Vol. 5, No. 1
|Indonesia Hints Independence||New Hopes, Old Terror
by Max Black
During my December stay in East Timor, there were almost daily demon-strations in Dili, the capital, with some reporters covering them. A year ago, the demonstration I attended at the Santa Cruz cemetery would have been extraordinary and dangerous; this fall, Falintil (East Timors Resistance army) flags waved and speakers denounced the Indonesian and U.S. governments. Throughout Dili one saw demonstrators wearing resistance t-shirts and waving flags, condemning the occupation, praising Xanana Gusmão, flaunting his picture everywhere.
However, Dili is only one part of the occupied territory the most accessible, public part, which the press and the outside world sees. Elsewhere in East Timor, the deadly drama continues disappearances, torture, killings, and fleeing refugees.
I shared a ride with a visiting member of a Western countrys diplomatic staff, whom Ill call Sam. During his short visit Sam told me about meeting with members of the resistance, ("If necessary, Ill swear on my mothers Bible we didnt meet them"), Bishop Belo, the Governor and the Military Commander of East Timor. He observed of the Commander, "He seems to be a well-meaning, decent guy. He hasnt been here that long, but hes dealing with a lot of military who have been here quite a while and are accustomed to doing things the old way. Probably hard for him to control them."
Sam asked what I knew about recent military conflict in the troubled region of Alas. He referred to reports of perhaps forty or fifty deaths and scores disappeared, and noted that the facts of what occurred there may not be definite for some time, if ever. Sam told me about the village chief from the region who was killed by the military. The chiefs son was arrested, buried up to the neck, mercilessly tortured and killed.
By a different contact, I was shown color photos of the murdered son. Some show the young man buried, others show his body before the remains were ceremonially covered. Intestines and viscera lay spilling out his left side. Bullet holes black from congealed blood and cigarette burns were visible.
When I visited Alas myself, I witnessed the aftermath of an Indonesian military campaign of killing, torture and intimidation that destroyed entire villages.
Two highly reliable sources I interviewed in Alas confirmed the following chronology: on November 9 KOPASSUS forces went to the region to retaliate against Falintil attacks on the military in which three soldiers were killed. KOPASSUS forced all residents of two villages - Turi and Kopi to flee to the main town of Alas. People were not allowed to pack any possessions before being driven out. They first took refuge in a church, but were then ordered to a nearby school building. For five days they were given no food, bedding or clothing.
On November 15 the military burned all houses in both Turi and Kopi. One source estimated that forty homes had been burned; a journalist told me he counted over thirty houses that had been destroyed.
An Australian military team landed briefly in Alas, looked around, stepped back into their helicopter and assured the world they had seen nothing amiss. I heard assessments of this report from three Australians of thoroughly different perspectives: a nun who regularly visits here, a Timorese who lives in Australia, and a "contractor" whos lived here for years. One called it "a disgusting performance," another "hypocritical" and the third,"a damned cover-up."
The contractor has worked all over Asia for decades, and warned against "romanticizing" the resistance fighters, some of whom he knows. But he was also extremely frustrated with the Australian officials he briefed about recent events here. He told them what he knew and what reputable contacts told him about the dead and missing. Conservative numbers all, but not what the bureaucrats wanted to hear; they countered with the Australian military report denying a massacre. The nun and Timorese-Australian faced similar roadblocks in drawing attention from influential outsiders to the desperate situation.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited Alas several times. They made a public statement regarding Indonesian military killed in Alas, but stopped short of thoroughly investigating killings of East Timorese, perhaps to keep from jeopardizing their status in East Timor. The ICRC also refrained from mentioning the Indonesian militarys arming of paramilitary vigilantes to do its most gruesome work.
The lack of more thorough reports by international observers of the horrific events in Alas clearly shows the need for a permanent UN presence on the ground in the occupied territory to protect East Timorese from ABRI abuses.