INDONESIAN OCCUPATION OF EAST TIMOR
Indonesia occupied East Timor from 1975 to 1999. Under the occupation, East Timor was the poorest of Indonesia's 27 provinces, with a per capita income of only around $150 a year. Some 78.5 percent of the province's residents were peasant farmers. Hunger and disease increased under Indonesian rule. Little was known about East Timor at that time because the Indonesian government didn’t release information about the region and foreigners usually weren't allowed in. A foreign aid worker allowed into East Timor in the late 1990s told the Washington Post, "Timorese don't have fun." For recreation he said they go to the beach and "contemplate."
But even critics of the Indonesian government agreed that as little as the Indonesians did they did more to modernize East Timor than the Portuguese ever did. The Indonesian government claimed it poured more money into East Timor than it did into any other province. It built more schools and infrastructure from 1975 to 1999 that the Portuguese did in four centuries.
Indonesian troops carried out a harsh campaign of pacification that inflicted grave suffering on local populations. Through the late 1970s and 1980s, accounts of military repression, mass starvation, and disease focused international attention on Indonesia as a major violator of human rights. An undetermined number--from 100,000 to 250,000--of East Timor's approximately 650,000 inhabitants died as a result of the armed occupation. However, by the mid-1980s, most of the armed members of Fretilin had been defeated, and in 1989 the province was declared open to free domestic and foreign travel. *
Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “During the 24 years of Indonesian occupation the Indonesian language became official and young people were indoctrinated in state ideology as well as many roads and other infrastructure were established in East Timor. These ideological and material programs were strategies to quell the resistance by the East Timorese people. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]
Critics of the Indonesian government claimed that outsiders got better jobs than local Timorese. Bishop Belo told the New York Times, "When there are 15 places in one government office, they receive 3 to 4 Timorese." One aid worker told the Washington Post: "The East Timorese are being treated like conquered people in a conquered territory. We have no rights, no bargaining position at all. It's kind of like creating a new slavery for East Timor after 400 years of colonialism."
It is estimated that about 100,000 of East Timor's 800,000 residents were outsiders who had come to the province in search of work. The government encouraged them to move in part to dilute the strength of the independence-minded East Timorese. The 1980 resettlement program of the Indonesian government (transmigrasi) relocated a large number of Indonesian families to East Timor as a strategy of neutralizing the independence movement (McCloskey 2000:5). This process, like the institutionalized rape of women to breed out Timorese blood (as claimed by a number of East Timorese women), aimed at the eradication of Timorese culture, religion, and language. The officially stated purpose of the resettlement of Indonesians to East Timor was the relieving of overpopulation in islands such as Java and Bali. It is estimated that about 150,000 Indonesians were resettled in East Timor (Pinto and Jardine 1997). <>
Conan Elphicke of ATC 80 wrote: Between 1975 and 1999 “nearly one third of the population-around 200,000 people-have died. Some have been shot while peacefully protesting, others tortured to death, still more allowed to starve. The Indonesian regime in East Timor has engaged, and continues to engage, in systematic rape, torture, extrajudicial detention and execution as well as forcible relocation and sterilization. East Timorese culture and language-which are wholly distinct from that of Java-dominated Indonesia-have been carefully repressed. Tens of thousands of Indonesian settlers have been given the best land and jobs while the locals become increasingly impoverished and malnourished. [Source: Conan Elphicke, ATC 80, solidarity-us.org, May-June 1999]
Indonesian Military in East Timor
The military reaped huge profits in East Timor by controlling the provinces lucrative coffee and sandalwood concessions. Virtually all the money that comes into the province came from exports of coffee and sandalwood ($7.7 million in 1994). Some East Timorese believed the military allowed Fretilin to survive to justify their presence in East Timor and opportunity to make money there.
At least 15,000 Indonesian soldiers and police served in East Timor. This works out to about 1 security force personnel for 50 East Timorese. Indonesian forces included a combat troop battalion and seven civil battalions, that were reportedly there only for public works programs. Soldiers and policemen are everywhere in East Timor. Traffic was ordered to a halt in Dili when the Indonesian flag was lowered at dusk and streets were often deserted after night. The only large gatherings took place at funerals and church services. Educated "clandestines" spoke a secret Portuguese-based language so the Indonesian soldiers couldn't understand them.
On the Indonesians in East Timors and their supporters, Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner said, "They are cowards, these pigs," intones Ramos-Horta with slow menace. "I tell you, I am very tolerant, a pacifist, I hate violence and I cannot get myself to hate anybody, but let me tell you one thing in all frankness, I have never encountered such people, at every level, who are so despicable, so violent, such liars, such brutes, from the top of the political leadership down to the soldiers. "I think there is an issue of racism there . . . Most of the soldiers are illiterate or semi-literate. They grow up in the slums, in a violent culture. Through the process of military indoctrination they believe that violence is the only way to deal with political differences, with dissent. But also, particularly Javanese soldiers are profoundly racist. [Source: Conan Elphicke, ATC 80, solidarity-us.org, May-June 1999 +~+]
"Anyone of darker skin, whether East Timorese, Acehnese, West Papuan are treated as second-class citizens by the military. There has been much talk of ethnic cleansing by the Serbians in Bosnia. Well, Indonesia started ethnic cleansing in East Timor far longer and in terms of proportion to the population, far more seriously than the Serbians in Bosnia . I don't think it has been their intention to wipe out the entire population but at least to reduce it to a minority. Through the killings, through forced sterilization of women, through transmigration, you achieve precisely that aim: you turn the local people into a minority in their own land. Then you resolve the problem. Similar to the Chinese approach in Tibet." +~+
According to Ramos-Horta, 20,000 troops are stationed in the territory to keep in check a hostile population and the still active resistance army. This costs an economically crippled Indonesia around $1 million a day. +~+
East Timor as a Military Colony
Solidamor.org reported: “After the invasion East Timor was nominally ruled by an East Timorese Governor, but as a figurehead. Civil power resided with the Deputy Governor who was usually a military man from Java, whilst all sensitive and security matters were subject to ratification by the Indonesian military commander, who, through his territorial commander in Bali, was subject to military headquarters in Jakarta. Ultimate authority lay with the military. Once in the 1980s when the Governor, Mario Carrascalao, a Timorese, asked to visit an arrested acquaintance, permission was refused by the military commander. Access to law through the courts was not an option that existed in East Timor, where all "law" was dispensed through force, by local military commanders. Defence from oppression could only be found by escaping to the hills to acquire the security of a Falintil rifle and a mountainous hide-out, or, more radically, by escaping overseas. Within the confines of normal living, no avenues for defence existed, through the law courts, the church, or the Red Cross. Even bribery was not an option, for who among the East Timorese was not impoverished? [Source: solidamor.org ><]
“For 13 years East Timor existed as a closed colony of the Indonesian military. No media access was allowed, so, while reports of famine, massacres and human rights abuses reached the outside world, the only official version of events was the Indonesian army version. Thus it was easy for governments in collusion with the Indonesians to dismiss the reports of massacres as "unsubstantiated". The ban on access prevented Western tourists, Indonesian citizens or indeed any outsider from visiting East Timor, with the result that East Timorese felt themselves to be forgotten by the outside world, and became increasingly desperate. This imposed seclusion continued from the time of the invasion in December 1975 until 1 January 1989, on which date the colony was opened up. ><
“For over 20 years Indonesia deployed huge numbers of troops in East Timor, as well as extremely sophisticated jet fighter/ bombers. Its aim had been to crush the East Timorese army, and to integrate East Timor into Indonesia. However it failed in its early aim of crushing the Timorese within the first few weeks, and had more completely failed by being unable to wipe out the small and poorly-equipped Falintil army, who even after 22 years were able to inflict losses on the Indonesian forces. This failure had cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 Indonesian soldiers and an estimated US$ 1 million per day. The proclaimed attempt to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese had not only met with no success, but had earned the Indonesians the bitter and undying hatred of the East Timorese, even among the youth who were born well after the invasion. In the late 1990s, the international image of Indonesia and its army was conspicuously tarnished, precisely because of its activities in East Timor.” ><
Human Rights Violations During the Indonesian Occupation of East Timor (1975 to 1999)
The massive human rights violations in East Timor which followed Indonesia’s invasion included random massacres, extra-judicial killings, starvation, deaths from preventable diseases, torture, forced movement of populations, coerced sterilization of women, rape and imprisonment without legal redress. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]
Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “The Indonesian state’s illegal occupation of East Timor and its excessive human rights abuses were condemned in no less than ten United Nations resolutions (McCloskey 2000:4). However, the dominant member nations of the UN did not act since such action would not be consistent with their global political strategies and dealings. Good trade relations with Indonesia and during the Cold War having an ‘anti-communist’ ally in General Suharto were some of the factors in this (ibid). [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]
“Paul Moore, the former Episcopal bishop of New York who visited East Timor in 1989, wrote in the Washington Post, East Timor "was the most repressive place I had ever encountered—and I'd been to South Africa, Nicaragua and the former Soviet bloc." "East Timor is like hell," Nobel Peace Prize winner and Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo told the Washington Post, "Christians are constantly being arrested, beaten and intimidated by police." He told the New York Times, "After interrogation, people were tortured and beaten and brought to trial and condemned without a just and formal trial. One of the most unpopular figures in East Timor was Lieutenant-General Prabowo Subianta, a son-in-law of Suharto and an avid torturer known developing the organizing local thugs in system that was a precursor to the "militias."
Solidamor.org reported: “From the day of the invasion the Indonesian military systematically and deliberately made use of torture, rape and the killing of innocent civilians as instruments of war and oppression. Army handbooks described the "established procedures". Every Indonesian commander since 1975 had been responsible for extra-judicial and civilian murders, which in essence were war crimes. At least 500 East Timorese were killed in cold blood by Indonesian troops at the shrine of St Antonio near Lacluta in September 1981 and 200-300 villagers near Viqueque in August 1983. On 28 December 1982 a Timorese priest wrote: " Macabre scenes were a Javanese speciality in East Timor: cutting off heads and displaying them in public; the Commander going along to give an air of solemnity to the act and having his photograph taken among the remains; bodies being dragged by vehicles through the village streets, burning them in front of the people in the market -square; simply burning people alive as they did recently in Ainaro". People were pushed alive out of helicopters into the sea, and women were raped in front of their husbands and children. A 1983 letter explained how Pedro, a junior high school boy, on learning that his father and two uncles had been murdered by the military, went to complain to the "red berets". Their response was to tie a rope around his neck and hang him on a tree. [Source:solidamor.org]
Violence Against Women During the Indonesian Occupation of East Timor
Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “In the Atsabe subdistrict of Ermera district I heard a lot of spontaneous accounts of such brutal experiences during 2001 and 2002. A common comment often heard referred to the Indonesians, particularly Indonesian soldiers, as the “most brutal masters who would rape and point a gun to your head and shoot you dead for no reason and sometimes just out of sport.” Several women recounted their terrifying experience of being taken from their parents’ home at the age of 12-13 and after being raped being kept as a de facto wife of the soldier stationed there. Through tears some explained how their parents were beaten or threatened with a gun, or even shot dead as the young women were taken away. Even an APODETI founder’s granddaughter was not spared in this regard. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor ]
Stephanie Coop wrote in the Japan Times, “Gender-based violence was rampant during the Indonesian occupation, with the East Timorese truth commission finding that East Timorese women were subjected to widespread rape, sexual slavery and various forms of sexual torture — 93.3 percent of which was perpetrated by Indonesian soldiers or Indonesian-backed militias. Sexual abuse occurred almost as a matter of course when women were detained by Indonesian authorities. [Source: Stephanie Coop, Japan Times, December 23, 2006 |::|]
“In her testimony displayed at the” special exhibition at the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo,” Fatima Guterres, who participated actively in resistance activities before being captured by Indonesian troops, states that all the women in the prison where she was subsequently incarcerated were raped. “When the soldiers there interrogated us, they didn’t ask us anything about our political activities. All they were interested in was sex, sex, sex,” Guterres said. “We were always ‘questioned’ at night. After one session finished we would be told to go back to our cell and sleep, but then another soldier would appear and tell us to report to another officer’s room. We knew what would happen . . . every night it was the same thing, over and over,” she said. |::|
“Despite the gravity of the human-rights abuses documented in the exhibition, justice has yet to be achieved for the survivors. U.N. prosecutors indicted some members of the Indonesian military and its militias for complicity in sexual violence as a crime against humanity, but Indonesia has refused to extradite the suspects to stand trial in East Timor. “Many survivors and witnesses have already passed away, so it’s imperative that the government act quickly. We hope the exhibition will help raise awareness about this issue and lead to justice for all the victims.” |::|
Dili Massacre at Santa Cruz (1991)
In November 1991 a massacre took place in which between 50 and 200 unarmed demonstrators were massacred by Indonesian troops in a cemetery in Dili, East Timor's largest city, during a peaceful funeral for a slain independence supporter. Soldiers fired volley after volley into the crowd and the bayoneted survivors. The incident, which was captured by a British freelance cameraman on a film smuggled off the island, was very embarrassing to the Indonesian government and helped focus attention on the East Timor issue. Only then did the United States cut off support of Indonesia.
One survivor told AFP, "We had climbed up on the wall of the cemetery. When the troops started to shoot at us, I jumped off the wall. My hands were bleeding because so many people were jumping, trying to escape," he said. "I saw one guy who had been working as a journalist get shot. As soon as I saw him getting shot, I ran." [Source: AFP, August 29, 2009]
Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “While the international media ignored issues of East Timor for much of the Indonesian occupation (O’Shaughnessy 2000), the eyes of the world turned on Timor with the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili carried out by the Indonesian army. The planned visit of the Portuguese delegation in October 1991, which was viewed by most East Timorese, and especially by the student activists and Fretilin, as an opportunity to publicize the brutalities of the occupation (McCloskey 2000, Cristalis 2002), was cancelled at the last minute. Indonesian agents knew exactly who were involved in the planning of the protest and when the cancellation occurred they killed an East Timorese student taking refuge in the Motael Church in Dili on October 28, 1991. In response, the resistance movement planned a demonstration for 12 November. Given that the UN’s special rapporteur on torture was in town, they felt that the army would show some restraint (Cristalis 2002:45). [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]
“On 12 November 1991 several hundred mourners attended the services for this student activist (Sebastião Gomes) and joined the funeral procession to his grave in Santa Cruz cemetery. Over a thousand demonstrators followed the family of mourners with banners and calls for independence. Upon reaching the cemetery, the mourners and protesters were mowed down by automatic weapons as the Indonesian military opened fire. According to Cristalis (2002:47) the names of 271 people killed have been compiled by the Timorese resistance along with 200 names of people who disappeared. It was claimed that injured survivors were taken away by the Indonesian security forces and beaten and stoned to death as well as injected with poison (ibid; Pinto and Jardine 1997). What was different about this particular massacre of the Indonesian occupation was that it had been captured on film by a British journalist whose smuggled footage brought these horrors into living rooms around the world. International apathy towards or ignorance of the East Timor issue as an international issue was no longer an option. Human rights NGO activist groups increased the pressure of their campaign on the United Nations and national governments to respect the rights of the East Timorese people for self-determination and to condemn Indonesian occupation (McCloskey 2000:7).” <>
According to solidamor.org: “A long-planned visit to East Timor by Portuguese parliamentarians was due to take place in November 1991; the politically active Timorese therefore prepared for demonstrations. Although the visit was eventually cancelled, the Timorese decided to proceed with a pro- independence march, in view of the unusual presence of a number of journalists who had come in secret to cover the parliamentary visit. The march took place on November 12 after a 6am Mass at the Motael church in Dili, which was held to commemorate the death of a student, Sebastiao Gomes, who had been killed by police at the church three weeks before. [Source:solidamor.org ><]
“The marchers, consisting of some 2000 youth aged mainly between 14 and 25, wound their way through the town, past the Governor's office and stopped at the Santa Cruz cemetery, a distance of about three kilometres. As photographs were taken of the banners on the cemetery walls and announcements made for the ceremony of prayers and flower-laying that was to take place inside the cemetery, automatic rifle fire broke out, and for two to three minutes, soldiers, commanded by officers in civilian dress, fired directly into the crowd. The cemetery was surrounded, and the young people, hiding behind tombstones or fleeing in any direction, were chased by soldiers, who brutally beat, shot and rounded up the wounded. These wounded, numbering between 50 and 200 were taken to the military hospital in trucks, where a witness saw Indonesian soldiers crush their skulls with rocks, or give them lethal pills to take. All died. ><
“On the basis of testimonies from friends and relatives of the victims, it had been possible to establish the identity of 271 dead, 250 missing, and 382 wounded (a total of 903). This atrocity, brought to the world by journalists and photographers who were in Dili at the time, was only one in a never-ending line of horrendous outrages which the Timorese have suffered, and were still suffering, but which the world had seldom witnessed or heard of. The response from governments in Europe and America was to condemn the massacre and bring pressure on the Indonesian government to investigate the killings and punish those responsible. Even better, it had the effect of reminding the world that the issue of East Timor was not dormant, as had appeared, but was in fact viciously alive, a realization which prompted the United Nations Secretary-General to activate his mandate to find a solution to the issue, and the Portuguese government to take more positive steps to complete their unfinished decolonization responsibilities. ><
“Nevertheless no nation actually altered its official position on East Timor. Indeed within two weeks of the massacre, Australia even celebrated with Indonesia the official beginning of the Timor Gap Treaty. The reaction of Indonesia to the international outrage was to take two unprecedented steps: setting up a commission of inquiry and punishing several military. The commission found that 19 had been killed, a figure later increased to 50, while two senior officers were transferred and some lower ranking officers received sentences of just a few months, for firing on an unarmed crowd. Whilst this was clearly a sop to the international condemnation, Jakarta's real sentiments were conspicuous in the sentences handed out to those charged with organizing the peaceful Dili demonstration, and the demonstration held in Jakarta a week afterwards. These sentences ranged from 10 years, to 15 years, and life imprisonment.” ><
No senior officials were charged with the massacre at Santa Cruz and only one of 18 junior officials indicted received a jail term. Most of those yet to be arrested are given sanctuary by Indonesia, including former military chief Wiranto, who ran for the vice-presidency in July 2009 elections, and former militia leader Eurico Guterres. [Source: AFP, August 29, 2009]
Dramatic footage of the shooting and the wounded was captured by Western journalists and smuggled out of East Timor. Some of the gunmen were clearly captured on video, but no-one has ever been prosecuted for the killings. Dozens of victims remain missing.
Political Activity During the Indonesian Occupation of East Timor (1975 to 1999)
One reason the Indonesian government was afraid to grant autonomy to East Timor was because it worried that such an action might fuel separatist movements in other parts of the archipelago, particularly Aceh and Irian Jaya.
Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “While the freedom fighters continued their struggle at home, the battle for independence was also fought abroad. In the international arena awareness of East Timor’s plight—the illegality of the occupation and massive human rights abuses that bordered on genocide--was mainly kept alive by: 1. NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), such as ETAN (East Timor Action Network); 2. and especially by Catholic Church institutions; 3. as well as Fretilin members living in exile. José Ramos-Horta was Fretilin’s representative to the UN. While he and Mari Alkatiri had a lot of experience in international diplomatic work and lobbying, most other exiles lacked such experience (Taylor 1994:181). [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]
“In the 1980s some of the political parties—Fretilin, UDT, KOTA, AND TRABALHISTA-- formed an umbrella organization called the National Pact for East Timor (Convergencia Nacional Timorense). However, factionalism continued and the resistance remained divided with some of the parties disengaging themselves from CNT (Soares 2000:60). In 1987 both Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta terminated their Fretilin association and founded the National Council for Maubere Resistance (CNRM, Conselho Nacional da Resistencia Maubere). Again, UDT and KOTA rejected the CNRM. It has been suggested that at the core of the factionalism was the term Maubere.” <>
Fretilin and Falintil
Fretilin was political-guerilla group formed in the 1970s and banned after the Indonesian invasion in 1975. The Fretilin armed wing, called Falintil, was made up of rough men with wild hair and mismatched uniforms and armed with old Portuguese weapons, outdated M-14s, spears, bows and arrows, machetes and knives. Fretilin stands for the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor. It claimed to be the voice of East Timor's people and is believed to have had the support of most East Timorese.
Fretilin began as political party that fought during the civil war and then fled to the interior of East Timor after the Indonesian invasion. Falitil began as a martial arts group (Timorese are big fans of martial arts). Falintil fighters were expert at living in the forest. The Indonesians never found their camps and tried unsuccessfully to ambush them at water holes. Some separatists lived in the jungle for more than 25 years and had noms de guerre like “Hunter” and “The Tiger of Kablaki.” Fretilin and Falintil had an active civilian underground. It is estimated that 3,000 unarmed people provided safe havens and support for Fretilin and Falintil.
Fretilin and Falintil lost some support among the East Timor populace because of it brutality. They killed suspected collaborators and attacked Indonesian immigrants. Four mass graves marked with plank crosses near the East Timor town of Aileu were the work of Fretilin. There are more than 300 bodies buried in Manfoni, 200 in Montane, 100 in Saboria and about 60 in Aisirimou. The killings took place in December, 1975. The victims were killed because they didn't have Fretilin identity cards.
According to some sources, at its peak Falintil consisted of 2,500 regular troops, 7,000 who had some Portuguese military training, and 10,000 who had attended short military instruction courses - a total of 20,000. In the 1990s, Fretilin said they had 700 fighters. The Indonesian army estimated they had less than 200 guerrillas armed with around 100 outdated American-made M-16s and Belgian-made G-3 assault rifles. The movement’s long-timeleader, José Alexandre Gusmao was captured in 1992 and sent to prison (See Below). Another longtime East Timor rebel leader died in March 1998 when he fell into a ravine.
In 1981 Xanana Gusmao became the leader of Falintil. In 1992 in a setback for the resistance Gusmao was captured near Dili. In 1993 he was convicted of subversion and given a life sentence which was later reduced.
Founding of Fretilin
Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “On 20 May 1974 the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT) was founded. The leaders of this group consisted of Francisco Xavier do Amaral, José Ramos Horta, Justino Mota, Nicolau Lobato and Mari Alkatiri. Several of them were sons of liurais and were in the government service (teachers and administrators). They had an ambitious program with a focus on the rural areas that focused on health, education, economic and rural development, fullest participation of East Timorese in the political structure and the reassertion of Timorese culture. They were founded on the idea of full independence. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]
“By September they changed their group’s name to the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin). Given the extensiveness of their program and their thorough links and branches at the local rural levels with a hands-on-approach, they did not only draw the support of a number of prominent liurai but also from all level of village social organization. On 25 May the Timorese Popular Democratic Association (APODETI) was founded and this group heavily favored autonomous integration with Indonesia and Indonesian language education. Its founders included a number of prominent figures who since the 1960s were dealing in secret with agents from Indonesia in return for favors and payments, utilizing their position in society as traders, customs officials and powerful traditional leaders. <>
“Arnaldo dos Reis Araujo was a cattle rancher. Osario Soares was both an administrator and a school teacher. The most powerful and strongest supporter however was a liurai of the former Atsabe kingdom from Atsabe, Ermera. Dom Guilherme Gonçalves was not only the leader of the Atsabe Kemak group but had extensive marriage alliance ties with groups within the former kingdom of Atsabe and with groups allied with the former kingdom – thus his ties extended to the Northern Tetun and Bunaq ethnic groups on both sides of the border, as well as with other Kemak groups in Ainaro and Bobonaro districts, and also with southern Tetun groups on both sides of the border. He was vehemently anti-Portuguese and had access to a huge traditional army of his former kingdom. As members of his kin-group explained in 2002, he came from a line of kings that constantly rebelled against the Portuguese; however, given the kinship ties and land holdings transmitted through such ties, Guilherme had both land and marriage allies on both sides of the border. Various agnates and affines, thus justify Guilherme’s integrationist stance as simply “not wanting to separate the families any longer by the border drawn on a map by the Portuguese he hated so much and the Dutch colonial masters…he wanted a unified Timor and not to be cut off from the spiritual center in Wehali….” <>
“Three other small parties also arose but these had little consequence with no programs and they tried to form coalitions with the major parties above. These were: KOTA-“Sons of the Mountain Warriors” who wanted to return to a traditional form of political organization that focused on the liurais, but with an elitist bend, to only those liurais that could trace their descent from the Topasses (mixed indigene and Portuguese ancestry); the 8 family member Labor Party, PARTIDO TRABALHISTA; ADLITA-Democratic Association for the Integration of East Timor with Australia. This latter party simply collected money form people for this unrealistic dream (Taylor 1994).” <>
One the founding of Fretilin, Nobel-Peace-Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta said: "My ideological influence at the time was Swedish social democracy, Willy Brandt and so on. But as the days and weeks evolved there was tremendous pressure from the Timorese university students in Portugal, who were all Maoist.. By September 1974 we changed into Fretilin-Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor . . . And idiots like myself were totally pushed aside by the hard-liners. [If Indonesia hadn't invaded] I would not have lasted long . . . I was accused of being an agent of Australian imperialism (those were the actual words), an agent of the CIA ...But I had retained a lot of support from within Fretilin, from the military side. People knew me, and they liked me; they knew my work. It was only that that saved me [from expulsion]." [Source: Conan Elphicke, ATC 80, solidarity-us.org, May-June 1999]
Armed Struggle by Fretilin and Falinil During the Indonesian Occupation
Falintil fighters waged a guerilla war against Indonesian occupation from their mountain jungle hide outs. According to Soares (2000:59), they employed hit and run tactics and even managed to infiltrate the Indonesian army intelligence. This way they were able to set up contacts with sections of the army for information and for weapon acquisition (ibid). The Indonesian army continued to brutalize the population and from the early days of occupation over 200,000 East Timorese died. The local economy was controlled by Indonesians and some East Timorese loyal to them. According to Amnesty international women were systematically raped by Indonesian, especially soldiers, until late 1980s – a form of ethnic cleansing. As McCloskey (2000:4) sums it up, [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]
Solidamor.org reported: “Fighting occurred sporadically, marked by major Indonesian offensives, small Falintil (Timorese army) guerrilla counter-attacks, Indonesian claims that Falintil was a spent force, and huge Indonesian troop numbers, fluctuating between 15,000 and 35,000, which strangely belie the Indonesian claim of Falintil's impotence. Some of the major actions between 1981 and 1988 were: July 1981: Operasi Keamanan. August 1981: Forced mass recruitment of Timorese civilians, including children, to form anti-Falintil human chains, which protected the Indonesian soldiers who followed behind. March 23 1983: Ceasefire signed between Indonesian Commander Colonel Purwanto and Timorese Commander Xanana Gusmao, but broken by Indonesians who, on August 8 launched a new campaign. September 1983: Operasi Persatuan. August 1983 - June 1984: Intense bombardment by Indonesian air force. December 1985: Successful Falintil ambushes of Indonesian soldiers. November 1986: Indonesian offensive, involving 50 Indonesian battalions, 12 of which were exclusively searching for Xanana Gusmao. March 1987: Offensive deploying 30,000 troops. July 1987: Another offensive. March 1988: Successful Timorese ambushes. May 1988: Operation Clean Up. December 1988: Successful Timorese attack on Indonesian soldiers in outer Dili suburbs. [Source: solidamor.org ><]
In 1983 a cease-fire agreement was signed by the leader of FALINTIL freedom fighters, Xanana Gusmão, and Colonel Purwanto of the Indonesian army (Soares 2000:59). However, General Murdani, in order to make a statement that the Indonesian government will not negotiate with the independence movement, broke the cease fire and a new military operation was launched in East Timor, called ‘Operation Unity’. <>
In 1986 Indonesia launched "Operation Extinction" in East Timor with 15,000 troops. By 1990 the force was up to 40,000 and the Jakarta government was beginning a transmigration program intended to eventually settle five million Javanese on the island. In contrast, Between 1975 and 1993 over one third of the East Timor's indigenous population had been killed.
In 1992, due to international pressure, the Indonesian military inquiry condemned local army action but gave lenient sentences to lowly soldiers. In November 1992 FALINTIL leader, Xanana Gusmão, is captured by Indonesian army and is convicted to life in prison in 1993. In October 1996 the continued diplomatic efforts to attract international attention to atrocities in East Timor are recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded to José Ramos-Horta and Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo. This caused the Indonesian government great embarrassment and it was yet another way of increasing international pressure. These developments also galvanize the unification of the resistance factions and in 1997, in Peniche, Portugal CNRM is transformed into CNRT (Conselho Nacional da Resistencia Timorense) or the National Council for East Timorese Resistance. Their main agenda was the preparation of a new government—a kind of ‘government in waiting’ or transitional government--should East Timor gain its independence in the near future.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015