Copyrighted material

Indonesian Leaders Ordered Militia, Diplomat Says

by Richard S. Ehrlich

E Timor Genocide Shows Suharto Forces Still in Control
(AR) JAKARTA -- The Indonesia military "at a very senior level" unleashed the militias in East Timor, and the government believed the United Nations was "biased" in the election, Canada's Ambassador Kenneth Sunquist says.

Ruthless "forced migration" made the killings and destruction worse by expelling thousands of people from their would-be independent nation, Sunquist added.

"General Wiranto was not able to control his troops," Sunquist told The American Reporter during a two-hour taped interview in the Canadian Embassy.

Wiranto, who is both defense minister and armed forces chief, earlier pointed to unidentified "rogue elements" within his military who fueled the anti-independence militias' mayhem and murder.

But Wiranto claimed the death toll after the August 30 vote was "roughly in the nineties."

Sunquist, however, told the Canadian government via urgent diplomatic cables that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pro-independence East Timorese perished during the first half of September.

"I think that at some point in time there was an obvious agreement, at a very senior level, to unleash the militias. I think once released, they were not in control," the Canadian ambassador said.

Asked to name senior military officers who agreed to release the militias, Sunquist replied, "I can't say. I just don't know." But the envoy stressed, "Let's be crystal clear. There is no question the military aided and abetted the violence, and trained" the militias.

"To this day, I'm still getting this (complaint) bit, that UNAMET was biased, and therefore everything was justified"
Sunquist said Indonesia's top government officials, including Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, believed that the vote in East Timor would be a close call.

Indonesian officials were thus shocked, and suspicious, when 78.5 percent of East Timorese voted for independence.

"I think Alatas is a superb foreign minister for Indonesia. Has been for a long time. I think he lacked the eyes and ears on the ground to know" the real strength of pro-independence sentiment among East Timorese.

Unable to admit so many East Timorese hated Jakarta's 24-year-long brutal rule -- which left up to 200,000 people dead -- Indonesia's top leaders blamed the UN's election team, UNAMET, for intentionally skewing the polls in favor of independence.

"To this day, I'm still getting this (complaint) bit, that UNAMET was biased, and therefore everything was justified," including the deadly reaction by people who perceived East Timor as a permanent part of Indonesia.

Asked if the foreign minister personally believed the UN was biased in the election, the Canadian ambassador replied that senior officials "up to, and including, the president (B. J. Habibie) believes that. Absolutely. And Wiranto. And General Yusuf."

Yusuf, minister of information, earlier favored allowing the vote because he knew Indonesia's long, bloody military solution would not settle East Timor's fate, Sunquist added.

Sunquist said, "The minister of information, the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of defense" personally told the Canadian ambassador to his face that UNAMET was biased.

For example, he said the foreign minister told him, "Well, that it was biased, the hiring of pro-independence workers led to that appearance of bias. And that, clearly, UNAMET had always worked toward one goal."

The ambassador added, "And other ministers will even go further. So what we're really looking at is senior levels of government here, believe that the election was not fair. And what we're saying is that we believe it was."

"The question is, for instance, the camps have women and children, but no men. What's happened to those men?"
After intense foreign pressure on Jakarta, the internationally disgraced government caved in and let UN-mandated troops enter and occupy East Timor to restore order.

Faced with probable economic ruin, and pariah status at the start of the new millennium, Jakarta also reluctantly announced it would accept the result of the vote.

The bloodshed and obliteration in East Timor was also probably a death threat to other independence-minded regions, such as Aceh, Ambon and Irian Jaya, added Sunquist.

"If it was an effort by the military to -- and I say, 'if,' because I'm not sure that anybody really understands what the objective was in this whole thing -- but I mean, state-sponsored violence like that, is that a message to the Acehs, the Ambons, the Irian Jayas?

"Or is it a last gasp of the military on its way out? Those are questions a lot of people are really looking at.

"To my mind, it is probably a combination of a lot of that," he said.

The envoy demanded an international commission of inquiry to determine who is responsible for slaughtering East Timorese.

"I don't know if war crimes were committed. That's why I think it's absolutely imperative that a commission of inquiry start," Sunquist told AR.

"They will have people on the ground in East Timor, probably there by now, investigators to look at it."

International investigators are also "interviewing displaced people that are in Darwin right now, about what they saw" and "to see if there is any evidence."

The Canadian ambassador was especially concerned about the disappearance of East Timorese men, noticeably absent in crowded refugee camps across the border in West Timor.

"The question is, for instance, the camps have women and children, but no men. What's happened to those men?

"You can either take one approach, which is most of them went up in the hills to fight. That is probably true for a lot of them," he said.

"A second one is that they were segregated. There's a lot of reports that say the men were segregated. If that's true, you can look into all sorts of implications of that one.

"But in fact, from what we've now heard, there are some camps along the border which are almost entirely male. So maybe the husbands, fathers, brothers were segregated and are sitting in camps by themselves. I really hope that's true.

"And then there's the third one, that they were killed," Ambassador Sundquist said.

"No one, I mean, not anyone is willing to say that they were killed, because they don't know what happened to them. The wives don't know. They know they are missing. But they don't know where they are. And that's what a commission of inquiry" needs to determine, he said.

"It's a small island, international peacekeepers are there. As people come back from refugee camps, as people come down from the hills, you're going to have eyewitnesses all over the place."

Humanitarian Aid not Reaching East Timor Refugees
East Timor's plight is similar to that of Kosovo earlier this year, or perhaps more reminescent of the deadly refugee crisis in 1947 when British colonialists clumsily divided the Indian subcontinent to create an independent India and Pakistan, Sunquist said.

"In terms of mass migration of people, the Kosovo example where people just flooded out, seeking refuge and food," was nearly equal in scope.

"I mean, when you look at 50 percent of the population on the move (in East Timor), I'm not sure we even had that much in Kosovo."

The cruel birth of India and Pakistan with its murderous, mass criss-crossing of Hindus to India, and Moslems to Pakistan, "actually, probably, is a better example.

"I guess we're going a little bit further back in history, but that's exactly what it was, people were on the wrong side. It didn't matter where you were -- you were on the wrong side."

Richard S. Ehrlich is an author and former United Press International reporter, and has covered Asia for the past 21 years.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor October 4, 1999 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.