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Eye witness account from East Timor

By The Uniting Church in Australia - posted Friday, 15 October 1999

This transcript is supplied courtesy of the Uniting Church and is reproduced in full.

English translation of audio tape by East Timorese person in hiding Sept 21, 1999. Editorial fleshing out in parentheses ( ).

TAPE #1, Side A: "Before the current groups referred to as militias appeared there were two Tetum terms in widespread usage, mauhu and bufu. But these groups had the same function as those referred to now as militias, that is, going in and out of people's houses, terrorising people, and always trying to dig up information that in fact might be a personal problem with someone else, but which could be twisted or construed as something that could be blown out of proportion and turned in to ABRI (Indonesian armed forces) as a basis for killing the person. So in fact, this kind of person has been functioning since the time Indonesia entered East Timor-these people referred to as mauhu, bufu and intel. They've been around for a long time. Then after that, because these people began to be known and recognised, then we began to get people with heads wrapped like ninjas.


There is ample evidence by those who have been captured, that many of these guys are actually KOPASSUS (Indonesian Special Forces), also from ABRI. They come in and pretend to be one of the people, and then carry out these activities. And ABRI always seek to recruit poor people. Those who need some sort of financial assistance or respond to financial incentives. This provides an easy opportunity to give money and rice (using IMF, World Bank, and various other aid money). For example, in my area the poor who will work for ABRI are each month given 10 kg of rice, and Rp75,000 to provide intelligence information about pro-independence sympathisers and to terrorise others.

This term militia is relatively recent, since President Habibie announced the possibility of a popular vote for the people of East Timor. And these militia groups are all over the place. For example, in the town of Same (south-central mountains) the group is called Ablai, whereas in Dili (the capital) the group is known as Aitarak, in the town of Maliana (near western border in the mountains) it is called Besi Merah Putih, and there are others like the one called Mahidin (which is an acronym standing for "live or die for Indonesia"), etc.

Now before this had fully developed, we once gained possession of a letter. It said, "Kill off all the people, including small children and old people--those who live in Dili are all considered to be pro-independence." So that letter was from a militia commander who name is Lafaek written to another battle commander named Joao Tavares (militia commander in Maliana). Now this was giving a conclusion that most of the people in Dili were considered pro-independence, not seeking agreement about the truth of this assessment nor inviting discussion about the command to kill off everyone considered to be pro-independence-from small children to old people.

So after we obtained a copy of this letter, before we had a chance to circulate it, it already began to happen in Liquisa (town on the northwest coast on the road to Dili). That was when they killed all those taking refuge in the priest's house, and they even threatened to kill the priest, the church was trashed, the priest's house was torn up. That happened then (around late March/early April 1999).

There was evidence of prior planning in that attack. It was well known in the community that a large number pro-independence people had taken refuge at the priests' house. Then after they had been there awhile some police suddenly showed up at the house claiming that there was a militia group that was going to attack the house, so they claimed they had come to protect the house and refugees. But suddenly they began shooting (in the air and into the house). Shortly after they started shooting, then the militia group suddenly appeared claiming they only arrived after the shooting started. So this was a prearranged deception where each group (army and militia) could accuse the other. But that was just an excuse. So the militia claimed the pro-independence supporters had started the shooting. So they attacked the house and began killed everyone in it. Then they used tear gas so that those people, those hundreds who ran out of the house, couldn't see anything, so it was easy for the militia to kill them. But the killing wasn't just a simple killing. After they were killed they were hacked to pieces.

Now it is the analysis of almost all of us, that ABRI was setting these incidents in motion so that when the time came for them to have to leave East Timor, they had deliberately orchestrated these types of incidents ahead of time so that the East Timorese would continue to take revenge on each other for a long time to come. With these kinds of incidents there would be no way that there could be peace among the East Timorese themselves. So there was a high likelihood that things would revert to a civil war again. That would provide them a reason to come back and take over East Timor again at a later date. That is what many of us think.


Later, when riots began happening all over the country, then some of us began to think there was also a connection with what was happening in Jakarta. It was looking more and more that ABRI was setting in motion many of these riots, so they could then come in as the 'saviour' to save the situation and then declare that to keep the country under control, the only way to do that is to have a military person as president. But it is appearing that (although they have set a lot of chaos in motion) ABRI has not yet been successful in getting things under control anywhere. One example is when the chief of the armed forces came to Dili to establish peace and accept the surrender of arms. But these arms, according to the militias themselves, after they were collected and surrendered (in front of television crews), they were later returned to the militias. That is just like when a troop pullback in East Timor was announced from Jakarta, they got onto ships in Dili in front of television crews, but then these same troops came back into East Timor within hours and days on the same ships in Baucau and Los Palos (in the east). This is the incredible (not credible) way that ABRI works.

It would be difficult for me to declare that all Indonesian people are not good. In fact, many Indonesians do not approve or agree with the way ABRI does things. But as for ABRI, I really really...hate ABRI. Because ABRI is renowned as a vicious murderer of their own people, probably the most infamous murderers in the entire world. Everybody is a little bit evil, but nobody is as evil as ABRI in Indonesia. Because of that, when some people say that ABRI is doing all these evil things to restore or establish a secure environment, I don't think that is true. It is probably more appropriate to say that ABRI itself has to be 'secured'. Not that ABRI should 'secure' other people, but that they themselves need to 'be secured' by our country. This country of Indonesia needs to get ABRI under control. They should no longer function as the security force for this country.

An incident in Ermera (in the mountains southwest of Dili) in April 1999: The victim in this case was a (relative) of mine and I know exactly what happened. This modus operandi had already happened a number of times before, and also in other places. They had been firing off one or two shots around town. Because of the sporadic shooting, a cease fire had been arranged between the district legislature, the people, and ABRI, so that there would be no more shooting within the town limits. And the legislature took responsibility for enforcing the cease fire. Now my relative who became the victim in this case was also a member of the legislature. So when he heard the shooting, he felt responsible to go out and find out who was breaking the cease fire. So he went out in his car. Suddenly he was surrounded. After he was surrounded, they shot him when he got out of the car and ran. They shot him dead. Then they came and cut him up. His wife and children were also chased and almost killed. His wife ran into the hospital. They hid in a medicine cabinet. They climbed inside, and then other friends hid them there. Later they were able to get out and escape.

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About the Author

The Uniting Church in Australia was formed on June 22, 1977, as a union of three churches: the Congregational Union of Australia, the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

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