The 14-day campaign period for the historic United Nations-run Popular Consultation came to a bloody end Friday in East Timor. Pro-autonomy forces attacked pro-independence groups and individuals during the final two days in Dili, while creating an atmosphere of terror in a number of locations throughout East Timor.
The continued presence of Indonesian-backed militias throughout East Timor has created a general feeling of fear and anxiety among the public.
The upsurge in violence over the last two days places the entire consultation process in jeopardy. On August 24, IFET-OP wrote an urgent letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan describing the pervasive fear of violence after the August 30 ballot. Many see the attacks over the last 48 hours, and the failure of the Indonesian authorities to take decisive action to stop them, as a foreshadowing of worse things to come. Unless the United Nations and the international community take quick and decisive action to stem the violence, the results of Monday's balloting will be contaminated by fear.
The following is an account of events over the last two days that IFET-OP has investigated.
This morning, the office of the pro-independence National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) was burning in Pante Makassar, in the East Timorese enclave of Oecussi (surrounded by Indonesian West Timor). Between 6 and 7am this morning, IFET-OP members heard continuous gunfire from militia members. Shortly thereafter, the observers saw flames engulfing the office.
The disturbance began last night, around 11pm, as paramilitary and pro-autonomy forces gathered for a party. About 150 militia members then proceeded to attack the CNRT office, throwing rocks and shooting rifles into the air for about 15 minutes. There was a lull in the violence during the early morning hours, but the attack resumed around 5am. Only around 7am did the police begin to respond to the paramilitary violence.
The militias burned down at least 24 houses. There are at least eight people with serious injuries, one in a coma. Many people are still missing. The local hospital (staffed with only two nurses) is overwhelmed. Up to 50 motor vehicles were also destroyed. As of this writing, there are 50 people seeking refuge in the police station. Reportedly, the situation is now calm.
Yesterday afternoon near Maliana (Bobonaro district), a convoy of pro-autonomy supporters clashed with villagers in Memo. According to journalists interviewed by IFET-OP, about 2,000 men armed with machetes, sticks, bows and arrow, iron bars, and 50 homemade weapons, arrived in Maliana during the day. About half of them then went to the village of Memo. IFET-OP members leaving Memo shortly before the arrival of the convoy passed it and observed that an Indonesian police vehicle was heading it.
The motorbikes in the convoy passed through the village, while the trucks behind them stopped on the upper edge of the village. The occupants of the vehicles then began to collect rocks. The villagers responded by throwing stones. The militia members withdrew. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived and began to fire on the villagers, allowing the militias to re-enter the village. There were more than 100 Indonesian police officers present.
Militia intimidation and threats forced the journalists as well as a UNAMET team out of the village. In the ensuing clash, there were at least two people killed. Eyewitnesses report that the police shot and killed one of the deceased, and that a militia member stabbed to death the other man. After the clash, journalists saw blood covering trails on which many villagers escaped. At least 50 people are now missing. Also, at least 25 houses were burnt and at least two trucks. All the village's stores of rice were destroyed. According to local people interviewed during prior IFET-OP visits to the village, militia members had been making threats that they would create violence on this day.
Very worrisome is the fact that the FPDK, a pro-autonomy group, is blaming, among others, Aniceto Guterres Lopes, the head of the East Timorese human rights group Yayasan HAK, for the violence (Suara Timor Timur, 28 August 1999). The human rights lawyer has come under death threats on numerous occasions and has had to go into hiding in the recent past.
In the town of Maliana last night, paramilitary members shot in the vicinity of the student center, Don Bosco. Students had come under threat on numerous prior occasions, and, for this reason, had requested police protection. Between 11:30pm and midnight, IFET-OP heard gunshots. Students fled, seeking refuge in the house of a UNAMET civilian police officer. It took the police 50 minutes to arrive on the scene. The students had asked for police protection because of previous threats and attacks.
In Los Palos (Lautem district), 10-15 militia members armed with machetes and automatic weapons attacked and fire bombed the CNRT office late yesterday at approximately 5:30 pm. The office was destroyed. The paramilitaries also torched an adjacent restaurant and the public market. IFET-OP observers heard gunfire for approximately 45 minutes following the initial attack. According to IFET-OP observers in Los Palos, it took one hour and 15 minutes for the Indonesian police to arrive on the scene, even though the police station is located only 500 meters away from the CNRT office. It took police at least 10 ½ hours to establish themselves at the site of the violence. Prior to the attack, the police had maintained a presence in front of the CNRT office. For unknown reasons, the police were no longer present at the time of the attack.
UNAMET reports that Verissimo Quintas, the liurai or traditional chief of Los Palos and a well-known supporter of independence, died in the violence. According to an eyewitness interviewed by IFET-OP, a machete-wielding militia member attacked Senhor Quintas, a man in his 60s, in his home and killed him. His wife and one of his sons are missing. There were reportedly two other killings, but the IFET-OP team in Los Palos is not yet able to confirm this.
The wave of violence over the last 48 hours began in Dili on Thursday afternoon as paramilitary groups rampaged through the city, attacking pro-independence youths and foreign journalists, destroying the main office of the CNRT, and engaging in random violence. At least 6 people died as a result. While Dili has been much quieter since then, many neighborhoods in Dili, especially those in the eastern part of the city, remain tense as there are fears of renewed paramilitary attacks. A large number of businesses have not opened and hundreds of people have reportedly fled the city.
These events mark a tragic end to a two-week campaign period that has seen pervasive intimidation and frequent outbreaks of violence. While both sides of the consultation process held numerous peaceful campaign events, there were many areas of the territory where pro-independence forces were not able to campaign, and/or where intimidation of supporters of independence was pervasive.
The area around the town of Same (Manufahi district) is an example of the highly unfair context in which the campaign took place. There, the CNRT was not able to open an office, nor to hold any public campaign events. Guilhermino Marcal, a leader of the local ABLAI militia interviewed by an IFET-OP observer visiting from Dili, boasted that the paramilitary group had prevented the CNRT from opening its office. He also laughed about the recent surrendering of arms by militia groups, saying that ABLAI had only turned a few weapons and that he himself still had ten weapons at his home. Marcal is a former Indonesian government official, the kepala desa or village head of Holarua. Many of the top ABLAI leaders are current or former government officials. A leader by the name of Laurentino, for example, is the current kepala desa of the village of Grotu.
Several vehicle owners in Same reported to IFET-OP that the pro-autonomy campaign had requisitioned all available vehicles in Manufahi district for the final day of the campaign, August 27. The vehicle owners stated that the FPDK, a pro-autonomy group, had asked them to register with the office, and that they felt compelled to do so for fear of reprisals from the ABLAI militia if they did not.
The violent events over the last 48 hours and the lack of a context permitting the free exchange of ideas and perspectives necessary for a political campaign are cause for profound worry as the August 30 ballot rapidly approaches. The Indonesian government has repeatedly failed to provide the level of security necessary to allow the East Timorese people to choose their political future in a climate free from fear and intimidation. In Same, for example, the police have taken no action against militia members even when prodded by UNAMET civilian police and provided with convincing evidence. Alexandre, an ABLAI member whom many eyewitnesses have identified as the perpetrator of the August 6 slashing of an elderly peasant in Same, remains free. UNAMET officials report that he has committed two more slashings since then.
Although elements of the Indonesian police have been generally effective in protecting international observers and UNAMET personnel, the police as a whole have failed to take steps to end militia activity and to protect the general population. As Ian Martin, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for East Timor stated in relation to Thursday's violence in Dili, "heavily armed and equipped police failed to intervene when the militia violence was carried out in front of them."
Indonesian government spokesmen have obscured and downplayed militia violence. Dino Patti Djalal, spokesman for the Indonesian government's task force on East Timor, has repeatedly asserted that the pro-independence and pro-Indonesian sides are mutually engaged in violence and intimidation (e.g. Suara Timor Timur, 26 August 1999). This portrayal of the violence and intimidation as the result of a mutual rivalry between two East Timorese groups falsifies the profound imbalance of power between the groups. It is well-documented that the militias are creatures of the same Indonesian military responsible for protecting the East Timorese population.
"Unfortunately," states Saskia Kouwenberg, Co-Coordinator of the IFET Observer Project, "recent events demonstrate that the East Timorese people and the international community cannot trust the Indonesian authorities to abide by the May 5 accord. Only a significant change in UNAMET's security mandate can provide the East Timorese with the level of security needed to realize their right to self-determination."
On May 17, UNAMET Spokesman David Wimhurst said "Words by the Indonesian Government are not enough. Determined action must be taken by the appropriate Indonesian security authorities to curtail the activities of the armed militias, whose members roam the streets of Dili and other towns in East Timor at will, shooting citizens and burning homes."
More than three months have passed, and Mr. Wimhurst's statements still apply today. Evidence gathered by IFET-OP observers in the field, as detailed above, presents an irrefutable case that the Indonesian Government has not met its obligations under the May 5 agreements. Events over the next few days will determine the fate of East Timor, the credibility of the Indonesian Government, the United Nations, and the international community. The East Timorese people have shown their courage, commitment and desire to participate in this election. But the Indonesian authorities and the international community must create the space for that participation to be meaningful.
Return to IFET's Main Page