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Paramilitias admit weapons are from ABRI

BBC World Service - February 5 1999

[The following is a transcription from a recording of a live report by Jonathan Head in East Timor.]

JH: The army strongly denies charges that it is helping the militia, but the leader of East Timor's most notorious paramilitary group, Mahidi says otherwise. Conceicao Lopez is a fanatical opponent of independence and he gets his weapons directly from the Indonesian Army.

CL: (Speaking in Bahasa) We got 20 Sks (?) from the local military. That was on 30 December. I remember because it was on the 17 of that month that I formed the Mahidi. So we used the SKs together with three M-16s we had for the attack.

JH: The attack Conceicao is referring to tooK place on 26 January, less than four weeks after he was given the weapons. He describes how he opened fire on a hut which he believes was occupied by pro-independence rebels.

CL: We arrived at around 10pm and started firing. They fired first and we responded, shooting into the hut hidden by a fence inside a garden.

JH: Six people died in the attack including a 15-year old schoolboy and a pregnant woman. Conceicao admits to killing four other people two days earlier. [This incident is also recorded in an article in last Sunday's Observer.] The militia who support integration with Indonesia justify their actions by saying that they're no worse than the anti-Indonesian rebels in the jungle. But that's a view disputed by Bishop Belo, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has long campaigned for a peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor.

BB: We never have this from the people in the jungle. They (the paras) entered the village, and from their action, six thousand people are seeking refuge from a parish It's never happened before. Just now, just now, for the first time ... 6,132 people from Jumalai, they left their village and ran away to seek refuge in the parish.

JH: There are confusing signals coming out of Jakarta. Indonesia says it wants to leave East Timor but it's arming those who want to keep it there. Former rebel leader Mau Hunu, who fought against Indonesia for 18 years has little faith in Indonesia's intentions.

MH: What we see on the ground is the fact that people, civilian people, the paramilitaries who support integration into Indonesia – they have ... weapons. So what kind of solution do they want for East Timor? I think there is no sign that they want a peaceful solution.

JH: The thousands of people now displaced by the escalating violence in East Timor can only pray for peace and pray that the men with guns will listen to pleas for restraint from community leaders like Bishop Belo.

BB: For me its better to fight with diplomacy, with intelligence, with dispassion, rather than with guns and bullets. We're not in the middle ages, to fight with guns. If the Indonesians think its better for them, then its better for them to return to their places.

JH: In the capital Dili students can campaign openly for an independent state. It's a freedom they've enjoyed only since the fall of Suharto last year. For the first time, peaceful protest is possible in the towns but in the countryside, all the talks is of a civil war fuelled by Indonesian weapons.

[The presenter in London then interviewed a spokesman for the armed forces in Jakarta, General Sujarat (probably Sudradjat).}

BBC: Could you confirm that guns were provided to pro-Indonesian groups in East Timor? General S: (Speaking in English) Yes, that's right.

BBC: What do you say when it emerges that the weapons have been used to kill other civilians in East Timor?

General S: They are not supposed to use those weapons to kill civilians.

BBC: They may not be supposed to but it appears from what Mr Lopez is telling our correspondent that that is what has happened.

General S: Well I don't [short gap in recording]

BBC: ... any control from the army? Are they answerable to the army?

General S: Yes, we control them and we only lend the guns to them. After they are finished with doing the job, they have to return the weapons to us.

BBC: If they are under the control of the army and if they murder unarmed civilians, what is the army going to do about it?

General S: We have to take a measure.

BBC: Has the army taken any measures?

General S: We dont have any precedents so far.

BBC: What seems to be happening, whether you want it or not is that the weapons which are being provided to these groups are being used to kill civilians. Now, that's obviously a risk when you give weapons out to people.

General S: That's why we only give the weapons to those we trust. But if that is going to happen, it means there's something wrong with the group and we have to take strong measures. If that is happening, we should apologise for it. It's very unfortunate when it is going to happen like that because these people supposed not to kill civilians, they are supposed to protect the civilians against Fretilin guerrillas.

BBC: So what do you say, general, to those who have been suggesting that what's actually happening in East Timor is that the Indonesian army is very deliberately arming these people who are in favour of continued links, in order to increase the amount of violence while East Timor discusses its future?

General S: I dont think it increases the violence, but it is our system. You know, since 1961, we've been trying to fight against the Muslim guerrillas. We used the same method.

BBC: What you seem to be saying, general, is, yes, indeed, the army does provide guns to groups of people in East Timor who it believes may be at risk from pro-separatist forces, you do not intend these guns to be used against civilians and if they have been, you think the army should apologise and go and get the guns back.

General S: Yes. We're not giving the weapons. We are lending them to be used to help us protect the people.

BBC: Has anyone actually given the weapons back to you?

General S: Oh always. We always ask them back. Because we lend them to them every day and after they finish, they should put the weapons back under our possession.