Mar 27, 2019 Last Updated 4:25 AM, Mar 23, 2019

Timor misadventure

Published: Sep 30, 2007

In early 1976, retired Lt-Col Subiyanto refused to be sent back to East Timor. We met him in an East Javanese town.

Why did some Indonesian soldiers refuse orders?

Because we read a bit about East Timor. Though colonised by the Portuguese for 350 years, no mass killings ever took place. But after the Indonesian government sent Abri there, Abri massacred the East Timorese.

Was Abri doing wrong?

In my opinion, it robbed the East Timorese of their sovereignty, because they were already independent at that time. So why should Abri go to East Timor with the express purpose of occupying their territory?

Did you go to fight against Fretilin?

Against the East Timorese. I didn't know anything about Fretilin. I just knew they were East Timorese.

How was Fretilin depicted?

East Timorese who escaped into the forest when Indonesian soldiers attacked were called Fretilin.

What did your colleagues say?

Friends who had been there disapproved. There were so many dead. They were people just like us. Whether you wanted to or not, you were ordered to go in. Then it was too late, we had to defend ourselves. It was difficult. We were from the city, and had to go into the forest.

What happened when you refused to go again?

For three or four years I got no promotion.

Wasn't that an unpatriotic act of yours?

You can call it unpatriotic. Abri has to follow orders. But once I knew a little about the history, I thought if I go I'll just be killing ordinary people. Sure, we have to follow orders, but you're not allowed to do that. We are human beings.

What about Abri dead?

If you count them from the beginning until now, wow, you wouldn't get just one or two thousand. It could be 5,000, or 10,000, or even more. At that time when one company was completely wiped out, another one came, and it too would be wiped out, and so on. That's not counting the East Timorese themselves.

Did the Indonesian soldiers realise how many East Timorese had died?

Yah, they realised it. Our enemies were supposed to be only Fretilin, not the ordinary farmers. But at that time we were total strangers to one another. All the East Timorese were thought to be the same as those who had gone into the forest.

What happened to those who came back?

Even if they managed to return home alive, many were disabled. But that was kept a secret by our government. If there was a chance they would survive, they were taken from Dili back to Indonesia. But not even their family was allowed to know about it. Only the superior would know which hospital they were in.

Extracted and translated from the Radio Netherlands documentary 'Tragedi Timor Timur 1975-1995', part III, 21 December 1995. The documentary was published as 'Jejak-jejak darah', Inham & Pijar, 10 December 1996.


Inside Indonesia 50: Apr-Jun 1997

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