Soldiers Smeared with Blood?
A number of TNI officers are accused of involvement in crimes against humanity in Timor Leste. What were their `sins’?
BAUCAU, 150 kilometers east of East Timor capital Dili. Dozens of domestic and foreign journalists gather in the jungle at the edge of town. On that day, August 18, 1999, Forcas Armados de Libertacao Nacional de Timor Leste (Falintil), the East Timor Freedom Army, assembled journalists for a press conference to celebrate their 24th anniversary. The eyes of the world turned to that location.
Away from the eyes of journalists, on the same day, a special plane carrying President B.J. Habibie’s party landed at Dili’s Komoro airport. Traveling with the president were ABRI (Indonesian Armed Forces) commander Gen. Wiranto, commander of the Udayana Area Military Command Maj. Gen. Rachmat Damiri and several other officers. That afternoon, the group from Jakarta met with approximately 150 pro-autonomy (meaning pro-Jakarta) militias at the Dharma Wanita Building in Dili.
One member of the pro-Jakarta militia who was present at the meeting gave an important account of what happened. The Jakarta government via President Habibie gave an order. He told all the militia leaders to “take a stand” if the pro-autonomy group lost in the August 30 referendum. “If we lose, not one stone may be left,” says a source quoting the president. Meaning what? “East Timor must be razed to the ground,” says the same source. Gen. Wiranto stood upright perfectly still listening to Habibie’s statement.
As night approached, the president and his party returned to Jakarta. The order became a guide for the pro-Jakarta militia leaders. “Not one stone may be left in Dili, clearly that’s an order,” said chief of staff of the Integration Struggle Force, Hermenio da Costa, to TEMPO at the Dili Media Center on August 25, 1999.
Did officials from Jakarta give their blessing to the mass killings that took place in East Timor in 1999? That is the conclusion of the Serious Crimes Unit (SCU), a UN body that works to assist the Timor Leste Government investigate crimes against humanity in East Timor. In the list of charges, they conclude that the generals are responsible for 280 murders in 40 separate incidents that left thousands dead in 1999.
But the story of the presidential order did not come from the SCU charge sheet. It came from statements made by militia members. The Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations says that the case that the generals were involved has been strengthened by documents from Jhoni Lumintang, who at the time was the army deputy chief of staff. “The document has only one paragraph, but the order is clear. Take preventative, coercive, and repressive measures and withdraw troops,” says Munir, a member of the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations.
A follow-up meeting took place at President Habibie’s house in Patra Kuningan, South Jakarta. In that meeting, says the same militia source, the president once again explained the “stand” to be taken if the pro-autonomy side lost.
It is not surprising to hear the deputy commander of the Life or Death for Indonesia Battalion Militia (Mahidi), Nemecio Lopes de Carvalho, say that the violence took place because of orders from the center (Jakarta). “If we had refused to carry them out, ABRI members would have finished us off. This is because in the militia, there were ABRI soldiers wearing militia clothing,” says Nemecio.
The formation of the pro-Jakarta militias began in 1998. At the time, the Indonesian Army was cornered by the news and criticism as a result of their violent actions since the November 12, 1991, Santa Cruz incident. After that, the militias grew like mushrooms in the rainy season. Apart from Mahidi, there was the Red and White Iron militia as well as several others.
According to the SCU, the militias were the tip of the spear in the ensuing violence. In the April 6, 1999 attack on the Liquica Church–according to SCU documents–the militias were supported by the commander of the Udayana Military Area Command, Maj. Gen. Adam Damiri. Adam sent an order by telegram to the commander of the Wiradharma Military District, Col. Suhartono Suratman, that the Indonesian Military and police give support to the pro-Jakarta militias attacking the church. Adam Damiri was also involved in the attack on the Dili home of Manuel Carrascalao on April 17, 1998. He is also seen as doing nothing to prevent the violence of September 5-6, 1999, in the dioceses of Dili and Suai shortly after the result of the independence referendum was published.
Tono Suratman denies being involved in the incidents at Liquica and Dili. He says that at the time of the attack on Liquica Church, he was in Manatuto. “I received a report from the deputy commander by radio that violence was raging. The violence was triggered by shooting that came from inside the church,” says Tono in his book, For my Country: A Portrait of the Struggle in East Timor.
Tono also knows nothing about the violence at Manuel Viegas Carrascalao’s home. At the time, he says he was receiving an envoy from the European Union at the home of the commander of the Area Military Command. “I received a report from the District Military Command by radio about the violence,” he continues. Tono also denies all of the charges he is facing at the ad hoc human rights court. “We tried to calm down the masses and control the situation to stop the violence continuing.” In court, through his attorney Col. Setiawan, Adam Damiri denied all of the prosecution’s charges.
What were General Wiranto’s “sins”? He is accused of bringing into being the idea of working together with the pro-Jakarta militias. The defense and security minister is accused of channeling funds via Governor Abilio OsUrio Soares to buy weapons and to pay for their operational costs,” SCU prosecutor Stuart Alford told journalists.
Alford admits there is no direct evidence of Wiranto’s involvement in the setting up of the militias. “We don’t have evidence that indicates he talked about or gave direct orders to form the militias. But he had authority over all TNI personnel who were in East Timor in 1999,” said Alford.
In fact, Wiranto has repeatedly told the press, the international community and the Timor Leste leadership that the militia groups involved in crimes were under the command of TNI. “But Wiranto allowed them to commit crimes without being punished,” said Alford.
The basis of the charges against Wiranto is the precedent of responsibility of command set in other countries. As in the case of the war crimes trial of the former leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, in The Hague, Holland, he is considered guilty if he allowed his subordinates to commit crimes. The same thing happened in the mass killings in Rwanda. So, “All the military officers who committed crimes against humanity in East Timor were the responsibility of Wiranto as TNI commander,” said Alford.
But Wiranto denies all charges. “I am confident enough to swear that I never thought about, wanted, planned, let alone ordered crimes such as murder, torture, kidnapping and expulsions. I did things to try and stop them,” he said at a press conference at the Crown Hotel, Jakarta last Thursday.
Wiranto made no denials about the funds. He admitted receiving Rp10 billion from the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) on May 31 and September 5, 1999. But he denied that the money was used to pay militias. “The money was used to support general security, including safeguarding the 1999 General Election and not specially for East Timor,” he told the trial of the Bulog case.
What about the involvement of President Habibie? The SCU has not gone that far. Former foreign minister Ali Alatas, who was actively involved in the decision over East Timor, doubts the president took such a rash move as strengthening civilian militias. “I think that could only have been done by individuals within TNI,” he says.
Similar doubts were expressed by Dewi Fortuna Anwar, Habibie’s former spokeswoman. “There was no plan for scorched earth action in East Timor. I see [the killings] as more of a failure on the ground rather than something controlled from the center,” she said. Habibie, who is now living in Germany, could not be reached for confirmation.
Admitted or not, the mass disturbances in 1999 happened. It is this tragedy that the UN body in Timor Leste will correct–something the Indonesian Government is fighting tooth and nail to prevent.
Ahmad Taufik, Abdul Manan, Alexander Axiss and Titi Irawati (Dili), Jeffriantho (Kupang)
TEMPO, MARCH 10, 2003-026/P. 14 Heading Special Report