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Democracy Now! Exclusive: How the United States Has Supported the Militias in East Timor

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Today, we bring listeners an exclusive story on the links between the Indonesian military, the militias that are conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing in East Timor and the United States government. Journalist Allan Nairn, the only US journalist left in East Timor, has obtained classified documents and conducted interviews with intelligence officials from the US and Indonesia that show these connections. [includes rush transcript–partial]

The information includes cables and other communication between the US and Indonesian military, personal telephone records of militia leader Eurico Gutierres and notes documenting military briefings by a senior US military official.

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced this morning that it is pulling out all of its personnel from East Timor, a decision taken by Secretary-General Kofi Annan after the UN compound in Dili, where there are a thousand terrified refugees, suffered a virtual siege by the Indonesia-supported militias.

Latest reports from Dili speak of a city in flames and rampant intimidation by death squads armed and supported by the Indonesian government.

The UN pullout is a desperate blow for the East Timorese trying to seek protection from the violence. It also means that there will be few, if any, international observers in East Timor left as witnesses.

Earlier, Indonesia rejected any early deployment of foreign forces in East Timor to quell the violence there, saying it is still capable of restoring peace to the territory. State Secretary Muladi made the announcement as a United Nations Security Council delegation arrived in Jakarta for urgent talks with the political and military leadership on how to end the bloodshed.


  • Allan Nairn, Journalist in Dili, East Timor.

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

AMY GOODMAN: As we go live to Dili, the latest announcement: the United Nations is clearing out of its besieged compound in East Timor’s capital. A spokesperson says nearly 400 staffers will be flown out tomorrow. We’re joined now on the telephone by journalist Allan Nairn. He is the only American journalist left in East Timor. He is at the UN compound. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Allan.

ALLAN NAIRN: Hello, Amy and Juan. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to shout in order for me to hear you.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, can you tell us what’s happening right now.

ALLAN NAIRN: Yes. Right now, I am — can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: We hear you fine.

ALLAN NAIRN: Fine. Right now, I’m in the UN compound. The word has gotten out that the UN will evacuate tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. our local time. The evacuation supposedly will be performed by the Australian military. They refer to it as a secure evacuation, meaning that it will apparently be done with the consent of the Indonesian forces. However, the evacuation will only involve three groups: one, foreign UN personnel; two, local Timorese UN personnel; and three, the families of those local UN staff. Other Timorese who are seeking refuge here in the UN compound, at least several thousand of them, will apparently be abandoned by the UN, according to the current plan. And it certainly appears the other Timorese throughout the territory will also be abandoned.

Right now, in the compound, just now outside the window, there was gunfire. There was some kind of concussion, some kind of explosion. I don’t know what it was. Many Timorese are weeping, as are many of the Westerners. Many people here say — and I agree — that this will mean death for many, perhaps a majority, of these Timorese in the compound and certainly many thousands of Timorese across the country. I thought I heard you give a figure of roughly 400 for the UN staff. I believe it’s actually much larger than that. But anyway, in my view, this is a grave mistake by the United Nations. Many people will die as a result.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Allan, have you seen any Indonesian military or Indonesian police? What have they been doing?

ALLAN NAIRN: There are Indonesian military outside the compound. They have the task of guarding it. This morning, I was able to get out of the compound, and I spent three hours walking around Dili, hiding in abandoned homes and seeing what was happening. I believe I’m the only outsider who has been able to get out of the compound and actually see what was happening in Dili today. What I saw was the Aitarak militia, aided by, in some cases, uniformed TNI Indonesian military people, burning homes — the burnings were targeted on the homes of independence supporters — going in and looting homes. Most of the neighborhood I was in, the Vila Verde neighborhood near the National Cathedral downtown, was abandoned. People had fled. Many of the doors were open. I would go from one home to another, hiding whenever I heard an Aitarak motorcycle in the distance. I could see the Kijang trucks, the black blindado widows, occasionally cruising by. These are the vehicles that are typically used by the Intel, the Indonesian military intelligence. I was trying to reach a particular building to get a hold of a satellite phone that had been left for me there. I wasn’t able to, because the building next to the one I was attempting to reach was being burned, and there was a large Aitarak force outside.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Allan Nairn in Dili, East Timor, the only US journalist who is in East Timor now. He is with a group of about twenty other international reporters, the only ones who have decided to stay in East Timor, where the Timorese are under siege at the UN compound, where it’s just been announced that the United Nations is pulling out of East Timor. Allan, can you respond to the martial law that imposed twenty-four hours ago, Kofi Annan saying that they’ll see if the Indonesian regime can bring order to the territory?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, I don’t know what martial law here means, because it’s been under martial law since the invasion in ’75. When I first heard about that announcement, I asked a senior foreign diplomat here what it means. He said he had no idea either. All I can tell you is that during each of the past three days, the terror has escalated on the streets. The militias, the army militias are more active than ever.

Amy and Juan, if you’ll permit me, I would like to now cite from and talk about, in advance, a report that I will be doing for The Nation magazine, they should be releasing very shortly. This report discloses new information, much of it based on classified US and Indonesian documents, regarding the role that the US military has been playing behind the scenes in backing the Indonesian military, as the militia terror has escalated.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Allan. Tell us what these documents say.

ALLAN NAIRN: OK. I’ll read some passages from the forthcoming article, and I will also improvise, if that’s OK. It’s by now clear for most East Timorese and a few Westerners still left here that the militias are a wing of the TNI/ABRI, the Indonesian armed forces. Two days ago, for example, I was picked up by militiamen who turned out to be working for a uniformed colonel of the National Police, and I will describe that experience in a moment.

But there is another important political fact that is not known here or in the international community. Although the US government has publicly reprimanded the Indonesian army for the militias, the US military has, behind the scenes and contrary to US congressional intent, been backing the TNI. US officials say that this April, as militia terror escalated, a top US officer was dispatched to give a message to Jakarta. General Dennis Blair, the US CINCPAC, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific, commander of all US military forces in the Pacific region, was sent to meet with General Wiranto, the Indonesian armed forces commander. Blair’s mission, as one senior US official told me, was to tell Wiranto that the time has come to shut the militia operation down. The gravity of the meeting was heightened when, two days before the sit-down, the militias committed a horrific machete massacre at the Catholic Church in Liquica, Timor. Yayasan HAK, a Timorese human rights group, estimated that many dozens of civilians were murdered. Some of the flesh was reportedly stuck to the walls of the church and a pastor’s house. But as Admiral Blair, fully briefed on Liquica, entered the April 8th meeting with Wiranto, he quickly made clear that he was there to reassure the TNI chief.

According to a classified cable on the meeting circulating at Pacific Command Headquarters in Hawaii, Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance. According to the cable, which was drafted by Colonel Joseph H. Daves, US military attaché in Jakarta, Admiral Blair — and I’m quoting now directly from the confidential cable — quote, “told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time he will resume his proper role as a leader in the region. He invited General Wiranto to come to Hawaii as his guest in conjunction with the next round of bilateral defense discussions in the July, August ’99 time frame. He said Pacific Command is prepared to support a subject matter expert exchange for doctrinal development, and he expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to police and selected TNI personnel on crowd control measures,” end-quote.

Admiral Blair at no point told Wiranto to stop the militia operation. In fact, he went the other way. He invited [Wiranto] to be his personal guest in Hawaii. He told [Wiranto] that the US would initiate this new riot control program of training for the Indonesian armed forces. This was quite significant, because it would be the first new US training program for the Indonesian military since 1992. Though State Department officials had been assured in writing that only police and no military soldiers would be part of this training, Blair, counter to that, told Wiranto that, yes, soldiers could be included. So, although Blair was sent in with the mission of telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, he did the opposite. Indonesian officers I spoke to said Wiranto was delighted by the meeting. They took this as a green light to proceed with the militia operation.

Only reference in the classified cable to the militias was a fifty-five-minute meeting reported on in the cable, was the following, and I’ll read it to you verbatim: “Wiranto was emphatic: as long as East Timor is an integral part of the territory of Indonesia, armed forces have responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the region. Wiranto said the military will take steps to disarm Falintil pro-independence group concurrently with the WANRA militia force. Admiral Blair reminded Wiranto that, fairly or unfairly, the international community looks at East Timor as a barometer of progress for Indonesian reform. Most importantly, the process of change in East Timor could proceed peacefully, he said.” That was it, no admonition. And when Wiranto referred to disarming the WANRA militia force, he was talking about another militia force different from the one than was staging attacks on Timorese civilians.

When word got back to the State Department that Blair had said these things in the meeting, an eyes-only cable was dispatched from the State Department in Washington to [Ambassador] Stapleton Roy at the embassy in Jakarta. The thrust of this cable was to say that what Blair had done was unacceptable, that this must be reversed. As a result of that eyes-only cable from Washington to Roy, a corrective phone call was arranged between General Wiranto and Admiral Blair. That phone call took place on April 18th. I have the official report on that phone call, which was written by Lieutenant Colonel Tom Sidwell, Blair’s aide. According to Sidwell’s account of the phone call, and according to US military officials I spoke to, once again Blair failed to tell Wiranto to shut the militias down. In fact, according to Sidwell’s account, Blair instead permitted Wiranto to make, in essence, a political speech, saying the same thing he had said before.

I’ll quote one passage from the account of Lieutenant Colonel Sidwell: “General Wiranto denies that TNI and the police supported any one group during the incidents,” meaning during the military attacks. “General Wiranto will go to East Timor tomorrow to emphasize three things: one, urge all Timorese, especially the two disputing groups, to solve the problem peacefully with dialog; two, encourage the militia to disarm; three, make the situation peaceful and solve the problem.” At no point did Blair demand that the militias be shut down. And in fact, this call was followed by further escalating militia violence and increases in concrete new US military assistance to Indonesia, including the sending in of a US Air Force trainer just weeks ago to train the Indonesian air force.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to journalist Allan Nairn, who is speaking to us from Dili, East Timor. This is extremely significant information he is putting out about the US military support for the Indonesian military, which is supporting the militias that are, together with the military, rampaging through East Timor. This, as we get word that the United Nations is pulling out of East Timor within the next twenty-four hours, leaving in the compound alone a thousand refugees and leaving the population of East Timor to the Indonesian military and militias. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez in the studio. Allan Nairn in East Timor.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, Allan, in effect, you’re saying that this Admiral Blair —

ALLAN NAIRN: Juan, can you speak louder, please?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. Allan, in effect, you’re saying that Admiral Blair has continued to encourage Wiranto to not shut down these militias, even after the State Department allegedly told him to do so?

ALLAN NAIRN: Yes, that is correct. According to these internal documents, that is what happened at this crucial juncture in April. There is also additional information. The Indonesian military has been using a radio system to transmit orders from Kopassus, from the local KODIN military commands, to the militias. These transmissions, according to Indonesian and Western intelligence officials, have been regularly intercepted by the US National Security Agency and Australian intelligence, some of the work done from their joint surveillance facility in Alice Springs, Australia. There’s an open secret in the top ranks of TNI that their radios and phone lines are listened to by US intelligence. A veteran CIA man told me, “they were aware of the surveillance,” unquote. He told me of a meeting with General Prabowo of Indonesia, in which Prabowo, a close US protégé, remarked, “We know the Americans are listening to everything we say.” The former commander of Indonesian intelligence in Timor told me that he recalled receiving a written [inaudible] from the military staff, saying, quote, “Our communications can be overheard from the Australian and US base.” However, these intercepts have not been used to warn Timorese of pending attacks, even though they have — plans for those attacks have been overheard.

Let me now quote to you from a tape of a conversation between the Kopassus and a militia headquarters. This happened — this conversation took place in a rural zone in occupied Timor.

Kopassus: “Those white people should be put in the river.”
Militia headquarters: “If they want to leave, take them out, kill them and put them in the river.”
Kopassus: “They need to be stopped. The car needs to be stopped.”
Militia headquarters: “It will be done.”
Kopassus: “If they go to” — and I won’t say the place — continuing, “they should send people to close the road.”

Kopassus then told the militia to look for a car of a particular description. The militia then responded, according to the tape, “If we can’t catch them through” the place, “then at the fork at the road, it will be there. We’ll catch them.” Neither US nor Australian authorities informed these foreign monitors of the Kopassus plan to kill them. Likewise, there are no known cases, US officials and Timorese activists say, of the US or Australia using intercepts to warn Timorese civilians of impending TNI militia attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, speaking to us from Dili, East Timor.

ALLAN NAIRN: Please speak louder.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan is speaking to us from Dili, East Timor. I just want to tell our stations we usually break at this point, but I am afraid that we will lose our connection to Allan. It takes hours to get a line into East Timor, and so we are going to suspend the break. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! on community radio stations around the country, as Allan Nairn, an independent journalist and activist who’s remained in East Timor despite the fact that most journalists have left the territory, as Allan Nairn breaks news on Democracy Now!

ALLAN NAIRN: Amy, I’m going to have to get off in a second, so ask me one more question. I’ll give a brief response.

AMY GOODMAN: The Indonesian military, General Wiranto says they’re appointing a new commander for East Timor, as Jakarta faces mounting world pressure. Does that matter? And what are you calling on President Clinton to do, who goes to New Zealand for the APEC summit? What do you think is the solution right now?

ALLAN NAIRN: President Clinton should cut General Wiranto off. He should immediately stop the sales of US ammunition and weapons and the deliveries to Jakarta. I have photographs of Winchester rounds of ammunition that are inside Battalion 74 over here, local infantry, have been given to the militias. There are other US arms that are being shipped in. Clinton should cut that off immediately. He should cut the IMF money off immediately.

A Western military official I spoke with who is here, who has trained the Kopassus, gave the following analysis, which I believe is correct. He said General Wiranto, who controls the militias, is engaged in a plan of brinksmanship. He’s taking it to the brink. He’s seeing how far he can go with the terror, and he will take it to the brink, as long as there are no concrete [inaudible] from Washington and Australia. That is the situation. Clinton should now, at this moment, get on the phone to Wiranto and say, “We’re now freezing all money, we’re freezing all military cooperation, until you stop this terror.”

I have to get off now. I will try to get back in touch with you soon, and when I do, please try to put me on live nationally.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, what are you going to do? How are you going to protect yourself? How are the people —

ALLAN NAIRN: Amy, I don’t think it would be wise for me to answer that question right now, but there are many discussions going on now among — here and the Timorese. Hopefully, before long, I’ll feel more free to answer that question.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Allan, why isn’t President Clinton cutting off the military weapons? What do you think of the UN peacekeepers or non-UN armed forces moving in, as is being discussed right now?

ALLAN NAIRN: I think the key is to cut off Wiranto. I personally would urge all of your callers to now start bombarding the White House and the US Congress, demanding that this be done, because within hours the UN is slated to pull out of here, and the slaughter will begin. I can tell you, from a senior military source, that just today, a senior Indonesian military official told UN military personnel here that as soon as they deal with the refugee situation, meaning as soon as they finish clearing out the Timorese refugees to places like [inaudible], they will then begin military operation. A military official here, a Western official, told me he interpreted this as meaning a cleansing operation, a mass killing. I believe that is correct. I have to get off now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Allan, for being with us. Please take care. Allan Nairn is the last American journalist in East Timor right now. The UN compound, it’s been —

ALLAN NAIRN: I will, and I call on everybody to help. Thank you. Goodbye.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, speaking to us from a phone in Dili, East Timor. Allan has a long history of covering the situation in East Timor, going back a decade. In 1990, '91 and ’94, we went together to East Timor, in ’91 survived the massacre where the Indonesian military opened fire on thousands of defenseless Timorese. They used US weapons, US M-16s. They gunned down more than 250 Timorese, beat us up, fractured Allan's skull with their weapons, put the guns to our heads to kill us, as they killed all the journalists in 1975, when Indonesia first invaded East Timor. I think, ultimately, the reason that they didn’t kill us is because we were from the same country that their weapons were from. And as you can hear Allan’s description of the US military relationship with the Indonesian regime, which is sponsoring the violence in East Timor to this day, that relationship and the weapons flow continues.

We went back to Indonesia in 1994 for the APEC summit, another summit taking place as we speak in New Zealand, where President Clinton is headed. The APEC summit, the summit of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, where Asia Pacific leaders meet along with President Clinton. We, though, were banned from East Timor and Indonesia, allowed back in for that summit to cover Clinton. We later learned he was also visiting with his campaign contributors. NBC had reported that the largest individual single contributor to President Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign was James Riady — James Riady and his father Mochtar Riady, the owners of the Lippo Bank. People may know their names and the Lippo Bank from the campaign finance scandal that came into the news a few years ago and the campaign finance hearings.

That was 1994, when we attempted to get into Timor. We were arrested and interrogated by the Indonesian military, but ultimately got in and met with Bishop Belo, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize and a resistance leader, who at the time said — this is 1994, the US maintaining its close relationship with Indonesian military. The resistance leader in Timor said at the time the torture most commonly used of the Timorese was putting electroshock to their genitals and forcing them to swallow their crucifixes. That was five years ago.

Last year, Allan got back into Indonesia, defying the ban against him. He held a news conference in Jakarta where he released information at the same time that the East Timor Action Network released this information in Washington D.C., documents that showed that the US, despite congressional ban on military training, was training the crack elite troops of the Indonesian military in sniper techniques and other means of going after people, dissidents, Indonesians. We see what happened on the streets of Indonesia in the last year, as tens of thousands of students and others rose up against Suharto, then the dictator, and ultimately ousted him, which has led now to Habibie being the ruler, though clearly the military is the power that remains in control in Indonesia.

Allan returned to Indonesia about four months ago, once again slipping in under the army ban against him. He has been in Indonesia for many months now and then slipped into East Timor, where he has been reporting for us. We’ve been trying to get him on a daily basis to bring you those dispatches from Dili. Over the past weekend, more than a hundred journalists pulled out of East Timor. It’s very clear that the Indonesian military is bringing East Timor back to 1975, when they first invaded, closed the country to the outside world and killed a third of the population. Now, the journalists have been terrorized out of the country. They were scared into leaving by these militias and Indonesian military. And now, once again, we hear that the UN is pulling out entirely, which will leave the Timorese alone with no protection, abandoned to their murderers, to the soldiers that hold the US weapons and weapons from other countries like Britain and Australia, and leaving them to — well, we know what fate. I was going to say, “who knows what fate,” because for the last quarter of a century, a third of the population has been killed. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. And, Amy, I’ve been increasingly outraged as a journalist, seeing the coverage in some of the major publications and the networks in this country of the East Timor situation. In today’s New York Times, for instance, Seth Mydans, their correspondent out there, has a, quote, “news analysis” of the situation, where he — his analysis, basically he seems perplexed as to what is behind this terror of these Indonesian — of these militias in East Timor. He says that it doesn’t seem to make much sense to observers, because they don’t seem to have any clearly definable aims. Well, the reality is —- I have to tell you right now, I’m amazed that the editors of the New York Times have kept this guy reporting from Asia, because of some of the outrageous things he’s said. For instance, it was just a few weeks ago, he was reporting that the Timorese were cultivating the sense of victimization. I don’t remember the exact words -—

AMY GOODMAN: It was painful, Juan. It was, after twenty-four years of war and propaganda, something like, Seth Mydans said, “the Timorese know how to play the well-intentioned victim.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, he, of course, as soon as the violence escalated, got his tail out of East Timor and is now reporting safely from Jakarta while people are being killed. And yet, he had the audacity to say that they were the ones who are cultivating this image of themselves as victims. If they were cultivating such an image of victims, why isn’t he in Dili right now reporting on this? You know, and this is a continued problem. Today, he says, for instance, that the United States would not think of invading in East Timor, because Indonesia, after all, is the world’s fourth largest country, is a very important country, and East Timor is insignificant within international relations. That thousands of people conceivably are being massacred right now and that he says that this country is insignificant is such arrogance and audacity on his part that it doesn’t seem to me that he qualifies as a professional journalist. And I think that these are some of the problems. We’ve seen it before. We’ve seen it with Howard French of the New York Times in Haiti. We’re seeing it with Larry Rohter of the New York Times in Latin America right now. These people who do not dare get themselves in any trouble when they’re covering these events but manage to parrot official government releases. It’s a scandal that it continues.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, we’re going to try now to go live to a news conference that’s being held at the National Press Club as we speak. Jose Ramos-Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from East Timor. Let’s see if we can hear it. There’s terrible static on the line.

I don’t think that we can go to this because of the static that’s on the line. Jose Ramos-Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been speaking out on behalf of his country for the last twenty-four years. He left East Timor just days before the Indonesian military — chosen by his people to go to the United Nations to represent their case. He represented the East Timorese for more than a decade at the United Nations, as he tried to plead their cause, but he had very powerful enemies at the United Nations, namely in the form of one ambassador, the US ambassador at the time to the United Nations, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who boasted in his memoirs about the US policy towards Indonesia and East Timor.

At the time, the UN Security Council had passed resolution after resolution calling on Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor without delay. US now-Senator Patrick Moynihan, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, wrote that he prevented action from taking place with, quote, “no inconsiderable success.” […]

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