'Ninja' terror in East Timor

Issue 

By Max Lane

Indonesian President Suharto's son-in-law, Colonel Prabowo, has been cultivating an image of being interested in trying to reach some form of compromise solution in East Timor. He has visited both Bishop Belo in Dili and Xanana in jail in Jakarta, touting solutions like "autonomy" and "special status" for East Timor.

However, according to a statement by National Council for Maubere Resistance (CNRM) on February 23, Prabowo recently visited East Timor to secure the release from jail in Dili of Matinho Fernandes.

Fernandes was accidentally captured by air force personnel at their housing complex during a night-time terrorist action by pro-Indonesian thugs in mid-February. He is known as one of the main organisers of the regime's thugs, referred to in Dili as "ninja gangs". The revelation of Prabowo's links with these gangs has not surprised anybody.

The gangs have been terrorising pro-independence East Timorese since early February. Combining terror with suggestions of compromise is a long-term Suharto tactic. In the end, terror and suppression always emerge as the most important.

According to the CNRM statement, three youths — Angelo Saldanha, Manuel Reis and Domingos Almeida — abducted by ninjas in a joint action with the military on February 9 are being tortured in Dili Central Intelligence Headquarters. Henrique Belmiro, also detained there, is reported to be in serious condition as a result of torture. Joao Baptista, also abducted on February 9, is in the Dili military hospital in a serious condition as a result of torture.

There is now report of increased ninja activities in the smaller provincial towns, while East Timorese arrested earlier in the month are feared dead. Euginio Pinto (19), Armando Soares (18), Juliao Pinto )18), Jose Pinto (19), all of Viqueque, and Francisco Amaral (35) of Los Palos, who disappeared after a peaceful demonstration on January 9 in Dili, are now feared dead.

The ongoing violence is in clear breach of an agreement reached on February 13 between Bishop Belo and the civil and military authorities in Dili, regarding the climate of terror since the appearance of the "ninjas".

The bishop told the Portuguese newspaper Lusa that the authorities had set up a meeting between him, vice-governor Haribowo, police commander Subianto and a military colonel who was representing military commander Kiki. The meeting took place at the bishop's home. Among the decisions reached was that the authorities should disperse military-backed ninja gangs immediately.

The bishop also said it was agreed that the police must assume responsibility for maintaining order. "The Dili administrator must meet with the neighbourhood leaders to coordinate with them security measures to protect the populations of those neighbourhoods."

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