Army defectors 'training militias to kill UN forces'

Monday, October 11, 1999


Attack force: recruits listen to a briefing by Aitarak company commander Domingos Pereira before training in West Timor.


Pro-Jakarta militias are reportedly being trained in guerilla warfare by Indonesian military defectors with the aim of killing Australian soldiers heading a multinational force in East Timor.

A three-day visit by Singapore's Sunday Times newspaper to four militia training camps near areas along the border between East and West Timor was the first by foreign or local media, a report datelined Atambua in West Timor said.

It said the training of the militias was being led by 450 East Timorese soldiers who defected from the Indonesian army after its pullout from the territory last month.

Captain Domingos Pereira, a company commander of the notorious Aitarak militia, told the paper the fighters hoped to step up cross-border incursions and sporadic attacks against Australian soldiers after a month or two.

"We don't have a chance in a conventional war," Pereira said at the camp near a Catholic cemetery and hidden by trees, where 730 militiamen were undergoing fitness training.

"But we can make it very painful for them in a guerilla war. The Australians must die for what they have done to my men and their families."

Aitarak is believed to have caused much of the destruction in East Timor in the weeks after the territory's people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a United Nations-organised August 30 ballot.

The Aitarak militias in training were men in their 20s from nearby refugee camps, who carried arms from World War II and expected to get more M-16 rifles.

"We don't need sophisticated equipment to rip apart a white man's head. We can do it with our bare hands," said one recruit named Roberto Gama.

Part of the men's training included indoctrination on how the East Timorese had suffered at the hands of the Australian peacekeepers, as well as how to identify Australian troops by their uniforms and methods of operation, the report said.

One of the Aitarak platoon leaders, Lieutenant Mariano Goncalves, admitted most of the men had very little basic military knowledge, but they were willing to die for East Timor.

"Psychologically, we are prepped up more than the average Australian soldier, who is probably thinking about what a nice life he left behind in Australia for the horrors in East Timor," he said.