have 50,000 armed members. Thousands of them were brought in from adjacent West Timor. It has always been part of Indonesia and is mainly Protestant; East Timor is Roman Catholic.

While trusted militiamen were paid up to the equivalent of £10 a month, bullying and intimidation were extensively used to ensure the loyalty of ordinary members.

The militias are believed to be concentrated in the districts west of the capital, Dili, where several thousand Indonesian soldiers are reported to be with them.

The militia formations are now an amalgam of the 13 groups (one for each district of East Timor) originally formed to destabilise the territory and frighten people into voting against independence in the referendum.

They were given suitably bellicose names. "Thorn" ran Dili, "Red and White Iron" terrorised the district of Liquica, "Dead or Alive Integration" roamed the southern regions of Ainaro and Zumulai, "Red Dragon" based itself in Ermera. "Lightning" emerged in Maliana, the home town of Mr Tavares along the border with West Timor.

Militia defectors say the army coordinated almost all operations. "There were always at least three sergeants with us whenever we attacked anywhere," said a young farmer, Domingos Pereira.

"They were there to run the operation and to make sure all of us did what we were meant to. Those that didn't participate fully enough were beaten and threatened with death."

Mr Pereira said he was never given a gun. "Only the leaders and those who could be really trusted were given guns. The rest of us had machetes and metal bars."

Interfet is unsure how much of a threat the militias remain, saying that a lot depends on the involvement of their military masters. But the they have enough weapons to mount menacing cross-border raids.

"We have thousands of guns, we know how to use them and we are not afraid to use them. Long live Indonesia!" Mr Tavares declared at Sunday's ceremony.

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