Indonesia-Backed Militias Rampage through the Capital of East Timor

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Militias armed and backed by the Indonesian military are rampaging today through the capital of East Timor, just two days after the Timorese voted on a historic referendum on self-determination sponsored by the United Nations. [includes rush transcript]

The militias opened fire in Dili on hundreds of people in the streets, who were fleeing towards the UN compound, and have since surrounded the building, trapping at least 100 people inside. One person so far has been reported killed.

Militia leaders opposed to independence from Indonesia had promised a bloodbath after the referendum, the result of which will not be known for at least a week and which is expected to favor independence. East Timor has been under brutal occupation from Indonesia for the past twenty-four years.


  • Allan Nairn, freelance journalist.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a few minutes before the show began, I was able to reach Dili, East Timor, where journalist Allan Nairn had just come back from the UN compound where Indonesian-backed militias had just laid siege to the area. This is his report.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, a few hours ago, militias besieged the UN headquarters. They attacked the neighborhood surrounding it and tried to — and were shooting at Timorese who were trying to get into the UN compound for protection. I was just at the Motael Church clinic, where one of those who was shot during this attack, Roger Soares [phon.], died on the operating table. He was nineteen years old. He was shot by the military, according to the doctor. He was shot in the cheek; it came out his neck. They worked on him, working on his chest, trying to revive him, but couldn’t do it. There were at least three other wounded. There was a report that earlier another person, who was shot with an M16 in that same neighborhood attack outside the UN complex, died.

People who were on the scene say that this attack was mounted by the Besi Merah Putih militia that are based in the eastern — sorry, the western part of Timor around Maliana. They’re the group that was involved in the Liquica massacre in April, when, backed up by Brimob anti-riot troops who were firing tear gas behind them, the BMP went into the church in Liquica and hacked to death with machetes something in excess of seventy people. As they were attacking those outside the UN compound, they set fire to several small stores and buildings, including a place where they were selling gasoline. You could see the tower of smoke rising over Dili. And ironically, it was the same Brimob, the one that had helped the BMP in the Liquica massacre, that was the unit that was called in to provide security for the UN compound. So you could see the Brimob troops, their faces covered with ski masks — you know, this is in the ninety-degree heat of East Timor — speeding in trucks.

At one point, about an hour into the siege, I was told by a Canadian-UN-CIVPOL policeman that the compound was now surrounded by thirty to fifty Brimob members. And I asked him, “Well, which way are they pointing the rifles? Are they pointing them in, or are they pointing them out?” And he kind of rolled his eyes and laughed and said, “Well, we have a mandate. Our mandate is to work with and advise the police. That is our mandate.”

I just heard on Australian TV news a commentator, a reporter, say that after the attack outside the UN compound, police have restored control of the area. Well, the problem is that the police have control of the area. The problem is that they and other elements of the Indonesian armed forces still have control of Timor. It appears, so far, that most of those actually shot in this latest attack were shot directly by the military. That’s — the doctors at the Moteal clinic said that all of the injured and the one dead there were shot by the military, just as during last Thursday’s militia rampage, most or perhaps even all — the facts aren’t clear yet — of the dead were shot directly by the police.

Also, I just spoke to someone from the neighborhood of Bacora. This is a neighborhood that’s been under particular siege by the army’s Aitarak militia over the past week. Neighbors there are saying that other neighbors in the neighborhood, twenty-two of them, were taken away yesterday by the Aitarak militia and brought up to Hera. These neighbors were claiming that an unknown number of them were then killed. And now Australian television was reporting that at least four were killed in Hera.

Tonight, as of about half an hour ago, there were reports of militia roadblocks being set up around the streets of Dili. One point, as the siege was going on outside the UN compound, all sorts of reporters rushed to the scene. CNN did live reports from the scene. The police set up a barricade.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to journalist Allan Nairn in Dili, East Timor, where militia have laid siege to — these are Indonesian regime-backed militia — laid siege to the UN compound. Allan, can you explain just who these militia are? I mean, you talk about, for example, Aitarak, which means “thorn.” How were these militia set up?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, they’re created and run by the army. The army has been — the Indonesian army has been setting up militias for many years in Timor. It’s a standard tactic. They consist of people who have been on the intel military intelligence payroll for many years as informants, street criminals, and some people, usually young men, that have just been drafted and told they’re going to be in the militias, whether they like it or not.

And they get orders directly from the military. It’s not very subtle. The Aitarak headquarters in Dili is right down the street from the neighborhood 1627 Battalion military base. And after last Thursday’s rampage in Dili, when they shot up the eastern half of the city, you could see them afterwards gathering right there at the 1627 base, you know, gathering, getting their final instructions, getting ready to go home. So they’re an arm of the military.

They —- you know, some of them use knives and swords. Others use pistols. Some of those pistols Pindad, the military arms maker. The militia leaders have new American— and Japanese-made walkie talkies that they use to communicate with the army. You know, they’re a military intelligence operation.

And in the siege outside the United Nations, at one point agents of police intel rode up to reporters and said that what was going on was that there were five Falintil guerrillas in the hills armed with M-16s, and they were shooting down at the militias. So that accounted for all the automatic weapons fire we were hearing. We could hear automatic rifles and machine guns just down the street, and you could see the smoke rising from the buildings they were burning right across from the UN headquarters.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, we have all sorts of reports at this point. Among them, the United Nations currently have several hundred officials in Timor, all unarmed. They organized the ballot, of course, earlier. New Zealand foreign affairs minister Don McKinnon said, in a worst case scenario, if violence escalates, non-UN intervention in the territory is possible. He said likely participants in such a peacekeeping operation include New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the United States, but Australia swiftly denied it would join a non-UN peacekeeping force in East Timor. What about this possibility of an armed peacekeeping force that, for example, East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao was calling for?

ALLAN NAIRN: Yes, I think that would be a very bad mistake. I see why Xanana and others are calling for it, but I think that would be a very bad thing. When you think about it, the idea that kind of boggles the mind, in the case of the US, you’d be talking about the US troops going in and fighting US-armed, —trained and -financed troops. It’s like, you know, turning on the air conditioner because you’re hot because you’ve started a fire.

The answer is very simple, and that’s for Washington to pull its military support from Jakarta. To this day, the ammunition and the weapons continue to flow into General Wiranto’s army. Clinton blusters and makes threats under pressure from Congress, but the military support continues. If the US stops that or stops some of the money, they can stop the militias. There is no need to send in armed US troops who would completely transform the politics of Timor, I think, in a very negative way, as we saw in the experiences of Haiti and countless other places where this has been done.

This is not one of those situations where the US and Australia, for example, are third parties looking on as some outsider commits a horrible act. It is they that are committing the horrible acts as accomplices. It’s Australia and the United States that have been training the Kopassus intelligence, which is the main force running this militia operation in Timor. It’s they that have been shipping in the weapons. It’s they that have been shipping in the ammunition. It’s they that have been providing the political and financial support for the Indonesian army over the years, they and also countries like Great Britain. Japan plays the role of principle financier of the Jakarta regime. If they want to -— if they truly want to stop the terror in Timor and also, by the way, stop the terror in Aceh, where the death toll is actually worse these days than in occupied Timor, they can just stop that support. There’s no need for armed peacekeeping. They can do it tomorrow. A call from Clinton to Wiranto, a call from Wiranto to Dili, and the militias will be shut down.

AMY GOODMAN: Wiranto being the general in charge of the Indonesian army.


AMY GOODMAN: Allan, we just also got word that the militias went to the airport, checking identities, perhaps even dragged people off the plane as they were trying to get out, people crying. I read this in the Financial Times, so it would have happened many hours ago for today’s newspaper. According to people on board the flight, at least four people who had boarding passes didn’t make it on. But who replaced them was Jamsheed Marker, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy in East Timor, his wife, Jamsheed Marker’s wife, and some Canadian diplomats. First, did you hear anything about this? And second, why is Eurico Guterres, head of the Aitarak, which means “thorn,” militia, saying that no pro-independence Timorese should be allowed out of the country?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, that would have been yesterday. And the militia, Guterres and the Aitarak, were out at the airport stopping Timorese from leaving, and they actually grabbed tickets out of people’s hands. I assume that’s what the article is referring to. It’s just part of the general campaign of terror. Keeping people off balance. A lot of this is psychological. It’s a psychological operation. That’s one of the things, by the way, that the Indonesian military was trained in by the US JCET program, until that program was suspended last spring after it was exposed and pressure from Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: The JCET program being a training program from the Pentagon?

ALLAN NAIRN: Yes. All these militias have to do is ride through the streets with their black T-shirts and their weapons and their bandannas, shoot into the air. You know, they don’t even have to hit anyone, and entire neighborhoods are terrorized. And certainly, doing something like that at the airport is especially dramatic. You know, it’s just a way of making the people of Timor pay, but most importantly, sending a message to people within Indonesia, where the Indonesian army is now under siege from below, where they’re facing a slowly growing pro-democracy sentiment from the Indonesian population, sending the message that the army is still tough. Even though they may be forced out of Timor, they still know how to create terror. They are still ruthless. They will still kill to enforce their will. It’s very important to the army to send this message and —

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Allan Nairn reporting to us from Dili. As you heard, we did this interview just before the show. He got cut off as he was speaking about the Indonesian military support of the militias. We did speak for a second after, and he is OK, a journalist reporting from East Timor, where the militias have laid siege to the UN compound. Before the historic referendum that took place on August 30th, on Monday, the militias had promised there would be a bloodbath afterwards, clearly desperate that the referendum might lead to independence, their last act of desperation. We will certainly continue to follow this story as it develops.

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