Jun 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:50 AM, Jun 24, 2024

Brother killing brother

The East Timorese resistance movement also committed crimes.

Gerry van Klinken

In early January 1976, as Indonesian troops were advancing into Lospalos in the east of the country, members of Fretilin summarily executed 37 civilians in the hamlet of Kooleu whom they feared they might co-operate with Indonesia. ‘I was tied to my older brother,’ said a survivor named Angelo Araujo Fernandes. ‘At about 10 am they began to shoot us and a bullet hit my older brother. The two of us were lifted three to four metres into the air before we fell into a gorge so that the rope that held us together broke. I immediately ran with my hands tied behind me while my friends, including my father and two older siblings, were shot … In 24 years, I still have not been able to reclaim my family. I want to know who sent [the troops] … to kill my family.'

The most painful part of the CAVR report for the East Timorese concerns the abuses, described in excruciating detail, committed by the East Timorese resistance against their own people. It must have been tempting for the CAVR to play them down and the fact that it did not is testimony to its moral integrity. At a remarkable public hearing in December 2003, leaders of political parties spoke about some of the abuses by their own party members, and bravely apologised to the East Timorese public. What were they apologising for? This article sums up some of the key new evidence in the CAVR report.

In nearly 30 per cent of killings of civilians reported to the commission, institutional responsibility was attributed to resistance groups and pro-independence forces. This shocking statistic is perhaps not quite enough to overturn the picture of one-sided Indonesian violence against the East Timorese. The killings do not include the far larger number of famine deaths caused ‘primarily’ by Indonesian forces, but it does radically undermine the view that the resistance was basically non-violent.

Human rights abuses by East Timorese political parties fall into four main categories. First came the ‘internal armed conflict’ following the ‘armed movement’ by UDT on 11 August 1975. The figures suggest about a thousand people were killed during August-September, perhaps mostly party militants but certainly including innocent civilians. Both UDT and Fretilin committed massacres at this time. For example, the UDT killed 11 Fretilin youths on a beach in Manufahi on 28 August, while Fretilin killed seven UDT supporters in Letefoho, Ermera, on 15 September. The disastrous resort to violence by political parties continues to echo in Dili’s politics today, because several then-leaders are once more in power today. Although by December 1975 the situation had stabilised under Fretilin control, the violence was the pretext for the Indonesian intervention.

Second were mass executions by Fretilin against their political prisoners upon the Indonesian invasion of 7 December 1975. As Fretilin forces withdrew into the hills south of Dili they began systematically to execute prisoners who had belonged to UDT and Apodeti. They were blamed for having invited Indonesia to invade. Fretilin leaders had been threatening since September to do this should Indonesia invade. A running series of executions in Aileu, Maubisse and Same in December and January took the lives of several hundred people, many of them important leaders.

Third were killings of Fretilin leaders at the losing end of leadership disputes over policy or ideology while they were together in the mountains. The best known of those executed between late 1976 and late 1977 included Aquiles Freitas Soares (Quelicai), Francisco Hornay (Iliomar), Jose da Silva (Fatubessi), and the supporters of Francisco Xavier do Amaral (Turiscai), who were executed in great numbers.

Fourth was the imprisonment and execution of ordinary civilians under the Fretilin regime in the mountains, many of whom had been accused of indiscipline or treason. Under increasingly difficult conditions, particularly in 1978, more and more people wanted to surrender to Indonesian control, or were accused of the desire.

Once the population had all surrendered, the resistance became a guerrilla movement without civilians to look after. Abuses against civilians by the resistance declined sharply, a fact borne out by the CAVR statistics. Whereas 49 per cent of documented killings and disappearances in 1975 were attributed to Fretilin, that percentage declined to 17 per cent between 1976 and 1984, to 4 per cent between 1985 and 1998, and then to 0.6 per cent in 1999. The proportion attributed to Indonesian forces and their auxiliaries increased correspondingly over that same period.

The CAVR has recommended the investigation and prosecution of several of these historical cases, which it regards as ‘exemplary and of critical importance in terms of the scale and nature of the human rights violations which occurred’. ii

Gerry van Klinken (editor@insideindonesia.org) is a member of the IRIP Board.

‘Death stalked us’

When the Indonesian military attacked the Uaimori base in September 1978, the people first fled further south, walking all the way to the Natarbora Plain, just south of the village of Umaboco (Barique, Manatuto). Many people were killed when they were attacked during this journey. Those in the Vemasse group who survived this attack turned north towards their home village, but were captured by Hansip and ABRI at Osso Ala (Vemasse, Baucau). Indonesian armed forces took them to Bucoli (Baucau, Baucau).

Cosme Freitas from Vemasse (Baucau) described the terror and anguish of those on the run from Indonesian military attacks in 1978: ‘When we evacuated from Uaimori, people began to die from starvation or illness. As we walked, death stalked us. Death was behind us as we walked, and people died. Not only old people, but children, died through lack of food. The old people walked, their strength all gone, carrying just one maek [a species of tuber], or a kumbili [sweet yam] and a little water in a bamboo container on their backs. This is how many of us died. The dead were scattered all along the way [from Uamori to Natarbora]. Others died from the mortars, 80 to 100 a day. We wanted to bury them, but the enemy kept shooting, so how could we bury them? We ran on. An old woman said: ‘Please my son, dig a hole to bury my child’s body.’ We dug a hole, but less than half a metre deep. Before lowering the little angel into the hole we wrapped it in a mat to the sound of continuing gunfire. How could we bury it? We bent our heads and buried it with our hands. Those we could, we buried, otherwise they were left behind. How can we now find their bones? They rotted just as they were. We saw seven or eight people were sitting while leaning against a tree. They leaned against the tree and died like that. Flies and dogs were around them. In our hearts we were terrified.’

Chega! Chapter 7.3, Forced displacement and famine, §139.


East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao belittled their ‘grandiose idealism’. Foreign Minister Ramos Horta called them ‘outlandish’. They are the hottest item in the CAVR report. Morally, the recommendations are the bottom line. This is where the report shines its brightest light on the bloody history of the conflict.

The report does not pretend they are easy to implement. They are intended as a long-term project. Their aim is to prevent future violence, in East Timor and elsewhere in the world, to reconcile former enemies, and to rebuild the lives of victims. And for the victims, nothing less will do. A quick grab from the 45 pages of recommendations.

To the world:

* Read the CAVR report! Especially those countries named in it, like Australia.

* Hand over your East Timor archives, so the East Timorese can learn their history. Australia is thought to have removed vast quantities of documents during peacekeeping in 1999. Give them back!

* Help pay reparations to victims. This goes for members of the UN Security Council, and for businesses that profited from arms sales.

* Apologise formally to East Timor for your support of the Indonesian occupation.

* Help prosecute Indonesian military officers named in the report, by refusing visas to indicted officers and freezing bank accounts, until their innocence is proven.

To Indonesia:

* Table the CAVR report in parliament, and use it to correct national school history textbooks.

* Visit East Timor and apologise to victims.

To Timor Leste:

* Honour the dead, by memorialising sites of torture and killings, exhuming graves, making a national register of the disappeared, and holding annual commemorations of the 1977–79 famine.

* Political parties, continue to solemnly renounce violence.

* Build human rights into the military, police, prisons, and law courts.

* On the question of justice, the recommendations take more care to be achievable.

They urge the UN to strengthen existing justice mechanisms, especially the Serious Crimes Unit (which is in fact being dismantled) and not to give up the idea of an international tribunal to cover the whole period of 1974–99 and not just 1999.

Based on Chega! Part 11, Recommendations.

Inside Indonesia 87: Jul-Sep 2006

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