May 29, 2023 Last Updated 3:00 AM, May 26, 2023

The Indonesian who joined Falintil

Published: Jul 29, 2007

M Nasir, interviewed by Nug Katjasungkana

Where are you from?

I was born in Bali in 1975. My parents named me Ketut Narto. I was the youngest of three. My parents died when I was still small, and my two siblings disappeared until the present day. I became a street kid. Then I met a policeman who adopted me. He changed my name to Muhammad Nasir. But in the forest among the guerrillas my name is Klik Mesak, which means 'odd-ball' since I was the only Indonesian. When my father was sent to Baucau, Timor Lorosae, he took me with him. In Baucau I finished my primary school in 1990. I then moved to Dili where I studied as far as year two in senior high school.

How did you become involved in the Timor Lorosae freedom struggle?

When I moved to Timor Lorosae there were very few outsiders. I mixed with the local kids. I became attracted by the struggle. The Indonesian government said East Timor was the youngest province, the 27th. So then why was there always trouble here? I wanted to know. I read a history book. West Timor (Kupang) was colonised by the Dutch, East Timor by the Portuguese. Indonesia was the former Dutch colony. It can't just take East Timor. Perhaps if it was a federation. I feel Indonesia robbed others of their rights. I wouldn't want anyone to take away my rights. What's mine is mine, no one else can have it.

Most of my friends supported independence. Some were active in the clandestine movement. In 1995 Maun Afonso, my adopted older brother and an independence supporter, took me to Fatubessi. All the villagers there up to the village head were independence supporters. The people were suspicious when they saw us. Who are these strangers coming here? This village often got visits from Rajawali [Kopassus] troops. When I asked the village head about it, he said, 'Just the way it is, this is an operations area'.

After some time I met a Falintil member called Mau Kulit, who followed Comandante Dudu of North Sector, Region 4. After that the villagers stopped being suspicious of me. I became an estafeta [runner] for Falintil, whose job was to carry letters, food, look for information and so on. I lived in Fatubessi and became a primary school teacher. Some of my ex-students are now in junior high school.

What made you decide to fight for Timor Lorosae's independence?

In 1995 my step-father was transferred to Oecussi to become the deputy police commander there. I stayed behind in Dili with the West Dili police chief, a Javanese man from Trenggalek whom I called 'Uncle'. But I often mixed with the 'naughty boys' at the markets and the bus terminal. I made more and more friends. Some were in the clandestine. So were most of my Baucau friends. One day in Dili in 1995, a pro-independence demonstration happened near my school. All the school kids joined in, from five different senior high schools. A fight broke out with the new-comer kids from outside Timor Lorosae. I had a rock and threw it. It happened to hit a policeman who knew me. He looked at me and threatened: 'Look out, you be careful!' I was afraid and ran away. When I got home at night, my room was locked from the outside. I went in by the window and took my graduation certificate. Then I stayed with a friend in Kampung Alor. I became scared and confused when I heard the news on the radio about a disappearance, mentioning my name. I wasn't game to go home, and I also didn't want to cause trouble for the people who had adopted me. If I went back, my step-father would certainly be punished because his adopted kid was in a pro-independence demo.

That's when I got to know Maun Afonso, who took me to live in his family's house in Fatubessi, the pro-independence village where the resistance made me an estafeta. From two Falintil members named Mario Kempes and Leo Timur I got military lessons like how to attack an enemy fortified position. I learned how to shoot guns like the Mauser, M-16, AR-16, G-3 and the SKS. I can use a machine gun.

In 1997 Falintil decided to launch attacks against TNI posts everywhere the day before the election. The TNI were saying Falintil no longer existed. If there was no gunfire it would prove that indeed Falintil was finished. In Fatubessi, the job went to the youths (juventude). I was a juventude leader. We just had three grenades. Our targets were the TNI post, the house of the village chief, and a shop owned by the Catholic catechist. The village chief and the catechist were our own people. We attacked them with a grenade without pulling the pin. So they were safe. TNI didn't suspect them because they were among our targets. TNI shot off an enormous amount of ammunition. But none of us were hit. After that the soldiers arrested a lot of youths and tortured them. I wasn't arrested because they didn't suspect me. I was a primary school teacher.

I became a member of Falintil in 1998. At that time leaders of the struggle like Region 4 Comandante Ular and Regional Secretary Riak Leman and others went from village to village. I was active in those meetings too. After that I spent most of my time at the Falintil command. When many of the villagers fled because of intimidation from the [pro-Indonesian] Besi Merah Putih militia, my friends and I sent food. When the militias began to act up in Liquia, I was often sent to Liquia town to meet with pro-independence youths. When the clash occurred between Besi Merah Putih and the youths in Liquia on 4 April 1999, I was in town. That night I joined a sub-regional meeting with the Region 4 Deputy Secretary Qouliati. The next day an attack occurred against the Liquia church. The youths were only armed with arrows and swords. But the militias had automatic weapons. Behind them were the TNI also with automatic weapons. I wasn't in the church so I was OK. I tried to contact the Falintil command to ask them to send troops to stop the militias and TNI at the church. But news came from the city that should Falintil become involved all those still in the church and those taken to the military base by the militias/ TNI would be killed. So Falintil didn't come down.

After that I went back to Maun Afonso's house in Fatubessi. They thought I had died in the church. Maun Afonso suggested I not leave the village. 'If you're safe, we're safe. If anyone comes looking for you, I'll say "Nasir has gone home to Bali."' After that I stayed at Falintil command. Things improved once Unamet arrived. I was able to go out and buy food and clothes for the guerrillas. On the day of the referendum I was at the command post, while my guerrilla friends voted.


Did any other Indonesians become guerrillas or join the underground resistance against the Indonesian occupation?

Jeffry, from Atambua in East Nusa Tenggara, now lives in Ermera. He used to be a Falintil member in Region 4 under Comandante Sabis. Ahmad, from Bima (Sumbawa), also lives in Ermera now. He was an estafeta since the 1980s. Lots of others quietly supported the movement by donating stuff to the clandestine. Ramlan, for example, from Sumatra. He is dead. Lots of them I don't know where they are.

What do you think of Indonesian soldiers?

I don't have vengeful feelings. What I don't like are the abuses they commit. Just imagine, we are the hosts here, and they come and step on us continually. I don't like that. The soldiers come to Timor Leste on instructions from their superiors to look for Falintil guerrillas. But the ones they arrest are just ordinary young people, uneducated and who don't speak Indonesian. Maybe they're carrying a small knife or a machete. Men in Timor Lorosae always carry a knife. They were sometimes tortured to death. Instead of going up into the forest, soldiers told to go and find Falintil would just go into the villages. They took peoples' cattle, chickens. Those who protested were called rebels.

Indonesia said they wanted to root out evil communists. But those doing the rooting out were even worse. They even attacked a place of worship like the church in Liquia. Before I joined the independence movement I often saw Indonesian cruelty. When I was still living at the West Dili police station I saw the police arrest innocent people. During interrogation they would torture them so bad that they confessed. That's not good.

It's true that Indonesia brought development even to remote areas. But many officials were corrupt. What was wrong they called right, what was right they called wrong. That's what made people dissatisfied. I didn't like it either.

I think that if after the referendum Indonesia had given up Timor Lorosae properly, without giving weapons to the militias, the Timorese would have been very grateful to Indonesia. That one Indonesian act not only caused great loss to the people of Timor Lorosae but also to the people of Indonesia. The money was wasted on militias when the Indonesian people needed it very much.

What are your hopes for the future of Timor Lorosae?

For me the important thing is that people should be safe and there should be justice. If I'm allowed I want to live in Timor Lorosae. I have a wife and she is pregnant with our first child.

Right now I feel my rights have not been fulfilled. Almost all my ex-Falintil friends who weren't accepted into the Timor Lorosae armed forces were given US$500 in assistance, but I didn't. I was sick for the test so didn't get in. I know we didn't fight to get this or that job, but for our independence and our rights. But it's strange all the same.

For little people like myself, the important thing for the future is that the people have enough to eat and enjoy freedom. I hope President Xanana Gusmao will remember that.

Recorded in Kampung Alor, Dili, 24 April 2002. Nug Katjasungkana ( is a human rights activist in Dili.

Inside Indonesia 71: Jul - Sep 2002

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