Vol. 5, No. 2
|U.S. "Deeply Disturbed" by Militia Attacks||July 4 Militia Attack on the Humanitarian Team in Liquiça:
Another Slap in the Face to the UN
Red and White Iron (Besi Merah Putih), a pro-Indonesia armed militia, attacked a 77 person convoy in the town of Liquica on July 4, 1999. The convoy was returning to Dili, the capital city, after delivering food and medicine to thousands of internally displaced East Timorese in and around the village of Sare (Ermera district). Workers and volunteers from six East Timorese NGOs (Yayasan HAK, Etadep, Caritas East Timor, Yayasan Kasimo, Timor Aid, and Posko for Emergency Aid to Internally Displaced Persons) comprised the Humanitarian Team, the coalition that organized the convoy. Accompanying them were an official of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and Patrick Burgess, the Humanitarian Affairs Officer of the United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET). American medical doctor Dan Murphy and Max White, an ETAN activist, also participated.
The July 4 attack must be seen in the context of the militia-created humanitarian crisis. According to the UNHCR, approximately 30,000 East Timorese have fled their homes over the past six months due to attacks by pro-Indonesia militias such as Besi Merah Putih (BMP) [the Catholic aid organization Caritas estimates the number of refugees to be 85,000]. These East Timorese fled to forests and villages of the remote interior where they are struggling for survival without adequate food, medical care or shelter; many are in camps where conditions are extremely dire. This crisis directly affects the validity of the UN-supervised vote. By virtue of their displacement and seclusion, tens of thousands of people are being excluded from voter education. Under present conditions, it is nearly impossible for them to register as voters. Without immediate Indonesian government support for a secure, safe environment, it will be unsafe for them to return to their homes; thus they will be denied genuine participation in the UN-supervised "popular consultation."
Despite the severity of the crisis, the Indonesian government has neither taken steps to relieve the refugee suffering nor assisted NGOs attempting to provide relief. The Indonesian military in East Timor allows pro-Indonesia militias to surround the camps and set up check posts on roads leading in and out. The militias intimidate and hinder the work of charitable organizations delivering aid. Visitors to the camps report that the militias receive food and money from the Indonesian military.
"They are sleeping outside or in crudely assembled shacks," said IFET-OP member Max White about the displaced persons in Sare. "According to our count, seven out of every ten persons there had malaria. We saw many indications of malnutrition and heard many stories of recent deaths. That they are contracting and succumbing to diseases is directly attributable to their displacement from their own homes and means of subsistence."
The exact number of refugees in and around Sare is difficult to determine given the lack of regular access by aid organizations. Jose Luis de Oliveira, the coordinator of the Humanitarian Team, estimates that about 3,800 displaced persons are in Sare and another 3,000 in nearby Faulara. Refugees in Sare say about 70 people died from disease since February, and another five were killed by the militia that surrounds the settlement.
In late June IFET-OP spoke to a priest providing food and medicine to displaced persons in two villages near Sare. He and his staff have compiled a list of the names of 1,654 persons in the villages of Madebau and Quelima. He described them as "traumatized because of the intimidation and terror they have experienced at the hands of the militias."
Most refugees in the Sare area originally hail from villages such as Lisadila and Maubaralisa in the Maubara sub-district of Liquiça district. The BMP militia attacked their villages and burned down their homes from February to April 1999. Along the road to Sare are the charred remains of numerous deserted villages.
To date, the Indonesian government has taken no action against the Besi Merah Putih, despite the destruction of villages and the displacement of thousands. The BMP carried out the gruesome April 6 massacre in the Liquiça church compound, hacking to death at least 57 refugees from earlier violence, including women and children, and severely injuring dozens more. The BMP also participated in the April 17 militia rally in Dili and the subsequent massacre of displaced persons sheltering at pro-independence activist Manuel Carrascalao's house.
Indonesian government involvement in the militia violence is beyond question. The Indonesian military has been photographed training BMP members in military buildings. BMP rank and file stand at checkposts on roads throughout Liquica district; though Indonesian law forbids gun ownership by private individuals, the BMP openly carry rifles, automatic guns, and pistols through the streets. For the past six months, the BMP has rampaged through Liquiça district with official sanction and encouragement.
One day prior to the convoy's departure from Dili, the humanitarian NGOs requested a police escort. The police initially agreed, but later that evening informed the group there would be no escort. The NGO group also requested a police escort prior to departure from Sare on July 4. Again, the police declined.
The facts of the July 4 attack are documented by eyewitness testimony, video footage, and photographs. Returning to Dili after delivering the emergency aid, the eight vehicle convoy stopped in the town of Liquiça at about 4 pm. Patrick Burgess of UNAMET reported the group's intent at the local police station. While the convoy was parked, a vanload of BMP members arrived, carrying rifles, pistols, swords, and knives. They immediately began running toward the humanitarian mission members. Their van left and soon returned with another load of paramilitaries. In all, there were about thirty BMP attackers. Some humanitarian aid workers fled into the police station; others ran back to their vehicles and attempted escape. In the melee, they were slashed at, shot at, beaten, and stoned. This was clearly an act of unprovoked aggression by a pro-Indonesian militia against a group of unarmed civilians.
The attack occurred in front of two of the main offices of Indonesia's security forces in Liquiça, the local police station and the military headquarters for Liquiça district (Kodim 1638). The mayhem continued for approximately ten minutes while police and military stood idly by. Police did not emerge from the station to disperse the BMP until after the humanitarian aid workers had fled.
All members of the convoy are now accounted for. One member of the humanitarian mission, Laurentino Soares, suffered severe head injuries [Human Rights Watch reports that Soares was also shot in the stomach].
Although the Indonesian government issued a statement deploring the attack, many of its officials faulted UNAMET staff and the humanitarian aid workers. Military headquarters in Jakarta alleged that UNAMET civilian police in the convoy were escorting three armed pro-independence guerrillas. Gen. Wiranto, the Commander-in-Chief and Defense Minister, alleged that the incident was due to a lack of discipline among both pro-Indonesian and pro-independence groups. Deputy military spokesman Brig. Gen. Sudrajat similarly alleged the violence resulted from a confrontation between pro-independence supporters riding inside the UNAMET vehicle and the militia. East Timorese police allege that the UNAMET staffer fired shots from a pistol and thereby provoked the attack. Officials in the Indonesian government in East Timor claim the humanitarian organizations did not coordinate the trip with the government beforehand. All of these false allegations serve to divert attention from the facts of the attack and the responsibility of the Indonesian government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Perhaps most disturbing is the term the Indonesian military headquarters in Jakarta uses to describe displaced persons in Sare: "anti-integration refugees" (pengungsi anti-integrasi). The military therefore views internal refugees dying of disease and malnutrition in political terms, unlike Father Baretto of Caritas East Timor, who argues that "charitable aid is above ideology."
For more details on the Humanitarian Aid Mission, see "Humanitarian Mission for Internally Displaced People," July 6, 1999. Copies of this statement are available from the IFET Observer Project International Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. The IFET website is located at http://www.etan.org/ifet/.