|Vol. 3, No. 2 - Spring 1997|
New Resources from ETAN
|Tensions Escalate in East Timor
By Kyle Perkins
There was a marked increase in violent conflict in East Timor during and after the May 29 Indonesian sham parliamentary elections (see page 5). At this writing (June 6), foreign journalists and observers and been banned from East Timor, but reports from Indonesian police and military spokespeople indicate that the resistance has attacked and killed more than 20 Indonesian military personnel in the past week. They are retaliating by sending in thousands of new troops, and with massive arrests and attacks on East Timor's population. At this time, information from the territory is unreliable and contradictory although it is clear that many people will suffer. Most of this article focuses on events of the past few months ago, when we can be more certain of the facts. Coverage of the upheavals of the last week will have to wait until the next Estafeta.
Several months after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo
spoke from Dili on conditions inside East Timor. He described the "wave of
euphoria" that swept over the young people of Timor after the Nobel awards, and the
"During the night," Belo explained, the Gada Paksi "roam the villages and search houses looking for young people connected with the underground network, as they call it, to arrest and intimidate them. . . . There have never been so many arrests as in the last week of December and then throughout January, especially here in the Dili area. But early February was worst of all. . . . "
Even the presence of a U.N. representative was not sufficient to curb ongoing Indonesian abuses in the occupied territory.
On March 22, Jamsheed Marker, the U.N. Secretary-General's special representative for East Timor, arrived in Dili after meeting with Indonesian president Suharto in Jakarta. A group of East Timorese youth planned to meet with Marker on the campus of the University of East Timor. Marker didn't meet with them, so a group of several hundred young people went to the Mahkota Hotel, where Marker was staying, early the next morning to speak to the U.N. envoy and to present him with a petition and documents.
Many of the youths entered the hotel lobby and were soon surrounded and attacked by truncheon wielding police. Indonesian soldiers also fired upon the students, wounding many (there have been unconfirmed reports of deaths). The authorities arrested 48 of the young people, most of whom are still in custody 10 weeks later. The Jakarta-based paper, Kompas, without irony, reported that a number "jumped through the window panes" of the hotel.
Though Marker avoided taking a position on the crackdown during his visit, when he returned to Jakarta he did meet with East Timorese students who had sat in at the Austrian embassy there until he granted them an audience.
The violence escalated markedly after the May 29 election performance in Indonesia. East Timorese guerrillas attacked military targets that day in cities across the territory, in what some in Jakarta are calling "East Timor's Tet." The military responded by sending 6,000 additional troops to East Timor, expelling foreign journalists, and escalating the repression. There are unconfirmed reports of dozens of killings and hundreds of arrests as we go to press in early June. Indonesian authorities are claiming that the GPK ("security disrupters" their term for guerrillas) staged unprovoked attacks on civilians. If these reports are true, this is the first time in 20 years of struggle. Resistance spokesman José Ramos Horta, ETAN (see statement at left), Human Rights Watch and others have condemned attacks on noncombatants by all sides.
According to an April report of a Portuguese solidarity group (which based its analysis on documents from the guerrilla movement), "It is the civilian population that is paying the highest price in this war. An estimate (based on the documents in question) put the number of villagers murdered following retaliatory action taken by the Indonesians at five (at least) times the number of active guerrillas killed in combat. The numbers of civilians from villages and towns who have been arrested and/or `disappeared' is naturally much higher than those killed estimates (which do not include city-dwellers) put the figure in the region of 500 to 1,000 victims per year. Most are peasants. About a quarter of them are women, and the average age is over 30 years old."
At the U.N. Human Rights Commission (see page 4), José Ramos-Horta released torture photos which vividly showed that severe human rights violations continue. The photos, taken by Indonesian soldiers and later smuggled out of the country, provided concrete evidence of the U.S. State Department's own evaluation in its Human Rights Report for 1996: "security forces continued to torture and mistreat detainees, particularly in East Timor. [The Indonesian] police often resort to physical abuse, even in minor incidents." In May, more such photos were released. This most recent set can be viewed on the Internet at www.dayworld.net.au/~ekeberg/torture.html
There have been numerous arrests of East Timorese by the Indonesian authorities over the last few months. Herein, we highlight one case reported (May 23 and 29) by the Australia-based East Timor Human Rights Center. Estafeta urges its readers to take action on this case as suggested below. Letters to the same authorities could also ask for the release and restraint from torture of the many other East Timorese taken into custody in late May and early June.
It is believed that Joćo Guterres was arrested at a military checkpoint at Tigre (located between Vemasse and Laleai, Baucau district) and taken to Dili where he is currently detained at Battalion 744 headquarters in Taibessi. The reason for his arrest is unconfirmed. The ETHRC believes that Joćo Guterres may have been arbitrarily arrested.
The East Timor Human Rights Centre is concerned for Joćo Guterres if he is not located soon as he may be at risk of torture and ill treatment if still in detention.
Send appeals to:
Military Commander Region IX/Udayana (includes East Timor)
Secretary General, National Commission on Human Rights
Chief of Police for East Timor
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Indonesian Embassy to the United States