Indonesian army rigging East Timor vote


The decision by Indonesian President B.J. Habibie on January 27 to allow the people of East Timor to choose between autonomy within Indonesia and independence prompted a reaction within the Indonesian armed forces, the Indonesian National Army (TNI, formerly known as ABRI) to mount an operation to render the decision unworkable. This article was produced by London-based TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign.

Within weeks of the Habibie decision, a military crisis team on East Timor was set up under Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim, who spent years as an intelligence officer in East Timor and was head of army intelligence at the time of the Santa Cruz massacre in November, 1991. Shortly before the team was set up, Zacky Anwar stood down as head of ABRI's intelligence agency, BIA.

The crisis team led the creation of militia gangs that instigated a wave of killings in the western part of East Timor, especially in Ermera, Maubara, Liquica and Dili, culminating in the massacres in Liquica on April 6 and Dili on April 17. The operation, code-named Operasi Sapu Jagad (Global Clean Sweep), has led to the murder of Timorese National Resistance Council (CNRT) leaders and the dissolution of local CNRT offices.

The objectives of Operasi Sapu Jagad are to obliterate the CNRT, destroy the peace process and make a UN-conducted referendum impossible and render the population defenceless and demoralised by eliminating the organised resistance.

Sapu Jagad is being conducted under the supervision of Udayana IX Military Command based in Denpasar (which covers East Timor). In February, Udayana commander Major General Adam Damiri held a meeting of pro-integration militia leaders and promised them logistical support, including weapons for 2000 men.

There was euphoria in East Timor following Suharto's downfall in May 1998. CNRT branches appeared everywhere, students waged a campaign to popularise independence, and many East Timorese working for the administration felt emboldened to express their true feelings in public. The TNI-directed militia operations targeted those Timorese who had switched allegiances to support independence in the last few years.

Following Habibie's referendum decision, the CNRT leadership, in an effort to avoid provocation and prevent bloodshed, called a halt to armed resistance operations in the bush and stopped demonstrations in the cities. This did not deter the death squads and their military backers.

Since late January, several hundred Timorese have been killed and more than 40,000 people have fled their villages and are now "internally displaced persons" under the control of the militia with the connivance of the local military. This does not include the death toll in places like Suai, now sealed off to outside observers, where up to 200 people are thought to have been killed since April.

Following Suharto's downfall, Habibie became TNI supreme commander, but being a civilian, he exerts no authority over the armed forces. TNI commander in chief Wiranto expressed support for Habibie's East Timor referendum initiative, but it soon became apparent that his was a minority view within the military elite. The vast majority have served in East Timor and come from the elite force Kopassus. Wiranto's career owes little to the annexation, nor is he from Kopassus.

A number of influential retired officers, like Benny Murdani and Prabowo, Suharto's son-in-law, have joined forces with serving senior officers to defy Habibie, contributing large amounts of money to finance the terror campaign in East Timor.

In March, there were reports that US$2 million (around 17 billion rupiah) had been supplied to finance the operations, and there are accounts of counterfeit money being used to pay the militias.

While Wiranto and the TNI commander in East Timor, Colonel Tono Suratman, have adopted a pose of "neutrality", local army units have stood by while the militias do their dirty work. In many places, they have conducted their brutal operations with overt support from the troops and local police squads.

The massacre in Liquica in April, which has been well documented by human rights activists, was the culmination of an operation which forced thousands of villagers to flee their homes. People taking refuge in Liquica church were slaughtered by the militia, with the involvement of the local troops. The commanding officer of the local district military command, Lt Colonel Asep Kuswanto, remains in his post.

In Maliana, commanding officer Lt Colonel Burhanuddin Siagian publicly ordered the execution of five villagers in Bobonaro on April 13. He has been quoted as totally rejecting Habibie's policy, arguing that he will not be president for much longer. He also remains in his post.

The militias spearheading Operasi Sapu Jagad operate with the support and guidance of hundreds of army intelligence officers. Although SGI (Satuan Tugas Inteligen), the force through which Kopassus operated in East Timor for many years, has been formally dissolved, soldiers recognised locally as SGI operatives still function throughout the territory.

On November 10, 400 Kopassus Group 4 troops arrived in Kupang, West Timor. Group 4 is especially trained to track down and eliminate opponents, and was responsible for the abduction and disappearance of dozens of pro-democracy activists in Indonesia last year. In a statement on May 31, Bishop Belo said that 1000 intelligence officers are operating in East Timor.

Under the May 5 United Nations accords, security is entrusted to the Polri, the Indonesian police, while the army is required to "redeploy". Although Polri recently separated from the TNI, nothing has happened to change the militaristic outlook and mode of the force. Moreover, most police units operating are from the notorious elite police force, Brimob, well known for its brutality.

In a moment of frankness, pro-Jakarta militia leader Herminio da Costa recently admitted that the militias had an agreement with chief of police Colonel Timbul Silaen to attack CNRT leaders, destroy their homes, arrest them and eliminate them.

No-one believes that Polri will function as a neutral security force, as required by the accords. It is highly possible that members of the army will simply change uniforms and become members of Polri. It remains to be seen whether 250 UN "police advisers" can control Indonesia's proxies.

Prior to Sapu Jagad, at least a dozen militia groups existed in East Timor, attached to local garrisons. Halilintar, led by Joao Tavares (who is now known as the war commander of the militia), Makikit and Gada Paksi (a creation of Prabowo) have liaised closely with SGI. Other older militia groups have been given front-line roles in operations against Falintil, the armed wing of the East Timorese resistance.

In the early years of the occupation, military officers secured monopolies and made profits from companies controlling East Timor's natural resources and other sectors of the economy. In the closing years of the Suharto era, the Suharto family and its cronies took over, turning East Timor into their special business project. Their interests include a huge sugar plantation, a harbour project, tourism projects and other ventures. Recently published figures reveal that 564,667 hectares of land, 40% of East Timor, is in their hands.

Cronies include Governor Abilio Osorio Soares and other senior officials who stand to lose their privileges and holdings if East Timor becomes independent. This is why they have joined forces with the army's East Timor veterans and serving officers to sabotage the UN referendum.

Visits to East Timor in April by two European Union ministers, Ireland's David Andrews and Britain's Derek Fatchett, did not succeed in reining in the militia leaders and their backers. The arrival of the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) advance party does not appear to have succeeded either, though things could change as the mission increases in size.

The pro-integration collaborators are far from united, reflecting their links with different factions and interests in the Jakarta military and civilian elite. Two pro-integration umbrella groups have come into existence.

Forum Persatuan, Demokrasi dan Keadilan (FPDK — Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice) is headed by Dominggos Soares, Dili district head, whose armed wing is called Milisia Pro-Otonomy (MPO — Pro-Autonomy Militia).

The second group, set up on April 30 in an apparent attempt to dissociate the pro-integration movement from open violence and terror, is Barisan Rakyat Timor Timur (BRTT — East Timor People's Front). BRTT is headed by East Timor's most senior collaborator, Francisco Lopes da Cruz, whom Suharto appointed as his special ambassador for East Timor affairs. This initiative reportedly enjoys financial backing from Wiranto and foreign minister Ali Alatas.

A major thrust in the strategy of the TNI's dirty war is to warn of the dire consequences should the referendum result in a vote in favour of independence. Documents are circulating in East Timor warning that a bloodbath will immediately follow such a result.

Another document claims that death lists have been drawn up, that death squads will go from village to village eliminating pro-independence activists, and that vast sums of money and thousands of weapons have been made available for the terror campaign.

Five districts in western East Timor are virtually under militia control, making it difficult to see how UNAMET will be able to conduct the referendum there in free and fair conditions. Elsewhere, killings continue and black propaganda is being spread. The aim is clear: to terrify the demoralised and traumatised population into voting against their consciences or not to dare to travel to the registration centres and, later, to the polling booths.

Pressure by solidarity activists needs to be mounted on governments to force the Indonesian regime and military to end their dirty war in East Timor. Activists should insist that their governments end arms deliveries to Jakarta, halt training of Indonesian soldiers and withdraw defence attachés.

The pro-integration militia must be disarmed without delay, those guilty of atrocities must be arrested and charged, and army and police officers who have taken part in atrocities must be removed from their posts and formally indicted.

The parameters of the UNAMET operation should be revised as follows: a) if the present intolerable security situation persists, armed blue helmets should be dispatched to take over security arrangements in the territory; b) a substantial increase in the size of the UN contingents of electoral, political and other volunteers to ensure that UN officials are present in the required numbers down to the village level during the registration of voters and on polling day.