Destabilisation by militias


Over the past year the situation in East Timor has been relatively stable. The question is if it will remain like this the next years. I don't think so.

Last year, just after the result of the referendum, I wrote in an article that the fact that 20% of the population voted for autonomy make fear the worst for the future. Apart from the people who voted for autonomy out of fear for militias, the result means that there are tens of thousands of people who are organised within militias themselves. In a society that is strongly organised on the bais of familt ties, you can be sure that through those same structures militias are supported and supplied, even though not all family members are fanatic militia member. Given the instable situation in Indonesia, in which parts of the army are going their own way and are supporting militias, a gloomy scenario is developing.

From the moment on that the refugees camps in West Timor were created there has been information on intimidations within the camps and on training of militias. East Timorese refugees that returned, Timorese working for relief organisations and international relief workers are all telling the same stories: murders, blackmail and intimidations. Hundreds of militia members are training just outside the camps, while Indonesian soldiers are looking on or even helping them. A year of training and organising will most certainly have borne fruit. We also should not forget that a fair number of East Timorese were serving in the Indonesian occupying forces. There have been talks that especially those were the ones that made havoc in East Timor after the referendum. They are trained people that are armed and that have fled to West Timor.


Destabilisation of West Timor

 By murdering three international co-workers of the UNHCR and an unknown number of East Timorese last week a bound has been crossed.  During the violence that erupted in East Timor after the referendum foreigners were left in peace relatively. There was much intimidation, but it seemed as if militias and army were not intending to kill foreigners. However, the last months have shown that especially foreigners have become a target. Various small militia groups crossing the border were deliberately trying to kill or injure menbers of the Peace Keeping Forces. As it now seems also international relief workers have become a target.

And for those fond of conspirative thinking: why would last weeks' murder on the leader of the Laksaur-militia, Olivio Mendoza Moruk, not have been organised by the Indonesian army? He was one of the nineteen people charged by the Indonesian committee investigating last years' violence. His militia were involved in the massacre on 6 September 1999 in the church of Suai. This massacre was a cooperation between militias, TNI and Indonesian authorities. Moruk knew all about the connections between militias and Indonesian army and authorities. About 50 people were murdered, among them three priests. It would not be illogical. One will never find out - but looking at revelations in simular cases (sometimes after tens of years) it does not look completely unlikely.

One can only conclude that militias, supported by the army, in fact control parts of West Timor. One step further to the east we see the same situation arise as in the Molluccas, Atjeh and West Papua. The sending of special Kopassus-units to West Timor is rather a deterioration than hope for a change. Last year those units saw to it that militias and army units could do their 'job' in East Timor undisturbed and assisted in deporting 300.000 Timorese.


Destabilsation of East Timor

At this moment the militias, supported by parts of the army, are not capable of having a military confrontation with the international military forces. A wellknown strategy in such a case is to destabilise a country in order to profit from the political situation that the destabilisation creates. This strategy has been used by both left-wing extreme organisations (as ETA and IRA) and by right-wing extreme groups and socalled contras. In most cases those groups are ideal to governments or parts of governments, that can support groups without getting officially involved in a conflict. The USA have frequently done this in Latin America. Of course (parts of) the Indonesian army and political circles are aware of these strategies and have even been trained in them by the USA in order to contain the communist threat.

First step is to drive out all snoopers. This tactic has succesfully been applied in East Timor last year and is at this time being wielded in West Timor. Another mean often used is the using of refugeecamps as bases of operations and for recruting new personnel. From these camps now groups of militias are infiltrating East Timor, where they are trying to destabilise the proces of reconstruction by increasing the violence and the terror. Even in the Viqueque district, far from the border, there are reports on a group of five militia members. The more discontent within the population about the slow proces of reconstruction, the more chance of support for militias or of people turning against the road to a democratic and independent East Timor. Also the various disputes about land and ethnic differences are useful handles to the militias for further destibilisation.

Next to it, the increasing violence and intimidations against relief workers can additional hinder the reconstruction. Relief workers are hindered in their movements, which creates areas where militias can do their own way.

Over the last months there are more and more infiltrations by smaller groups of armed militia members coming from West Timor. There are rumours that the CNRT has been infiltrated by militias and in Ainaro, not far from the border, again already hundreds of people are fled. Under a traumatised population that has no good provision of news, it is not hard to cause panic.

All together significant signals.


Government of national unity

One of the only means to turn the tide is a fast reconstruction. Unfortunately, at this moment reconstruction is going slow. The UNTAET-machinery is very bureaucratic, the unempolyment-level under East Timorese is immense, and in more distant areas only little has changed in the last year.

One can wonder if it is welcome to have elections quickly. There is a big chance that by having elections and the introduction of a parliamentarian democracy too quick, political relations will sharpen - at this time not really beneficial.

A parlemantarian democracy can only function with a wide political midfield and the richly presence of pressure groups and corporate life. At this moment those are almost completely absent. Beside that, East Timor has no tradition in parliamentarian democracy. Therefor the question is if it would not be better to have a kind of government of national unity, formed by CNRT, church, East Timorese NGO's and representatives of students, youth and women, and to wait with the construction of political parties until society has normalised.

As I wrote in the beginning, this is a gloomy story. One can set hope on the energy and will-power that a lot of East Timorese show in recontructing their country. Next to that, the international community has stuck it's neck out too far to withdraw again. However, we only have to think of Srebrenica to see that this is no guarantee. Much international pressure on Indonesia can help if there is a will to and if Indonesia still is united. But it seems that various powers in Indonesia - among them Soeharto and his clan - supported by parts of the army can do their way and are profiting from destabilisation in the regio.

I hope I am wrong, but we certainly cannot close our eyes for the dangers that are existing.


Ed Hollants

Autonoom Centrum