Information und Analyse

East Timor: A predictable disaster

20. September 1999

By Jörg Meier in Dili / Darwin / Jakarta *

TStop Killing Kampung Alorhe “worst case scenario” has become reality. After an overwhelmingly majority of the East Timorese people voted against the solution of wide range autonomy under Indonesia, the situation in the eastern half of Timor, which was annexed by Indonesia in 1975, went totally out of control. At least that’s the say. Even president Habibie confessed that Indonesia alone isn’t able to control the situation any more. Sunday evening the German educated technocrat announced in Jakarta, that international peacekeeping troops will be accepted by Indonesia. He stressed, that this troops should consist of friendly nations. Therewith he indirectly questioned the participation of Australia, the USA and a couple of other nations. In spite of this restriction it was inferable from the fossilized faces of his ministers, that they are everything else but lucky with this decision. But wasn’t it already a certain kind of control from Indonesia, not to be willing to control anarchistic chaos?

The perverse cold-blooded brutality of pro-indonesian militias, steered by the indonesian military, rules the worlds headlines. The total number of various victims is unforeseeable at this point in time. Pro-integration figure Lopes da Cruz predicted, that blood will drop in an outcome for autonomy, but flow in the case of independence. He was probably well aware what he was talking about. Though often reported, there have hardly been any clashes between pro- and anti independence groups. What’s happening now is that leaders and supporters of the independence party CNRT are systematically liquidated in the East- and West Timorese territory. Unconfirmed reports speak about thousands of deaths. The refugee situation, that hasn’t been realised by anyone in it’s whole range yet, approaches dimensions which are compared with Kosovo by international diplomats. More than a third of the 850.000 people that stayed in East Timor before the announcement of the public consultations outcome are homeless. Many participants in the vote have apparently been forced to confess and sign that they’ve been farfetched to vote against wide ranging autonomy. Almost all international presence has been chased out of East Timor like a swarm of nasty flies. Evacuated by the Royal Australian Air Force to Darwin, crying people are horrified by the mess they just left behind, while the militias bottomless violence keeps escalating. Disgracing for the UN, that armed militias now patrol parts of Timor in UNAMET cars they stole from the Dili compound. Even in the West Timorese capital Kupang some of the few remaining journalists have been attacked from UN-vehicles last weekend. A reason to assume, that the situation in West Timor dramatically worsens after the arrival of international troops in the eastern part of the island. Peacekeeping troops are only allowed in East Timor, though the mayhem, as these indications show, very possibly swifts over to the western half of Timor as well. International aid organisations which might have hoped to intervene via the detour through West Timor, will soon be confronted with furious Indonesian reality.

The diplomatic hurdles of sending international peacekeeping troops to East Timor are broken now. But still it is neither possible to undo the faults of the past, nor to prevent the consequences of the near future. Certainly the UN carried out the public consultation as planned, but already in the run-up period of the UNAMET-Mission eyes have been closed for predictable effects. Not at least caused by an opportunistic, criminal negligence towards Indonesia, the world now faces a humanitarian catastrophe, which many refused to foresee despite clear signals. A disaster, which reflects the bloodthirsty history of Indonesian occupation and the crucial process of transition towards an independent future. As well a disaster, that indicates the tremendous risks this huge archipelago, at present trapped in a circumstance of political power vacuum, has to overcome to legalise its integrity. Not an uncontrollable disaster though, but one, that looks as it was wanted and planned by elements of the Indonesian government and military. And not at least a disaster, that once again puts the UN into a more than doubtful role in the worlds public. The rash UN announcement concerning a possible prosecute of the bloodbath’s responsibilities by an international martial tribunal might even increase the killings in East Timor, since any witness has to be removed.

Ian MartinWhen Ian Martin, chief of the UNAMET-Mission, the 4th of September declared in Dili what has been announced by Kofi Annan in New York the same time, one could have assumed, that the East Timorese would burst out in an euphoric wave of triumph and joy. Almost a quarter of a century it has been fighting against its existence under the bloody wings of Indonesia The reality, as the world knows, is despite the clear outcome of the vote, in which 78,5 % or 344.580 of the eligible East Timorese voted against a wide range autonomy, very different. The cathedral of Dili, which is usually overcrowded on Sunday morning messes, wasn’t even half-full after the day of the historic announcement. In the facial expressions of people it was readable, what would happen during the forthcoming days. The people of East Timor face a similar circumstance of trauma as it did 1975. With adorable courage and regardless of their tragic history, even defying all the intimidation in the run-up time of the ballot day, they expressed their sincere will of independence from the ambivalent “Indonesian Tyrant”. Hard to grasp which humiliating feeling of complete demoralization it must be for them now, that even their Peace Nobel Laureate Bishop Belo left them behind after, in spite of different promises, almost all international presence has been scared away.

What has been happening in East Timor during the last couple of days is not just a crime against the East Timorese, but a crime against humanity. Attacks against the international red cross, hospitals, ecclesiastical instances up to personal assault against the bishops and even the presence of the United Nations, can’t be justified with anything. Even martial law, as it was declared by the commander of the Armed Forces, General Wiranto last Tuesday, can’t change this fact. Albeit hypocritical statements of Jakarta’s politicians, even days after the announcement of martial law the streets of Dili face apocalyptic conditions. Nobody hardly has a clue what it looks like in the interior of East Timor, since it is cut off from the world. The communication network partly collapsed. Just occasional reports of further massacres reach the outside world. The murder of Father Hilario and some of the 6.000 refugees he gathered on the church compound of Suai, or the mass execution of refugees in Dare, a village in the southern hills of Dili, are just parts of a terrific puzzle that will probably never be fit together. Satellite phone calls from the FALINTIL, reporting on huge amounts of children dying due to food shortage, and satellite pictures of the main refugee areas which have been taken recently, indicate a horrible situation on the ground.

Charismatic independence leader Xanana Gusmão, who has been released from prison last week Tuesday, the same day martial law was announced, is deeply shocked by these developments. Even his 83 year old father has been killed in Dili last week. As well Gusmão, who temporarily shelters in the British Embassy in Jakarta, as Bishop Belo and East Timor’s second Nobel Price Laureate, East Timors shadow minister of foreign affairs, José Ramos Horta, appeal to the international community. They demand immediate international measures to avoid another genocide in East Timor.

If the responsibilities would have shown a serious interest, the horror of these days would have been preventable, or at least limitable, by a premature analysis of political reality in East Timor and appropriate steps. It was already in early July, that a secret report, written by the Indonesian Task force, leaked. The Task Force was a committee which has been given the assignment to observe UNAMET activities and secure the public consultation. The mentioned paper itself was a report about the situation on ground, addressed to the ministry of political security. The report, which authenticity is denied by Jakarta, states in Indonesian officialese what has to be done if Opsi 1, the option of wide ranging autonomy, fails. If this report really originates from the Task Force or was just another manoeuvre of the militaries secret service remains unclear. Obvious however is, that this report as well as long existing rumours about a big “wipe out” haven’t been taken serious enough by anybody. Another indication for the conscientious planning of the current chaos is the emergence process of pro-indonesian militia groups. For sure there have always been serious supporters of integration among the East Timorese. But the militia-organisations, who are mainly blamed for the recent mess, aren’t a historical phenomenon.

Autonomy rally Oecussi 1999Though there has been a kind of pro-integration militia formation in the early eighties, the first of the recently active militia-groups, Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron), has been initiated in late December last year. Others followed, after President Habibie’s on January the 27th announced the surprising possibility of a public consultation in East Timor. Numerous of the recruits of these militia-associations, which adorn themselves with names as Aitarak (Thorn), Sakanur (Scorpion), Mahidi (Life or Dead for Integration) have once been fighting on the other side. Exemplary for this is the commander of Dili’s Aitarak militia, Eurico Guterres. In November 1991, he was one of the participants in the demonstration, which should find it’s grievous end on the Santa-Cruz cemetery in Dili. The massacre, that brought East Timor in the worlds headlines those days. Equipped with money, power, weapons and privileges, Eurico meanwhile became a political issue. A mixture of above mentioned components together with intimidation, drugs and alcohol, employed for an ideological conversion of naiv, uneducated elements of low social classes, brought up these militia groups. Many of these pro-indonesian militias have even been mobilized from other parts of Indonesia, especially the West Timorese cities of Atambua, Kefemanahu and Kupang, as well as from the island of Alor and even parts from South-Sulawesi. However, their initiators merely use them as a mean to serve their purposes. As an excuse to justify the current terror.

Indonesia is a land of rumours. But many indications support the idea that the powerbrokers of this militia groups are hardliners from the inner cirle Indonesian military, which made their careers in East Timor. Though the militaries intention to weaken Habibie is lucid, it is hard to judge in how far the decision making takes place in Jakarta or on the ground during these crucial times. CNRT sources say that the disputable Ex-KOPASSUS (Special Forces) and KOSTRAD (Strategic Reserve of the Army) commander Prabowo Subianto, who officially is in Jordan since his suspension after Jakarta’s May riots last year, has been seen in East Timor in November 1998. He would at least have appropriate power, connections and privileges, but there is no concrete proof to confirm this accusation. A matter of fact however is, that Kiki Syahnakri, a former military commander of East Timor and Zacky Anwar, an earlier chief of intelligence, have key positions. Both have been seen at several places in East Timor after early April’s Liquisa massacre and the attack against the house of pro-independence figure Manuel Carrascalão. Representative from the intellectual circles of CNRT assume that these man and their followers are the initiators of the current horror-scenario.

Zacky Anwar has been appointed as head of evacuation from East Timor early last week, whereas Syahnakri has been declared as responsible for the reestablishment of law and order. Though there is a presence of more than 26.000 troops in East Timor by now, such a reestablishment of normal daily life seems far from reality at the moment. It becomes more and more obvious, that military and militias work hand in hand, profiting from the weak position of police in East Timor, which is officially responsible for security. Meanwhile, until Monday, politicians in the diplomatic corridors of Jakarta struggled for each day which would prevent a prematurely arrival of international peacekeeping troops.

The ministers in DiliForeign Minister Alatas and Army chief Wiranto repeatedly stressed Indonesia’s would accept international help to overcome the refugees crisis, but doubted Indonesia’s will to receive international peacekeeping troops. Just after an UN delegation visited the ruins of Dili last weekend, Jakarta found itself in a position to relent. This hesitation, which hasn’t been cracked until a telephone conversation between Kofi Annan and Habibie on Sunday afternoon, has good reasons.

Jakarta has much to loose these days. Historically and politically East Timor is a special case. From an economic point of view it has always been a burden for Indonesia. But even other provinces, as Aceh, Irian Jaya and the Moluccas, which are rich in raw materials, have recently been scenes of independence struggles or religious unrest in the case of the Molucca islands. All these trouble spots endanger the national integrity of Indonesia. Besides this danger, which is even determined among admired opposition figures as presidential laureates Megawati Sukarnoputri or Gus Dur, the case of Indonesia includes another phenomena which impedes a fast solution for East Timor. Refrained from internal political moves for which the East Timor issue is used, there are other crucial factors. President Habibie has always been an unpopular actor in the eyes of the military. Caused by the inability of the army to secure the situation in East Timor, his position distinctly weakened. Exactly this seems to be the militarie’s aim, since it was Habibie’s fault that they would loose their face in case of East Timorese independence. Analysed in the context of Javanese mythology and Suharto’s power structure of the New Order, it is understandable that the Indonesian military doesn’t want to leave East Timor behind in a state of victory. There are rumours about options to fissure East Timor by a withdrawal of all pro-indonesian militias to the western parts of East Timor. Such a withdrawal, it seems, could be realised in a couple of days. With the back up of the military the attempt to tie up parts of western East Timor territory with West Timor doesn’t look impossible. However, the “wipe out” is almost done, and because of diplomatic and logistic hurdles there remain at least an other couple of days until the arrival of first peacekeeping troops. Enough time, to eliminate the last rest of those people, who made a fool of Indonesia in a way it could never imagine. And long enough as well to get rid of most of the proofs of the recent terror. East Timor could be handed over to international troops in a state that leaves sufficient space for Indonesian’s interpretation of the current events.

Furthermore it has to be considered, that the consultative assembly of Indonesia still has to pass a resolution on the acknowledgement of the public consultations outcome. Two months remain, until the new assembly, which was determined through the final result of June’s national elections, holds its general meeting. Besides the vote on the upcoming president, the assembly officially has to decide about the legality of the vote result. Unofficially the near future of East Timor seems to be decided anyway. It is almost ironic that peacekeeping troops are about to arrive sooner or later, since there is no more peace to keep. As long as they will not face major assaults by the Indonesian army, their main challenge will be the psychological overcome of the people’s trauma and to rebuilt the ruins of Timor Lore Sae, as the East Timorese call their land. The crucial question on the sense of last days insanity can’t be answered in a short resume. Analysed against the background of Indonesia’s political situation, the East Timor problem is very complex. The military however has competed its mission. It has saved its face in the majority of Indonesia’s 210 million inhabitants. It has taken revenge and given the Indonesian people an example for the dark scenario that might take place in other provinces with similar ambitions as East Timor. Just today the Indonesian security had an another show off. Police officers shot at peaceful demonstrators in Jakarta, while they demanded an end of military violence in East Timor. Despite the official process of reformation and liberation in Indonesia, the archipelago is indeed on its way back to the military stronghold of former days. Regardless of the constitutional people’s sovereignty, generals and government act against, and not in interest of the people’s rights all over the country.

Until the forgotten eastern half of Timor will recover from the current trauma, a new generation will be grown up. May be a generation, that similar of the Timorese youth of today, will continue the struggle of its fallen parents. A generation which grows up in the firm belief, that a difficult and poor independence carried out in dignity, is a worthwhile option. Far preferable to the option of permanent paternalism and suppression. However, many diplomats all over the world will be grateful that they don’t have to spent any more of their valuable time with this unprofitable dilemma.

* The author of this article is a student of South East Asian Studies who studied several years in Indonesia. Since 1995 he visited East Timor four times and has been to all 13 districts of the former Portuguese colony. During the last months he was a member of the biggest international observer project in East Timor.

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