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The BBC's Jonathan Head
"Cancio Cavalao described how he had obtained 20 rifles from the Indonesian army"
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Sunday, 13 February, 2000, 16:21 GMT
The evidence against Wiranto

Pro-Indonesian militia Pro-Indonesian militia vowed integration or death

By former Jakarta correspondent Jonathan Head

It was at the beginning of last year that we first started to hear reports of attacks by new pro-Indonesian militia gangs in East Timor.

It was not, however, the first time the Indonesian army had used such a tactic.

Soon after their invasion of East Timor in 1975, local people were recruited to help fight the pro-independence guerrillas who continued to resist the occupation.

In the early 1990s, paramilitary youth groups were formed by the Indonesian military to counter the clandestine campaign against Indonesian rule being conducted by Timorese civilians in the towns.

General Wiranto The general has denied arming the militiamen
Army commanders routinely denied any connection with the groups, but according to official military documents obtained by the BBC in 1998, the paramilitaries came directly under the local army command structure.

Evidence that the military were behind the new militias became even clearer.

Last February I sat in the headquarters of the Indonesian garrison in Dili, waiting for an interview with Colonel Tono Suratman, the local commander.

Next to me was a group of rough-looking Timorese.

One had part of his ear missing. He explained that they were part of the Garda Paksi, a pro-Indonesian paramilitary group, and they had come to obtain more weapons from the army to combat the increasingly assertive pro-independence movement.

They were welcomed like friends by the soldiers. I have little doubt that they got their guns.

Integration or death

A few days later I met Cancio Cavalhao and Eurico Gutteres - little known back then, but later to become the two most notorious militia leaders.

Cancio explained how he had been given modern automatic weapons by the Indonesian military, and how he had used them in an attack on a village
Eurico was shy with us - it was only later that he developed an appetite for bombarding the media with emotional and often contradictory speeches - but Cancio was quite explicit about what they were planning, and who was helping them.

A good-looking former civil servant in the Indonesian Justice Ministry, he had just formed his own militia group, Mahidi, an acronym for Live or Die for Integration with Indonesia.

He explained how he had been given modern automatic weapons by the Indonesian military, and how he had used them in an attack on a village in which six people died, including a pregnant woman.

If President Habibie persisted with his plan to offer East Timor independence, he said, the militias would fight to the death, and destroy the country.

Our reports at the time were widely publicised in Indonesia, and General Wiranto, then the armed forces commander, was asked about them. He simply denied that they could be true.

He also supported the formation for so-called People's Defence Groups under the army's command, even though militia leaders like Cancio Cavalhao were allowed to lead these groups.

Blood-splattered church

Last April, the militias began expanding from their stronghold near the border with Indonesia towards Dili.

The local priest told us how Indonesian soldiers and riot police helped the militias in their attack
In their path lay the seaside town of Liquica, a known pro-independence stronghold.

Three of my colleagues and I arrived there a few hours after they took it over.

There was blood spattered all around the church. Badly wounded men lay groaning on the ground. Several women wept hysterically, saying dozens of men had been slaughtered.

The local priest later told us how Indonesian soldiers and riot police helped the militias in their attack on the town's population - we could still see militia leaders and soldiers chatting and smoking together. The final death toll from Liquica may exceed 50.

We reported the army's involvement, and the way militias were killing with impunity.

General Wiranto did nothing. Against all the evidence, he described the incident as a clash between pro-and anti Indonesian gangs.

Soldiers cheered militias

On 17 April, hundreds of militiamen were allowed to rally in front of the Governor's office, waving their weapons.

Eurico Gutteres Militia leader Eurico Gutteres
Anywhere else in Indonesia this would not have been tolerated. But in East Timor, the Indonesian soldiers cheered their paramilitary allies.

Led by Eurico Gutteres, the militias then went on a rampage through the town that left at least a dozen people dead.

We filmed him and his men, using automatic weapons with their Indonesian army serial numbers still clearly visible, firing into a house where more than 100 were hiding. The 17 year-old son of pro-independence campaigner Manuel Carrascalao was one of those killed.

When I tried to approach the house, armed Indonesian police blocked my way. Behind them, the militiamen could be seen using army trucks to take the bodies away.

I raised the clear collaboration between the two with several Indonesian officials, and was told to mind my own business.

General Wiranto was interviewed that night, and insisted that his men had done everything possible to control the violence.

No action was taken against any militiamen. They moved about Dili freely, displaying their Indonesian weapons as a warning to the rest of the population.

Strict hierarchy

The militia attacks, and the refusal of the Indonesian military to stop them, continued after the arrival of the United Nations in May.

It is highly unlikely that the order to back the militias did not have General Wiranto's direct approval
The UN complained frequently to General Wiranto. Just as often he promised to curb the militias, but although there were some lulls, they were never long.

The appalling scenes of destruction we witnessed last September were merely an escalation of what had been going all year, indeed throughout the Indonesian occupation.

We now have documents and tapes that show beyond doubt that the militias were being armed and directed by senior commanders of the Indonesian military.

It is inconceivable that General Wiranto did not know about this - in fact, given the strict hierarchy within the armed forces, it is highly unlikely that the order to back the militias, or perhaps even to set them up, did not have General Wiranto's direct approval.

There is some evidence that by last September, General Wiranto had started to lose control of the monster he helped create.

But from everything I witnessed during my seven trips to East Timor last year, there is a powerful case for him to be held responsible for many of the terrible events that took place there.

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See also:
12 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Top general survives showdown
28 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Wiranto 'responsible' for Timor violence
20 Apr 99 |  East Timor
No justice for East Timor victims
17 Apr 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Militiamen go on the rampage
06 Feb 99 |  LATEST NEWS
Indonesia admits arming militias

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