Blood on their hands

The Sydney Morning Herald 2 oktober

Indonesia's generals are under scrutiny for human rights abuses in East Timor but have they covered their tracks? David Jenkins, Mark Dodd, Bernard Lagan and Simon Mann investigate.

The Indonesian Army (TNI) has made the people of East Timor pay a terrible price for daring to vote for independence. Working with its militia proxies, the Army has behaved with a ruthlessness that has shocked even long-term observers of the TNI, laying waste to cities and villages, destroying vital infrastructure, kidnapping and killing political opponents and church leaders, and carrying off as much as it could plunder. Now, the generals who organised and directed that campaign find themselves confronted by an international investigation into human rights abuses in East Timor.

At a meeting in Geneva on Monday, the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution calling on the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to launch an inquiry to determine who was behind the violence that devastated East Timor before and after the August 30 referendum. In theory, that should be of grave concern to senior officers in the Indonesian Army, along with whole concourses of colonels, majors, captains and NCOs.

Previous UN commissions of inquiry have led to the establishment of international war crimes tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These tribunals are now prosecuting suspects.

But the men who lead the TNI do not seem to be quaking in their boots. On the contrary.

Senior officers believe they have covered their tracks in East Timor. They are confident, sources in Jakarta say, that they have destroyed evidence that may implicate them - as distinct from their militia underlings - in acts of murder, mass deportation and wanton destruction.

There are even claims, chilling in their implications, that the Army is methodically eliminating former militia leaders who, having served their grisly purpose, may be tempted by offers of money or sanctuary to discuss the complicity of their former patrons.

"I don't think they are overly concerned about [a war crimes tribunal], to tell you the truth," says a source with high-level TNI contacts. "Most of the people who have evidence or who can corroborate stuff are progressively disappearing. And there are a lot of people who have got information who are probably scared of the TNI at the moment."

The suggestion that the Indonesian Army is now "terminating" key militia figures may overstate the case somewhat. "I've heard that claim [that people are disappearing]", says an expert on the Indonesian military. "But they are going to have to get rid of a hell of a lot of people. And it's not until they get rid of [militia leaders] like Joao Tavarres and Eurico Gutteres that you can say this has some credibility to it."

The other side of that coin, this source notes, is that it might make sense for war crimes investigators to put out feelers to men such as Gutteres, however distasteful that may seem. "If I were prosecuting I'd be going over there and offering them big money to spill the beans," this source said. "People like Gutteres must have a fairly limited future. They can't go back to East Timor. And once they are no longer useful to the Indonesians they will be cut loose."

It is an open secret in Jakarta military circles that the East Timorese militia groups were recruited, trained, funded and directed by the Indonesian Army, with much of the operation being carried out by elements of Kopassus, the special forces unit. That view is widely accepted by foreign diplomats stationed in Jakarta. It is widely accepted in UN circles. It is also true that the UN vote was a major diplomatic reverse for Indonesia. "The war crimes decision was a big defeat [for Indonesia]," said an expert on Indonesian politics. "They tried as hard as they could to prevent it and failed. They didn't even get universal Asian support."

Nor is there any doubt that Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who will organise the investigation, is confident she can build a case against militia members who directed some of the worst violence after the referendum.

But establishing a watertight legal case against senior Indonesian army officers may not be at all easy. A shortage of witnesses will only make the task even more difficult.

"What you really need," said one source, "is a piece of paper signed by a guy that says, 'Go and kill them!' We realised that from the Nuremburg trials. So I don't think [the senior TNI officers] are overly concerned about it. In fact, some of them are making jokes that they are going to get a little medal if they get called before the tribunal. It will be like a badge of courage. And believe me, there are going to be an awful lot of people wearing that badge."

One problem, of course, is that some of the most damning evidence is likely to be not in East Timor but in places such as Washington and Canberra - material plucked from the air waves by sophisticated US and Australian electronic intercept equipment.

And although the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has said that Australia will provide whatever help it can, there are many in Canberra who would be anxious that we not be too generous. Partly because that would compromise our intelligence gathering system. Partly, too, because it would further sour relations with Indonesia, not least with our erstwhile friends in the TNI, for whom we once professed such a close and abiding friendship.

Who, if anyone, should be held responsible for the horrors visited on East Timor? In the opinion of many, one man who can expect to face a lot of questions is General Wiranto, the enigmatic Javanese who doubles as Minister of Defence and Commander of the Indonesian military.

"It has to be Wiranto," said one source. "So he'll come up in the tribunal, wherever it meets. There will be an enormous body of evidence [on Indonesian atrocities in East Timor]."

There are two problems with that. First, the Indonesians seem to have changed their mind about co-operating with the UN investigation. Second, it is unlikely that senior officers left their fingerprints at the site of the crime, although stranger things have happened.

As one source put it, "Wiranto presumably wasn't silly enough to give any orders over the air. But even if they were given, how would you prove that he personally authorised them?"

Wiranto, it is true, may not fully control his own army. But foreign analysts - and many retired Indonesian army officers - say he must accept responsibility for all that has happened in East Timor.

In the months after January, when President Habibie agreed to a UN-supervised referendum, Wiranto had no fewer than four two-star generals working in East Timor, a military district command that had always been headed by a colonel.

The first of these officers is Major-General Adam Damiri, who heads the Bali-based Udayana command, which includes East Timor. According to well-placed sources, Damiri was deeply involved in the campaign to arm and organise the pro-Indonesian militias. "He was in the thick of things," said one analyst.

For the first five months of this year, Damiri had operational control over units in East Timor. He later worked closely, the sources say, with Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, a former head of military intelligence who was the most senior Indonesian Army officer in East Timor in the run-up to the referendum.

A member of the feared Kopassus special forces unit, which frequently operated outside the law in East Timor, torturing prisoners and sponsoring quasi-criminal gangs, Anwar served ostensibly as the TNI liaison man with UNAMET, the UN Mission in East Timor.

But his main job, sources say, was to organise the anti-independence militias in an attempt to disrupt the referendum, which Habibie approved in the face of bitter Army opposition.

According to a number of sources, Anwar, a member of a prominent Jakarta family, has participated in a string of unsavoury operations, both in East Timor and Aceh, where the Army has been accused of kidnap, torture and murder. A veteran of the Indonesian Army's East Timor campaign, he ran a parallel chain of command across the territory drawing on a shadowy network of Kopassus officers and intelligence agents operating as part of the Satgasintel (SGI), an Indonesian acronym for "Intelligence Task Force". On the eve of the referendum, Anwar was joined in East Timor by Major-General Syafrie Syamsuddin, a special forces officer who had been pushed aside as commander of the Jakarta military region after the May 1998 riots, in which 1,200 people died.

Syafrie, like Anwar, is a former close associate of the disgraced Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianto, the self-exiled son-in-law of former president Soeharto. Prabowo had numerous tours of duty in East Timor, where he was deeply involved in covert political operation, arming and supporting paramilitary groups that were the forerunners of the pro-Jakarta militias.

Until his transfer to East Timor, Syafrie had been operating in an undisclosed capacity in Aceh, where, analysts say, his name sent a chill down the spine of those opposed to rule from Jakarta.

"Acehnese say he is the point man in organising the bad things, the heavy-handed attacks [in the province]," said a well-placed source at the time that Anwar was transferred to East Timor. "The Acehnese think he is the one with blood on his hands. The Islamic press has certainly targeted him as someone who has been playing this almost Prabowo-like role."

Given this involvement, it struck many as alarming that Syafrie was taken out of Aceh and sent, on the eve of the referendum, to East Timor. That, said one source at the time, was "precisely the wrong sort of signal to send".

The fourth of the two-star officers associated with East Timor is Major-General Kiki Syahnakri, who was serving as assistant for operations at army headquarters in Jakarta when he was sent to East Timor a month ago as emergency commander. Syahnakri, who has left East Timor this week, knew the province well, having spent no less than 11 years there, a remarkable period of time, even by Indonesian Army standards. He had been very close to Prabowo and had been associated, one military analyst noted, "with various unsavoury things that Prabowo's units used to get up to, in Timor and elsewhere". In the mid-1990s, Syahnakri was removed as the East Timor Korem (military region) commander after only eight months following an international outcry over a massacre of civilians in Liquica.

Syahnakri was only in East Timor for a few weeks this time, however. Some argue that while many horrendous crimes were committed during this time, those actions may not necessarily have occurred with his concurrence.

"I think there is a question mark over him," said one military expert. "But the others I've got no doubt about." Then there are the colonels who ran East Timor or who had special assignments there.

One is Colonel Tono Suratman, who was the commander of East Timor in the period to August, when many of the worst crimes were committed, including militia massacres in Dili.

Another key officer is Suratman's successor, Colonel Muhammad Noer Muis, a graduate of an Australian staff college who served briefly as East Timor commander until the arrival of Kiki Syahnakri. According to one source, Muis opposed the militia violence but was powerless to stop it.

"I think Noer was basically an honourable and decent man," said a senior UN official who stayed with the Indonesian colonel at army headquarters in Dili at the height of the post-ballot violence. "He was ordered not to intervene."

When the UN official advised Muis to shoot dead leading militia rabble-rousers on the grounds that "it would make them step back and pause", the colonel replied that it was not possible, saying it would trigger civil war in the streets. Others are less inclined to give Muis the benefit of the doubt. Muis, said one expert on the Indonesian military, was as culpable as any of his predecessors, having presided during his short tenure over the same sort of abuses, in which the army-sponsored militia ran wild.

"Whether he liked it or not," said this source, "he was part of the system. If you're in the system, that's your business."

Yet another is Lieutenant-Colonel Nugroho, a special forces officer who spent much of 1998 organising the pro-Indonesia groups that were a forerunner of the militias.

"This guy [Nugroho] has been setting it up," a source in Jakarta said earlier this year, not long after Nugroho had been reassigned to Jakarta. "Zacky Anwar is the point man for the whole thing."

The main militia leaders include Eurico Gutteres, Manuel de Sousa and Cancio Lopes de Carvalho. They ran the gangs of thugs known as Aitarak [Thorn), Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) and Mahidi (Life or Death for Integration). Gutteres, a 27-year-old firebrand who once supported independence, was recorded on April 17 as urging his supporters gathered outside the governor's office in Dili to "go out and kill the betrayers of integration. I Eurico Gutteres will be personally responsible."

More than 50 people, mostly pro-independence supporters were killed in the subsequent mayhem which swept Dili. Observers in Dili say actions of that nature would not have been possible had the militias not had high-level army backing. Photographs found last week in the deserted headquarters of Aitarak show Gutteres meeting the disgraced Soeharto.

In the western districts of East Timor there is no shortage of people who have been linked to militia activity. The bupati, or mayor, of Maliana, Guilherme Dos Santos, violently opposed the establishment of pro-independence offices in his district.

At one stage, Dos Santos threatened to kill Australian UN personnel as part of a plan to force the closure of the local UN office. Dos Santos enjoyed close contact with militia leaders and praised pro-integration Indonesian army officers.

His predecessor, Joao Tavarres, who until recently wore a watch stripped from one of the Western journalists killed at Balibo in 1975, was commander-in-chief of all East Timor's pro-integration militias. One of his lieutenants liked to boast that he had 400 assault rifles stored in his fortress-like villa in Maliana.

Tavarres, 69, served as the Bupati of Maliana from 1976 until 1986. Real power in Maliana, however, was vested in the hands of four Indonesian Army NCOs, three of them on active service, the other retired. All four had been active in the district since the mid-1970s.

"They regulated all militia activity and training, including all the nasty stuff," said one Maliana-based political officer. Numerous cases of violence, intimidation and murder could be traced to the NCOs, he told the Herald. The June 29 attack on the UN compound in Maliana by a mob of stone-throwing hooligans is said to have been organised by Lieutenant Satrisno, a 44-year-old Javanese from Surabaya who had served as military commander in nearby Cailaco from 1990 to 1994. When presented with evidence of complicity on the attack on the UN office, he jokingly replied: "If I was involved, everyone would have been killed." The Dili-based Foundation for Legal and Human Rights held full dossiers documenting human rights abuses in Maliana, many of which involved soldiers attached to the local district command.

Taulus Feireira, the leader of the Dadurus (Typhoon) militia in Maliana, boasted in June that "if we lose autonomy there will be an uprising. It will be like 1975 all over again". He was not far wrong but how did he know?

Low-ranking army officers or NCOs commonly wielded power in East Timor that was not reflected in their rank. Sources in Dili say Warrant Officer Nicodemus is high up on the UN's "wanted list" for human rights violations and intimidation against civilians in Viqueque.

Other low-ranking army personnel have been linked to terrorism and intimidation in Manatuto, a town that was reduced to ruins during recent militia attacks. Basilio Araujo, spokesman for the hardline Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice (FPDK), has been accused of inciting violence against those supporting independence. Araujo is widely believed to have been responsible for death threats made against Australian diplomats and journalists. As the pro-Indonesian militias waged their war of terror and destruction, their activities were closely monitored, by the UN officials, diplomats, journalists and non-government groups.

On one occasion, two Americans from the US-based Carter Centre overheard, while in a Dili militia headquarters, radio conversations in which the Indonesian Army directed militia activity.

Perhaps more telling is a report, obtained by the Herald in Darwin this week, by a senior Irish police officer, Commandant Mathew Murphy, who served as a UN military liaison officer at Los Palos in the far east of East Timor.

In his report, Murphy said that although he and his colleagues had what seemed a good working relationship with local army officers, they had failed in their efforts to obtain information about local militia groups.

They had also witnessed an incident which led them to conclude that Zacky Anwar had close links with local militia groups. Anwar had arrived in Los Palos by helicopter the day after a UN vehicle caught fire in the local UN compound.

Commandant Murphy wrote of the incident: "It was our impression of these events that the TNI was afraid that the militia may have been acting on its own before the TNI was ready. The General's visit was to ensure that the militia was not responsible for the fire. I believe this information directly links the TNI with the militia. I also believe that it further illustrates that General Zacky Anwar was linked to the militia."

A week later the leader of the East Timorese resistance movement in Los Palos, Ferismo Quintas, was murdered in his house with a machete. Murphy said he had seen militiamen set Quintas's house on fire and had then heard shots from the house. He wrote in his report that he believed the TNI had planned the whole operation. The police had established a road block before the shooting began and a TNI soldier was on the scene directing traffic.

"There was no doubt in Los Palos that there was a link between the militia and the TNI," Commandant Murphy wrote.

Patience is a virtue, and perhaps a necessity, in war crimes investigations.

Although Kofi Annan yesterday asked investigators of atrocities in East Timor to report back to him by the end of December, it may be several years before the perpetrators are brought to justice - if at all.

Best illustrating the time lapse between investigation and conviction - between the crime and the retribution - are the track records of the international tribunals dealing with charges of genocide and human rights abuses in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The Balkans experience points to a long, hard road ahead. Four years after the worst of the massacres in Bosnia, for example, investigators from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are still exhuming bodies. There have been 26 public indictments involving 90 war crimes suspects and a number of secret indictments in which the ICTY conceals identity so as not to forewarn suspects.

So far, about 30 men, mostly from Bosnia and Croatia, have been arrested. Of these, eight have been convicted and one acquitted. The rest remain in a UN detention centre, inside a Dutch prison, awaiting trial. In Rwanda, the rate of prosecutions is lower: 28 indictments against 48 individuals with 38 now in custody. But just four convictions so far, two of which are being appealed.

What is certain is that the international investigation in East Timor, which is being marshalled by Mary Robinson, will collect ample evidence to justify the establishment of yet another war crimes tribunal, although the procedure is more convoluted than that which led to the Yugoslav and Rwandan trials. Then, investigations were ordered directly by the UN Security Council. This time, the UNHCHR is investigating and will report to Annan who, in turn, will approach the Council if the belief is that a tribunal is warranted.

The UNHCHR promises to work closely with Indonesia's internal "fact-finding" mission along the way. But Robinson, in New York, made it clear that Jakarta's investigations "were no substitute for an international commission of inquiry". The UN-backed probe would cover all of 1999 and not simply the post-independence vote bloodshed as proposed by the Indonesians.

Unlike Kosovo, where war crimes investigators were on the ground before the start of NATO's bombing campaign in March, the East Timor probe virtually starts afresh. Already UN staff in Timor are collecting evidence and witness statements in a bid to home in on the killers and those responsible for human rights abuses. Robinson said UN workers had already found and interviewed two eye-witnesses to the murder of the Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes.

With reports that Indonesian troops, in particular, and militiamen are systematically destroying evidence as they depart the province, the accounts of witnesses take on ever-increasing importance.

In fact, witness statements, especially those that can be corroborated, are arguably the tribunal's biggest single weapon and clearly the UN places great store in them. It's been a similar story in Kosovo and Rwanda where prosecutors have the ability to shield witnesses from possible revenge attacks by guaranteeing anonymity in the witness box and, sometimes, armed protection outside it.

Kosovo investigators also took thousands of witness statements from refugees who, at the height of the conflict, fled the province to camps in neighbouring Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro. Later, when back in Kosovo, they sought to match testimonies with those of witnesses who remained in Kosovo as well as painstakingly collecting forensic evidence from crime scenes. The Kosovo database, already, is enormous and as investigators sift through it they construct cases against the accused. But the Australian lawyer Graham Blewitt, the ICTY's deputy prosecutor, admits to a feeling of frustration that some of the biggest named suspects are yet to be brought to book.

"I think at the grassroots level - whether it's beatings, burning houses, looting or raping - you'll find people acting under orders," he told the Herald. "You find some people acting under orders and having no problems doing so. Others are doing it for revenge or just because they're homicidal maniacs ... But higher up the chain of command the motives are more political."

But distance does not provide immunity, to wit the indictments of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, and Ratko Mladic, his top general during the Bosnian war, and the more recent indictments of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his deputies. They remain free but, as Blewitt points out, there is no statute of limitations.

And while many believe that the architects of the genocide, murder, torture and rape in East Timor will remain free, the conviction last year of the former Rwandan prime minister Jean Kambanda on six counts of genocide and other crimes is a source of encouragement to those who hope that those ultimately responsible for East Timor's bloodshed will be punished.