|Subject: Transcript: TNI's 'Dirty War'
Against East Timor Independence
Australian Broadcasting Corporation first broadcast 7July 2001
EAST TIMOR: TNI used media strategy to disguise militia links
Book details Indonesia's 'Dirty War' against independence.
The future of a soon-to-be-independent East Timor is looking brighter,
with yesterday's signing of an agreement to share off-shore gas revenues
The deal is a significant achievement for East Timor's leaders and the
But progress in the pursuit of economic justice has not been matched by
progress in the search for political justice.
No senior figures have been brought to account for the campaign of
orchestrated terror and destruction that accompanied the UN referendum on
independence in 1999.
Australian journalist John Martinkus first went to East Timor in 1994,
and has written the first comprehensive eyewitness account of events
before and after the ballot.
He says that it was immediately obvious that the so-called militia in
East Timor were in fact a creation of the Indonesian military - the TNI -
but it was difficult to make this clear in news reports, because the TNI
also had a sophisticated media strategy:
MARTINKUS: In a way, it was very savvy public relations work on behalf
of the militia leaders themselves and their backers, the Indonesia
military, by presenting the leaders such as Basilio and Eurico and Cancio,
and all those, presenting them as these independent East Timorese who were
ready with their quick sound bites for electronic media. Who were
available for television interviews and those kinds of things. And they
were getting across this message that they were East Timorese who would
fight to stay as part of Indonesia.
Whereas on the other side you had the CNRT leaders who were at the same
time were often in hiding, sometimes under protective custody by the
police, the media couldn't get in touch with them. And you had the
guerilla leaders themselves who were up in the mountains and far too
worried about their own security to just allow journalists to come and go.
Also a lot of the evidence, I mean the Indonesians of course, I mean
they weren't going to make it obvious that the TNI was arming the militias
or supporting them, although to us on the ground it was incredibly blatant
and in your face.
Like one of the first militia rallies down in Kasa, the TNI flew us
down there in a TNI helicopter, and then when we got there we found East
Timorese being transported at gunpoint to the rally by TNI soldiers.
MARES: Did journalists in a way become complicit with this whole
strategy in East Timor, in the sense that you were obligated to report the
comments of militia leaders, you were obligated to report the assurances
of Indonesian military officers that the militia would be disbanded, that
they would exert control. Yet all the time it was apparent to you that
these were lies?
MARTINKUS: Yeah well that's a very difficult question because yeah it
was apparent to us on the ground that these people were lying, turning the
truth on its head. But yes, we had to report those because you have to
give voice to both sides. I mean it was very obvious from early on in '99
from the moment the militias formed, you know the very next day we had
militias coming around and giving us press releases at the hotels and
inviting us to their press conferences and functions. And they were very,
very aware of the power of the press.
MARES: So the militia strategy wasn't just a military strategy if you
like, a strategy of violence and intimidation, it was also quite a
sophisticated media campaign?
MARTINKUS: Yeah totally, I mean it was a very in some ways a very slick
PR operation. Quite often they succeeded in getting their whole idea
across, and I think some of the coverage from the violence in September
MARES: In what way?
MARTINKUS: By simply focusing on saying that it was the militia who
were destroying Dili, or the militia who were responsible for the majority
of the destruction, which was simply not the case, it was very methodical
carried out by TNI soldiers and you could see that. The militia simply
wouldn't have had the infrastructure trucks, planes, ships to carry out
such a large-scale deportation of you know, a third of the population
MARES: At the time when you were getting these assurances from the
militia that they would be peaceful, and from the Indonesian military that
they would control the situation, did you also want to believe them? Did
you want to, was there a tendency to want to believe that things wouldn't
actually get so bad, that it wouldn't really end up the way it did?
MARTINKUS: I think very much on the part of the UN leadership and from
the Australian government too, yes, the Indonesian military were telling
them what they wanted to hear, and they were willing to accept that
because to not believe that would have meant well they would have had to
make decisions like sending in peacekeepers earlier.
There was just a ridiculous sort of groundhog day feel to some of these
press conferences where there'd be an attack on the UN, say in Maliana,
there'd been an attack on the UN in Viqueque, there'd been an attack on
the UN in Liquica. Ian Martin, the head of the UNAMET mission would get up
the next morning at the press conference and say I have received
assurances from the highest authority that this violence will cease and
that the TNI will act to control the militias in these areas.
Even right to the last when Ian Martin was surrounded in his compound
by TNI soldiers shooting in the air, so much that we could barely hear him
in the press conference, he was still saying "I've received
assurances from the Indonesians that the situation will be brought under
control." It was just farcical, but also then what else could he say
because he didn't have any armed force on the ground to deal with it.
MARES: Since your reporting of East Timor you've been reporting in
other places such as Aceh for example in Indonesia, and it does seem that
we're seeing very similar tactics, creation of militias, in both Aceh and
MARTINKUS: The TNI seem to have learnt very well that the introduction
of local militias to a conflict, a separatist conflict like what's
happening in Aceh, introduces a high level of deniability on their part to
anything like arbitrary killing of independent supporters, or killing of
human rights workers, that kind of thing. It's a shield to operate behind.
MARES: Because it can passed off as a conflict between two opposing
groups, rather than a war being fought with the military?
MARTINKUS: Yeah, it can be repainted as a civil war which they did very
successfully for a while there in East Timor, especially in the early part
of '99 and the late part of '98, they were able to present the conflict in
terms of East Timorese fighting each other, which although strictly
speaking was true, if you had gangs of East Timorese going out on the
street with guns and shooting other Timorese.
But the fact was that gang was paid for, you know they're paid a wage
by the Indonesian military, they're given their weapons, they seek the
protection of the Indonesian military, it's a pretty cynical manoeuvre,
and yeah it works.
[John Martinkus is the author of "A Dirty Little War - an
eyewitness account of East Timor's descent into hell" published by
Random House Australia]
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