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Statement on East Timor to the United Nations Special Committee

23 June, 1999

Mr. Chairman and Honourable Members,

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign is grateful for this opportunity to petition the Committee once again on East Timor. This Committee has for years been a platform for petitions to expose the depressing features of the East Timor tragedy.

East Timor is today the centre of international attention following the Accords signed on 5 May between Indonesia and Portugal and the adoption of resolutions 1236 and 1246 by the UN Security Council We welcome the establishment of UNAMET, the UN Assistance Mission to East Timor, whose task is to organise a free and fair popular consultation in East Timor in a peaceful environment.

Mr. Chairman,

It is essential that the ballot should take place in an atmosphere free from intimidation, threats and violence, but regrettably conditions in East Timor do not meet these requirements. The escalation of violence in East Timor since the beginning of the year has been widely reported in the international press. The reports make it abundantly clear that the Indonesian military are conducting a 'dirty war' in East Timor, with armed para-military groups as their proxies.

TAPOL regularly monitors the activities of the Indonesian military in East Timor and we fully confirm these conclusions. Although UNAMET is now there, East Timor is still under military occupation. Since the decision to hold a ballot was taken, the Indonesian military have stepped up their efforts to sabotage this process by means of a new military operation the aim of which is to sabotage the peace process by making it impossible for the pro-independence forces to function openly and by creating an atmosphere of fear to demoralise the population.

These operations have created a situation in which the ballot has been rendered virtually impossible. Should the UN Secretary-General decide to postpone the ballot as now seems likely, the responsibility for this will rest first and foremost with the Indonesian armed forces. UNAMET officials have themselves discovered militia groups being directed by Indonesian military. Since January, several hundred Timorese have been killed and more than 40,000 people have fled their villages, making it impossible for them even to register, let alone vote. All this is in flagrant breach of the 5 May Accords.

The TNI as the Indonesian military are now known, know better than most that if the ballot takes place free from pressure, the vast majority of East Timorese will reject autonomy within Indonesia. Most TNI officers have a mindset which is the product of 32 years of authoritarian rule under General Suharto. Logical and rational discourse about allowing the East Timorese to decide their own future has no place in the rigid thinking of the average TNI officer.

The fact that the military territorial structure in East Timor is still intact means that East Timor continues to be under military occupation. Besides functioning as a shadow structure alongside the civil administration, the oppressive presence of numerous military posts bears down heavily on the East Timorese, destroying their sense of freedom.

Mr Chairman and Honourable Members,

On 1 April this year, the Indonesian government announced that the police force, POLRI, had been separated from the TNI. This would be a welcome move if is meant that a civilianised police force was now in charge of security and order throughout Indonesia with the army confining itself to defending the country from external aggression. But we are still far from this ideal. For more than thirty years, POLRI has been integrated into the armed forces and its curriculum and training have been heavily militarised. In East Timor, nothing has changed. The military still function as before. In fact there are reports of Indonesian commandos arriving overland from West Timor while TNI deployment as required for the UN process has meant that some soldiers have simply donned police uniforms.

Under the UN Accords, security for the consultation in East Timor is the responsibility of POLRI. Candidly, we do not believe this will work. POLRI is not a neutral force. Despite the separation, the army and police are under the command of the Department of Defence, while the Minister of Defence and TNI Commander-in-Chief are one and the same person. Events of the past few months justify our worst fears that no good will come from this arrangement. Atrocities by militia groups with the open support of commanding officers in Liquisa, Maliana, Ermera and Suai have been documented but none of the officers has been dismissed or brought to justice.

In many of these violent attacks, BRIMOB commandos, the special police force, the most militarised part of POLRI, have been involved.. Yet now, all the police reinforcements being brought in for the ballot are from BRIMOB. How can this be expected to calm the fears of the population? Their track record for brutality against peaceful demonstrations in Indonesia as well as in East Timor is ingrained in people's memories.

Mr Chairman and Honourable Members,

The ballot is a momentous event for the people of East Timor and a tribute to their tenacious struggle, which has become an inspiration for people around the world. Growing pressure from the international community has also impacted on the minds of large sections of the Jakarta political elite, including the president himself. Everything must be done to keep the process on track and to prevent certain forces within the elite, including the military, from derailing it.

Despite the awesome provocations to which they have been subjected during the past few months, the East Timorese people, under their leaders, have shown unprecedented restraint, not fighting back and refraining from demonstrating in the streets to protest against the brutalities of the military and their proxies. Even before the UN Accords were signed, Falintil, the armed wing of the resistance, was operating a de facto ceasefire, apart from a few, isolated reports of actions, while street protests have been few and far between.

Strenuous efforts are being made by the Church and the pro-independence forces to reach a reconciliation with para-military groups, to agree to disarm all armed forces and agree on a Code of Conduct for both sides prior to and following the ballot. The influential Catholic church of East Timor in particular is seeking to find a solution to restore peace and remove the many weapons in the hands of the para-military groups as a vital step towards general disarmament.

On 18 June, an agreement was reached in Jakarta between leaders of the pro-independence and pro-integration forces. While this could be the precursor to a more peaceful environment, it remains to be seen whether disarmament will really happen. The crucial issues are:

  • That arms should be surrendered to UN personnel, to ensure total reliability and verifiability.

  • That the TNI should dismantle its territorial structure, shut down its military posts and be restricted to clearly defined areas, leading to the withdrawal of Indonesian troops. Clearly, Falintil which came into being 23 years ago to defend East Timor from the invaders, cannot be expected to hand over their weapons until this is in progress.

  • That the para-military groups should be disbanded and the tens of thousands of people now being held under their terror should be escorted back to their villages.

In addition, the resistance leader Xanana Gusmao as well as other East Timorese political prisoners must be released without delay, to participate in the UN process like every other East Timorese citizen, and the personal safety of pro-independence activists and human rights workers must be assured so that they can function in the open and without hindrance.

If these conditions cannot be created, we urge the UN Security Council to reconsider the security arrangements and send a UN peace-keeping force to East Timor.

Thank you for your attention.