Farhan Haq, United Nations – Indonesian troops have stepped up a campaign of arrests and atrocities against the civilian population in East Timor, pro-Timorese activists and human rights groups argue.
Since last month, when Indonesia staged legislative elections throughout the country and in East Timor – declared annexed by Jakarta in 1976 – dozens of Timorese have been arrested or killed by Indonesian troops, supporters of Timorese independence say.
Constancio Pinto, a representative of the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM), a coalition of pro-independence groups, told the U.N. Decolonisation Committee Monday that the Indonesian attacks followed a series of operations last month by the Timorese guerrilla force, FALINTIL. The FALINTIL strikes, which coincided with the May 29 elections, killed 52 Indonesian police and soldiers and five FALINTIL members, Pinto claimed.
"Since the attacks, the military authorities have said they have arrested over 140 individuals but have released all but 23 people," Pinto said. "FALINTIL reports many more arrested and a number of civilians killed."
Among those believed killed, Pinto said, are 18 civilians which FALINTIL reported were gunned down by Indonesian special forces on election day itself. They say the 18 included 10 people who were trying to destroy a voting booth.
A Jun. 3 communique by the CNRM's Executive Committee of the Struggle of the Armed Front, acquired by IPS, says that Indonesia has positioned 15 battalions in East Timor after the elections to crack down on anyone suspected of collaborating with the guerrillas.
"Many young men and activists are (being) detained, tortured, beaten and interrogated," the communique says. The casualties include eight people killed while watching Portuguese television during the May 29 vote at a private home in Dili, the Timorese capital, the communique alleges.
Among those arrested is David Dios Ximenes, a former soldier who served in the Portuguese Army in the period before 1975 when the island state was a Portuguese colony. (The Decolonisation Committee lists East Timor as a "non-self-governing" territory, which means that its decolonisation from Portuguese rule is n ot regarded to have been completed.)
Jose Ramos Horta, CNRM leader and co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, for his part apologised to both the Indonesians and Timorese who were killed in the past few weeks of fighting between Indonesia's occupation forces and the rebels.
"I condemn without any ambiguity any attack on East Timorese civilians, on collaborators or civil servants," Ramos Horta told the Decolonisation Committee. "I condemn without any ambiguity any physical abuse, killing or humiliation of Indonesian civilian personnel, migrants, their families or Indonesian military personnel in non-combat duties." Ramos Horta called for an international investigation to be carried out into all charges that either Indonesian troops or the guerrillas have committed atrocities in recent days.
Pinto, however, asserted that "recent attacks by FALINTIL specifically targeted the Indonesian military and its collaborators," and not civilians. Some rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Asia, have blamed FALINTIL for attacking civilians last month.
Yet those groups have also criticised Indonesia for stepping up arrests of Timorese who speak out against Jakarta's occupation. In one recent report, Amnesty International says that 33 Timorese youths were arrested after peacefully demonstrating outside a hotel in Dili where U.N. envoy Jamsheed Marker was staying.
"Most of those arrested were subjected to ill treatment, including beatings, by the security forces," Amnesty says in its report. "Eleven youths were so badly wounded that they were taken to a military hospital for treatment. There were unconfirmed reports that at least one person was shot and wounded by the security forces during the confrontation."
The crackdown by Jakarta has sparked efforts in the United States to penalise President Suharto's regime. Last week, two US representatives, Democrats Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island and Tony Hall of Ohio, inserted an amendment into foreign aid legislation, criticising Indonesia's human rights record. Shortly afterward, Suharto wrote US President Bill Clinton to inform him that Jakarta would reject its previous offer to purchase nine F-16 fighter jets.
Meanwhile, the US states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and several localities, including New York City, are all working separately on rules that would forbid state and city governments from giving contracts to any businesses that deal with Indonesia.
"What is needed is steady US pressure on Indonesia to end its illegal occupation of East Timor and US support for repeated U.N. calls for a referendum on self-determination," says Lynn Fredriksson of the East Timor Action Network, a US-based, pro-independence group.
The new allegations of rights abuses come at a bad time for Indonesia. The country's foreign minister, Ali Alatas, is to meet his Portuguese counterpart, Jaime Gama, on Thursday to kick off two days of U.N.-assisted talks on East Timor here.