Published: Jul 30, 2007

An Indonesian eyewitness to the East Timor tragedy pleads for compassion.

Interview with Yeni Rosa Damayanti

Booing filled the auditorium of the Menara Peninsula Hotel in Jakarta. They were booing Yeni Rosa Damayanti, saying she was 'non-nationalistic', 'without love' for Indonesia, because she had given evidence of the burning of East Timor. One participant in the public debate on post-ballot East Timor, held by the think-tank Cides on 15 September, came to the microphone and accused her of disgracing Indonesia before the world. For Yeye - Damayanti's nickname - it was not the first time. Someone circulated an email headed: 'Do you know who the nation's traitors are?' Yeye was second on the list. The first was Hendardi, director of the legal aid institute PBHI. How did Yeye react to all this?

People just now thought you were too angry. What do you say to them?

I was in Dili until September 11, with seven friends from the independent Indonesian monitoring group Kiper. We saw the people of Timor, adults and children alike, being killed. Their houses looted, then burnt down. Anyone would be angry if they saw humanity trampled like that. Even now, the soul of a whole nation is being murdered.

You mean pro-independence East Timorese?

I mean the nation of Timor Leste. The killings are regardless of the victims' political views. I can prove that. Straight after the announcement of the ballot result on September 4, militias from Barisan Merah Putih (Red and White Front) and Aitarak were going around Dili carrying M-16, SS-1 and homemade guns, as well as machetes. At first it was just psy-war. But then the shooting was aimed directly at the townspeople. They attacked suburbs such as Taibesi and Becora and razed them to the ground. Massive burning took place on September 6 and 7. In just two days, Dili was reduced to ashes.

In a press conference yesterday you mentioned the army's involvement....

Yes. Where did those M-16 and SS-1 rifles come from? And the police and military (TNI) clearly let the militias burn. Militias looted a shopping centre and one managed to find a spring bed. Do you know how they took it away? On an army truck. Before the militias attacked a suburb, police came and announced it would soon be controlled by pro-autonomy forces. 'Residents out or be killed.' This also happened to Kiper. Our Dili office constantly had to move, because the area was being attacked. In the end Kiper's office was also looted and burnt down.

Did you see any shooting between militias and pro-independent supporters?

This is what needs to be clarified. Not a single bullet was fired between the two groups. This was entirely about terror and killing carried out by just one force and supported by the Indonesian military.

There are 800,000 East Timorese. Only about 130,000 have gone to West Timor. Where are the rest?

Some were killed, and more than 500,000 chose to flee to the mountains of East Timor. This is what I'm worried about. Three hundred children in Ermera are facing death by starvation. There is no food for them.

Why didn't they go to the refugee camps already prepared for them in Atambua in West Timor?

All the refugees to West Timor had to sign a letter saying they were pro-autonomy. And TNI guarded the town borders. They would ask: 'Where are you heading?' If they were refugees, they were sent along a special route that no one else was allowed to use. My friends and I tried to follow the same route. The soldiers asked: Refugees? My friend said: No. We were forbidden to go that way. I don't imagine the army will help the refugees. I demand that Timor Leste be opened to humanitarian aid for those in the mountains.

Military intelligence SGI was out looking for you. How did you pass the blockade?

The order was indeed to get Yeni Rosa Damayanti. But the militias and the soldiers didn't know what I looked like. SGI were not just looking for me. Also for the East Timorese students now in hiding in various places.

In the debate just now, some thought you were not nationalistic enough.

TNI kills people in Timor Leste, Aceh, Papua, Tanjung Priok. Why doesn't anyone say they are not nationalistic enough? If people say TNI kill to preserve Indonesian nationhood, the integrity of the nation, then in my view our concept of nationalism is chauvinistic, fascist and expansionist. I've had enough of it, if that is the case.

Many demonstrations in Jakarta reject interference by other countries on nationalistic grounds.

Yes, I have heard that our flag was burnt in Australia and this led to demonstrations. Including demonstrations by students. I myself don't agree with flag burning. But we need to consider two things carefully. One is the humanitarian perspective. Don't turn away from this. TNI not only failed to protect the citizens of East Timor, they themselves became agents of violence. We have to see the cause of foreign interference. Secondly, we have all been manipulated to accept the military concept of nationalism. Throughout the Suharto era we fought against words that had become synonymous with power. Why do we still want to regurgitate a militaristic nationalism that is anti-humanitarian?

This interview was recorded just before Interfet troops landed in East Timor. It appeared in Xpos ( of 19-25 September 1999. Rani Ambiyo was the translator. Yeni Rosa Damayanti (, is a well-known human rights activist. Under Suharto she spent time in gaol as well as in exile to the Netherlands. James Goodman describes Kiper in an article in Inside Indonesia no.59, July-September 1999.


Inside Indonesia 61: Jan - Mar 2000
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