Subject: SMH: Grave fears for safety of 20,000 E Timorese still missing

Excerpt: Evidence is also emerging, according to Dr Tilman, that the son-in-law of former president Soeharto - the disgraced Lieutenant-General Prabowo - was "supporting the militia's with money".

Sydney Morning Herald December 15, 1999

Gusmao aide fears for the missing 20,000

By MARIAN WILKINSON, National Affairs Editor

A senior legal adviser to the East Timorese leader Mr Xanana Gusmao believes that more than 20,000 Timorese who were forcibly evacuated after the independence ballot are still unaccounted for and says he holds grave fears for their safety.

Speaking on a brief visit to Sydney, Dr Manuel Tilman, co-ordinator of the legal task force for the East Timor Resistance Council (CNRT), says laborious efforts are being made to account for thousands of Timorese who have had no contact with their families since being removed from the territory by the Indonesian military in early September.

Timorese human rights workers are beginning the arduous work of going from village to village drawing up lists of those whose fate remains unknown.

"We don't know where these people are," Dr Tilman told the Herald, "maybe some are dead". They are not among up to 100,000 refugees in camps in West Timor, he explained, but some could still be scattered through Bali and other outer islands.

Since the forced evacuations, debate about how many Timorese died at the hands of the Indonesian military (the TNI) and pro-Indonesian militias has been intense. While initial media reports put the figure in the thousands, Australian officials now suggest the number is more likely to be in low hundreds.

Significantly, Dr Tilman, a Lisbon-educated lawyer, is in a privileged position to comment on the forced evacuations and killings by the TNI and the militias. Recently, he has been able to talk to several key militia figures who were once part of the TNI plans but are now collaborating with CNRT.

Their evidence, he believes, reveals an intense level of planning by the TNI and its top commanders for the destruction of Dili, the forced evacuations and some of the killings. This, he says, is backed up by documents held by human rights investigators which will be available to UN investigators for any case against the Indonesian military.

The evidence, he says, implicates General Wiranto, the former head of the TNI and now a minister in the Indonesian Cabinet, and four other senior officers.

"We have a witness who participated in meetings in March, in April and in May in Bali to prepare the violence."

Among those present, he claims, was General Wiranto, his regional commander in Bali, Major-General Adam Damiri, the chief of staff, Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, the local military commander in Dili, and Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, the TNI's liaison officer with the UN mission.

The officers under General Wiranto have all had past connections with Kopassus, the elite special forces of the Indonesian military which was responsible for strategy on East Timor from 1975.

A recent Indonesian Human Rights Commission briefing on the atrocities in East Timor revealed investigators wanted to interview the TNI officers, including General Wiranto, over meetings which plotted the destruction of East Timor and the killing of pro-independence leaders.

According to Dr Tilman there are also several militia witnesses who can give evidence about meetings in Dili with senior TNI officers, including Dili commander Colonel Tono Suratman, throughout July and August where killings and forced evacuations were discussed.

Evidence is also emerging, according to Dr Tilman, that the son-in-law of former president Soeharto - the disgraced Lieutenant-General Prabowo - was "supporting the militia's with money".

General Prabowo made several tours of duty to East Timor but at the time of the operation was in exile in Jordan after being accused of killing student activists during the anti-Soeharto protests.


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