Unmasking The East Timorese Militias

BOGOR, INDONESIA -- The masked thugs who have been terrorizing East Timor following the pro-independence vote are widely viewed as puppets of the Indonesian military. Who are the men behind these masks, and what is driving them?As an international monitor with the Carter Center delegation before, during, and after the vote, I met with both pro-independence and pro-autonomy representatives. While these conversations certainly provide no justification for the blood bath now going on, they do shed light on the human motives driving the anti-independence militias.On August 25, Basilio Des Araujo, leader of the pro-autonomy organization FPDK (United Forum for Democracy and Justice, the political arm of several militias) spoke with us. He wasted no time in expressing his anger towards UNAMET (the U.N. Assistance Mission in East Timor) and the international community as a whole. His talk began with a response to the word "militias." Smiling cordially, he stated, "We are not militias. You call the others 'Falantil.' (The name for the military wing of the independence movement.) You give them a name. We should be called the pro-integration forces."He asked why the United Nations proposed a solution he described as setting a stage so the world might watch the East Timorese kill one another. "No one will accept this vote as legitimate," he stated. "The fighting will continue." He did not hesitate to tell us the vote would not be respected. "The Timorese are born warriors," he continued, "and they die heroes. They will not surrender."Basilio sees himself fighting against the international community and its mistakes. Asked what moved him to want to be a part of Indonesia after all these years, he explained it was for "economic reasons, just like Portugal joining Europe." Once the U.N. resolution was introduced there was no hope of moving toward consensus with the opposition, he commented, and now there will be no peace.-Several days later, in the Suai region, which borders West Timor, I attended a reconciliation mass and meeting hosted by Bishop Carlos Belo, the East Timorese spiritual leader and winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize. Pro-independence and pro-autonomy figures attended, hugging one another during mass and at the end of the reconciliation meeting.One man in particular drew attention. Vasco da Cruz, a local leader of the Mahidi militia announced on CNN camera that Mahidi would accept the results of the vote. He hugged his decades-long enemies and tears poured down his face. His organization has been publicly accused of being directly responsible for a good deal of violence leading up to the vote, and it is clear he does not want to be seen as a demon -- but it is also clear he has everything to lose if the pro-independence factions win. His whole way of life, if not his life itself, will end.Just after the vote, a man whose name I will not use here explained that he had been very active in the pro-autonomy militia, Laksur. Now, he said, he was on their list to be killed because he refused a promotion. He knows all the prominent Indonesian generals, and still believes in autonomy for East Timor, for economic reasons, but he will no longer fight with the Indonesians. He told of a lake where they used to dispose of bodies. "if you pull up in your car, the crocodiles will come to the surface because they think you are dumping bodies." He said he could show us the bones.He had decided there was no honor in the way the Indonesians fought -- killing women and children as well as innocent men -- he knows the East Timorese will not rest as long as Indonesia is present. "The Indonesian military must leave," he said. He fears he will be killed because they know he feels this way now.These conversations certainly do not provide justification for the blood bath going on now. They do shed light on three different men involved in a violent game with no end in sight. None promised that bloodshed would end with the vote -- Basilio stated directly that it would get much worse.But no one listened. Instead, the United Nations decided to trust the Indonesian Government, for reasons beyond any discernible logic, and now we have chaos on our hands and a peaceful solution is apparently no longer possible.Would this have been the case if the words of these men behind the masks were taken more seriously? That, I am afraid, we will probably never know. Caty Greene, who has traveled widely in the East Timor region for many years, was a member of the Carter Center delegation; her opinions are not necessarily those of the Center.

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