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The announcement on September 4, 1999 that nearly 80 percent of the East Timorese voting population had rejected autonomy on August 30 and wished to separate from Indonesia set off an explosion of violence. That explosion was possible because pro-autonomy militias had firearms, and no one else did (except the guerrillas who haven't been willing to use them); because the police and the army made no move to stop militia attacks, and in some cases actively joined in; and because this may have been part of a military strategy to thwart independence. 2. Who are the militias in East Timor? In late January 1999, after Indonesian President Habibie announced that he would give East Timor the option of choosing autonomy under Indonesian sovereignty or separating from Indonesia, a network of thirteen district-level militias suddenly appeared. They were ostensibly formed to defend the population against depradations by pro-independence guerrillas and youth groups but in fact to try and intimidate East Timorese into supporting continued integration with Indonesia. These militias were openly supported by the Indonesian army; most were based at the local district military command. All thirteen militias are led by East Timorese who have a record of cooperating with the Indonesian army. Not all are new; some were created in the 1970s, after the Indonesian invasion, but the three worst-Aitarak (Dili), Besi Merah Putih (Liquica) and Mahidi (Suai)-were created this year. Eurico Gutteres, the leader of Aitarak is a former pro-independence activist who switched sides after being detained as a result of the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili in 1991. He became leader of the youth civil guard called Gardapaksi, a paramilitary auxiliary created by Prabowo in 1995. The head of the militia in Baucau is an active duty Kopassus officer. The Halilintar militia in Bobonaro, one of older groups, is led by Joao Tavares, a former traditional chief who was a member of the pro-Indonesia Apodeti party just before the invasion in 1975.
There have been allegations that some of the militias are not East Timorese. In July, the Laksaur militia in the Suai area was said to be at least half West Timorese. The militia campaign of intimidation and terror seemed to reach a peak in April when one militia based in Liquica district, just west of Dili, carried out a massacre of some forty-five refugees in a church compound in April, then sacked homes and offices of suspected supporters of independence in Dili. No one was arrested for these assaults, although the perpetrators were well-known.
Militia violence continued through July, culminating in an attack on an NGO convoy carrying relief supplies to displaced people. (By this time, some 40,000 people had been displaced by militia violence.) International outrage led to the arrests of seven young suspects, none of them responsible for organizing the attack, and a visible lessening of militia terrorizing in the weeks that followed. A new wave of violence began after registration centers opened in late July, to register voters for the referendum on autonomy/independence. On August 30, the day of the referendum itself, however, 98.2 percent of the eligible voters defied intimidation and turned out to vote.
The results were announced on Saturday morning, Dili time, September 4. Militias immediately went on what appeared to be a planned and coordinated offensive across the territory, but particularly in Dili and the western districts (Bobonaro, Liquica, Suai, and Ermera). Any East Timorese associated in any way with the UN Mission in East Timor, known as UNAMET, was targeted. So were foreign and Indonesian journalists considered sympathetic to the independence movement, and offices and homes of pro-independence supporters. Thousands of displaced people were attacked in their places of refuge, and some of them appear to have been trucked to West Timor.
3. What is the evidence for army-militia cooperation and coordination? Human Rights Watch has extensive eyewitness accounts of army officers taking part in militia operations,of militias being backed by lines of soldiers in their attacks, of militias holding meetings in district military commands. on August 30, after the voting, an Indonesian army major from West Timor reportedly carried out a campaign of terror and house-burnings of people associated with the independence organization, CNRT, in Gleno, Ermera, as active-duty soldiers took part in an attack on UNAMET local staff. Indonesian soldiers were reportedly involved directly in the attack on UN personnel in Liquica on September 3. There is no question of the linkage. Diplomatic sources have even better evidence.
Every indication is that the escalation of violence after the announcement of the referendum results was a planned, army-organized offensive. A "senior State Department official" has been quoted without attribution as saying it was an operation of the army's Special Forces (Kopassus) -- the force once led by Suharto's son-in-law, Prabowo. Police in Dili told a member of Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission that they couldn't do anything because this was a Kopassus zone. But the fact that Kopassus has likely been involved does not make this a "rogue" operation; the rogues are serving a Jakarta master, and all evidence points to General Wiranto, commander of the Indonesian armed forces.
4. Why would the army organize these militias?
There are several possible reasons:
a. The army has been concerned since Habibie's January 1999 announcement that East Timor's independence would lead to the break-up of Indonesia. There is no question that separatist movements in Aceh and Irian Jaya have taken heart from developments in Timor and from the UN's role. The violence could be a warning to them that any move to independence will lead to bloodshed, and the Indonesian army is more powerful than any outside force, including the UN. b. Wiranto is concerned about the unity of the armed forces. Many Indonesian soldiers died in attacks or ambushes by Falintil guerrillas in East Timor, many more were wounded. Most senior officers got their promotions after combat duty in East Timor. The idea of letting East Timor go is seen by some officers as a betrayal of everything the army did over the last 24 years. To keep his forces together, the argument goes, Wiranto had to do everything in his power to thwart independence. c. The army genuinely believed that it had stacked the deck and intimidated enough people to get a much higher percentage of the vote. It can't believe the 78.2 percent vote and is now doing everything in its power and through a media offensive to convince the Indonesian public that UNAMET perpetrated a giant fraud. The offensive, unfortunately, is working (see below). d. The vote and the violence are playing into Indonesian politics. Habibie is totally discredited now by the debacle, in the eyes of the few remaining groups who were still willing to grant him some legitimacy. Wiranto may be using the violence he controls, and the martial law pretext for ending it, as a launching pad to become the candidate for president of the ruling party, Golkar, in Habibie's place. 5. How can the violence in East Timor be stopped? The Indonesian armed forces could easily stop the violence if it had the political will to do so. All of the attacks over the last week, indeed most of the attacks over the last six months, with a very few exceptions, have been initiated by militias that were created, armed, and supported by the Indonesian army. There are over 8,000 Indonesian police now in East Timor and at least as many soldiers, none of whom have made any effort to stop militia violence or arrest those responsible. The attacks on Monday, September 6, on the home of Bishop Belo and the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross would not have been possible without army logistical support. Local human rights organizations, UN personnel, and other international agencies have identified Indonesian officers working directly with the militias in acts of violence. These names have been turned over to the appropriate Indonesian authorities, but no action of any kind whatsoever has been taken against them. Since the Indonesian army has the ability but not the will to stop the violence, the only alternative is for donor countries to use their considerable economic leverage to make the army and its backers among Indonesia's politican and economic elite feel the consequences of continuing its current role or persuade Habibie to invite an international peacekeeping force in. 6. After mounting international pressure, Habibie and General Wiranto declared a state of emergency in East Timor on Tuesday. Will this help? A state of emergency in East Timor will probably be a human rights disaster. The army has all the personnel it needs now to stop the violence and has done nothing. Martial law may only be a pretext to arrest and detain suspects without charge or trial and to hamper any international monitoring of the army's role. The last thing East Timor needs is for the army to take on additional powers. Martial law may also be used to disarm and detain the pro-independence leaders.
7. Is everyone who supported autonomy a militia member? No; there are many civil servants who derived their authority from their links to the Indonesian power structure who probably voted for autonomy, as well as non-Timorese who were eligible to vote by virtue of having been born in East Timor or having a spouse born in East Timor. There are also some intellectuals who genuinely believed that there is no way East Timor could survive as an independent state. But by the time of the referendum, almost everybody had been recruited into either the militias, their political front (The Forum for Democracy and Justice) or the pro-autonomy organization called the BRTT (Popular Front for East Timor), apparently modelled after the ruling party, Golkar.
The Indonesian press continues to portray the vast majority of the East Timorese streaming out of Dili as being pro-autonomy, fearful of the results of independence. That may be true for most of the non-Timorese fleeing, but a large number are also fleeing militia violence or have been forced on trucks and transported to West Timor. Some 25,000 people are believed to have fled East Timor already, with over 10,000 in West Timor alone. 9. How is this all playing out in Jakarta? To read the Jakarta press, one would think that the case made against UNAMET for rigging the vote in favor of independence was overwhelming. Not only every Cabinet minister but every politician is jumping on the anti-UN, anti-West bandwagon, with particular venom being reserved for Australia. Farfetched as it seems to most outside observers, the argument is that Australia wanted East Timor independent for security reasons, the US wanted to monitor China from an independent East Timor, and the UN bent to their wishes. This is very dangerous for three reasons. It may be laying the groundwork for an attempt by delegates to the People's Consultative Assembly or MPR-Indonesia's highest legislative body-to refuse to endorse the results of the referendum in November. Without such endorsement, East Timor's independence is not guaranteed. The new nationalism is serving to weaken any political divisions within the political elite, meaning the army and the pro-autonomy groups are getting increasing public support. And it may make it politically much more difficult for donor countries to get tough on Indonesia as their officials will be wary of exacerbating the backlash in a country where they have extensive interests. 10. What is the likelihood of an international peacekeeping force at this stage? The declaration of martial law suggests that the army is determined to go it alone, and that Indonesia will not invite peacekeepers in. Without Indonesian approval, the U.N. Security Council will not authorize the deployment of peacekeepers, so it is essential that pressure be exerted on Jakarta to issue such an invitation. On the other hand, if Indonesia did consent, a force could be quickly assembled around an Australian core of readily deployable troops. The Australians want some commitment of involvement from the US, which appears unlikely to be more than logistical support for someone else's operation, if that. 11. If non-humanitarian aid is suspended, what should be the conditions for lifting these sanctions? We believe that resumption of aid should be made conditional on the ability of UNAMET to fully resume operations in all thirteen districts of East Timor, with full freedom for local and international staff to work and travel without harassment; on the ability of refugees to return home safely; and on the arrest of key militia leaders responsible for acts of violence. 12. What is the role of the international business community in the crisis? The drop in the value of the rupiah as a result of the East Timor debacle is evidence of the stakes that the business community has in a speedy and effective resolution of the crisis. Businesses, in their own economic interests, should be using their influence to persuade the Indonesian government to accept an international peacekeeping force.