Read accounts of East Timor by Commander Cummins, Commander Campbell and Lieutenant Commander Fogarty.
EAST TIMOR – Canterbury 1: Commander Cummins
The first tasking was to escort HMAS Tobruk from Darwin up into Dili and so we went all of the way right into the thick of it on day one, which was a pretty good way to get broken in. On that first escort naval duty we ran across Indonesian naval ships just on the eastern edge of Wetar Strait which is on the eastern corner of East Timor and that was a night entry into this area. It is quite an open area of water but it is very poorly surveyed and so quite tense as we approached that eastern corner. Then down into Dili. Belligerent is the wrong word to describe the Indonesian ships but they were in a very reserved mode. They wouldn’t talk to anyone, not that we tried to engage in a conversation. Given that we had just finished an exercise in which they were involved it was definitely a step back and nobody was sure of their intentions. Our advice was to either maintain the status quo or just keep things calm and so there was no pointing of fire control radar’s or gunnery system. They were coming in close to look at what we were doing and trying to get in close to Tobruk which is a bit nerve wracking because she had troops on board.
The mission tasking the entire time we were there was that any time a ship moved with troops on board it would have a warship assigned to it for close escort which was within a couple of miles. If it was just a stores ship the escort could be opened out to about 5 to 10 miles or we would monitor the movements of UN civilian ships. Normally there were a series of ships along the route and we would just be sitting there providing the electronic picture back to whoever was in control.
Other duties that were assigned were direct escort jobs for landing craft or special operations around the place and we got involved in a number of those. Also the guard ship for Dili. I think the greatest fear for the Dili command and the INTERFET people was that the Militia would break out or the Indonesians would break out with weapons and start fighting in and around Dili. Dili is the key to Timor and so at all times they keep a warship on the horizon very close to Dili just as a reminder that if you take on the INTERFET soldiers you would be taking on something a bit bigger. I think that was a good policy and it certainly involved us in close to Dili on a number of occasions.
EAST TIMOR – Canterbury 2 Commander Cummins
In the time we were up there we had ten un-alerted air contacts of which the first one we actually warned off. There is a series of warnings that you are allowed to give under the UN charter. The whole thing with the Timor operation was we were acting under UN Charter Chapter 7 which has very aggressive and forceful rules which allowed us to be very aggressive with the Indonesians. Personally I think that part of the success of Timor was that the Australians and the UN went in there very forcefully. There was a lot of expectation of action, which as it transpired didn’t occur, but I think that the reason it didn’t occur is because there was that expectation.
The whole task force went in there, expecting to go to war is over stating it, but expecting some degree of interaction and action with whoever was going to be aggressive. That could have been militia and that could have been the Indonesians nobody was too sure what was going to happen, but because they were prepared they never had too. I think it was a classic example of how naval force can work.
My view is and I will probably be chastised for saying it, is that the warships provided that ring of steel around the island. This isolated it largely from the Indonesians who were still patrolling the area trying to be seen as if it were their country and all the rest of it, right and proper. They were isolated from the ability to communicate with the militia. That limited their action and it also gave them a message from the UN saying that their actions wouldn’t be tolerated, if they stepped out of line there was enough force there to deal with it. The Navy presence provided that sort of ring of steel to start with.
The Indonesians had assets in all three dimensions available there; they had patrol craft and some of their large corvettes, and the missile armed corvettes. There were a number and variety of different types of aircraft ranging from the Hawks. There were occasional F16’s picked up. There were other surveillance aircraft and a 737 was operating there quite regularly. They had the ASW threat as well of four submarines of which at least two were deployed to the area at various stages. We encountered ten of those aircraft but as time went by it became clear that the Indonesians were less inclined to be aggressive and more inclined to be inquisitive and so we were able to relax a little bit in that regard. The first encounter was very tense, we were protecting a landing craft, we were operating right on the edge of the West Timor border and INTERFET had tasked us to look after this landing craft while they did a beach reconnaissance for a landing later on.
While we were doing that this contact they came directly at us and we issued Warning One, which was, “What are you intentions, what are you going to do, go away”. They never responded but they veered off slightly and so we were able to just monitor their actions and wait but really we were ready to go and that was pretty nerve wracking. Afterwards I remember standing in the ops room and the senior PWO on board had taken over as the Warfare Officer. We sort of looked at each other and I said to him, “That all seemed to work”. From the ships perspective I think that was really the moment it all came together, we had done all this work, we had prepared everything, we had taken every possible precaution and then suddenly we were put in a situation of real tension and it worked. After that I relaxed quite considerably I would have to say because I knew that whatever I asked them to do they would do, it was good.
Surface contacts there were in the early phases probably three or four Indonesian ships within 60 miles at anyone time. They were clustered in the north eastern end of Timor, there is a fairly constrained area there where they knew that the INTERFET ships had to came through and so they were obviously watching that quite closely. They were also in the vicinity of Dili. Some of them were more aggressive in their actions than others, they were all very quiet, they wouldn’t talk and they wouldn’t radiate their radar and the first indication was generally a visual bearing and some of them got quite close especially at night. Generally I think it was case of they were watching to see what we were watching. There was this kind of wariness on both sides and nobody wanted to get too aggressive but nobody wanted to be seen to be backing off if you know what I mean. It was their territory we were just being allowed into it by them and so they were quite keen to make that presence felt. We were quite keen that they didn’t get in the way of the troop ships.
Yes we had P3’s with us all the time and a very heavy P3 presence very early on in the piece plus the usual array of electronic sensors as well. The P3 support was all provided by the United States and Australia.
We had a very good picture of what was on the surface. Not quite such a good picture of ASW and land wise was not a great picture at all. As the operation started to move on they started to realise because the sea floor is very steep, you could actually get in within half a mile of anywhere on the coast and the surface assets could actually provide quite a bit of the land picture as well. We were reporting fires and any gunfire.
We had one incident off Baukau fairly early on in the piece where we heard heavy gunfire just as we were doing a damage control exercise, nicely timed and we went in and just closed the coast and just steamed slowly up and down just to make our presence felt. The gunfire stopped and we went away.
We investigated an ASW contact early on in the piece. We were told to go and look for a submarine and then told to go passive and so we couldn’t find it terribly easily and eventually we withdrew from that without ever detecting a submarine. Late in the deployment we stumbled on what we think was a real submarine contact. We had interaction in all spheres and we were pretty happy with that.
EAST TIMOR – Endeavour 1 Commander Campbell
We got in to Singapore on the Friday morning 10 September and we had something like 34 to 35 pallets of stores for Te Kaha to collect and so we put all that in the containers. Then we got a signal saying they wanted us to embark 300 cubes of Avcat, well the ship only holds 170 cubes of Avcat. We had thought ahead a little bit hearing this and we knew it was Avcat they wanted us to take with us out the week before. We were pretty low on fuel anyway, so what we had done we cleaned out the after two wing tanks number 3 port and starboard. What we ended up doing is putting the Avcat in number 3 starboard wing tank so it was only half full; we had 300 cubes in there. We were full down the back end and so we had another 170 to 160 odd cubes down the back end.
We stored ship all day Saturday and Sunday we had off, it was half of Sunday we had off to go and basically do some shopping. We sailed first light Monday morning for East Timor which was around about the 13th of September I think it was and headed off down through the Indonesian Archipelago waters. By this stage we were getting all the signals. There seemed to be some tension in the area. I am thinking if people knew we had a vital supply of fuel on board then we might become a prime target and that was generally that feeling I think on board. It didn’t help when we were only about 36 hours into the six day passage just south of Karimala Strait we had a LSM approach us from off Jakarta. I don’t know if it happened by accident or on purpose but he ended up tailing us, tailing us the whole way for about the next 48 to 56 odd hours. He sat wide on our stern and then closed right in as we transited across to Java Sea, across the stern of us by about a mile and then sat off the starboard quarter about two or three miles. Then slowly over about a 12 hour period disappeared over the horizon to starboard. At one stage it looked like he had a 105 or 155 field gun on board, we could see its barrel pointing up over the bow. This raised a few eyebrows particularly when he closed in and crossed our stern. Then by the time it had actually crossed our stern the barrel was dropped down again. The whole time we were sending signals off to the people in Australia. I understand Ross Smith who is the CO of Te Kaha was at that stage basically doing a wall of death. At this stage they were all in Darwin sitting round at an hours notice for sea ready to move. He was saying, “Let’s go to sea and we will go up and meet Endeavour and escort her down”. For some reason the Australians didn’t do it and I think they were flooded with so much information they hadn’t really clicked on to what was actually happening until Ross had put it to them rather forcibly and by that stage it was probably all too late.
Ross I understand came down past East Timor at action stations. We finally steamed past East Timor around about the 18th I think we actually joined the area of operations just on dusk. We made sure we stayed outside at least outside five miles and just middle up the distances so we didn’t make it look like we were cutting corners etc. There was no way that I was going to go any closer than five miles to East Timor and just stay outside the shoulder launched weapon range for starters. Because there was no guarantees of any sort that anything like that wouldn’t happen.
Basically we just planned the navigation through the North Timor Sea around the north of the island there. It was literally slap-bang between the middle of that and the other islands to the north. We would just middle it up the whole way around so we couldn’t be accused of doing anything. If anything we could have biased ourselves so it was outside 12 miles from East Timor itself but we thought the safer track was just to say we will stick to the middle line all the way through. We went through without incident. We saw a couple of fires ashore but it was more people cooking I think than anything else, there was no evidence of anything else that was ashore.
We stumbled across Vendemiaire a French naval ship, she had come across from Noumea, we stumbled across her that night and I think it was the night of the 18th because we were silent the whole time. She flashed up and identified and if she had given us the name in French it would have been easy but she gave us her name in English. I forget what it means, but it just didn’t ring a bell at all and we steamed off in the horizon and suddenly remembered the following day, silly.
We steamed south all the following day towards Darwin and we met just before lunch HMAS Success refuelling the USS Mobile Bay. USNS Kilauea, she is one of the big tankers was there as well, HMAS Darwin was with her and I think the ANZAC might have been with her as well. By this stage we hadn’t received any Op Gen, any Op tasks, intentions or anything as to what we were to do, where we were to go, what we couldn’t do etc, it was nothing, we were in a little black hole. As soon as we saw Success we just called up and said, “Joining from the north”, and she said, “Negative carry on with previous intentions”, we are thinking, “What previous intentions”. Then about 15 minutes later we got a signal that had been sent 36 hours before because there was just that much traffic floating around that it was taking so long for a priority signal to get through telling us to head south and to meet up with Te Kaha.
We met up with Te Kaha that afternoon did three and a half hours of flying serials with her to try and get this container load of stores off to her. Refuelled I think from memory and then just put in a box about fifty miles almost due south of the eastern tip of East Timor on 20 September 1999. I then got told to stay in our box and the basic plan then was they were waiting for D Day to happen with East Timor. They had a phased entry to go in led by warships to clear the way. Then we basically went in three days after Dili had been secured so we could go in and off load our Avcat, which was basically all they wanted, the Avcat. This was now 22 September 1999.
EAST TIMOR EVACUATION Lieutenant Commander Fogarty
On the night of the 5th it was decided from Dili that an Australian Air Force Hercules was going to covertly come in the next day without Indonesian authority and land at Baucau Airport and evacuate a 100 UN civilians. They felt it was important to get non essential personnel out because a UN convoy had been attacked near Dili and an American civilian policeman had been shot three times but he survived he got two through the abdomen and one in the leg. There was a New Zealand Squadron Leader Logan Cudby involved in that patrol and things were steadily getting worse. Up until that stage there hadn’t been an international person attacked, it had always been local staff that was working for the UN targeted so that was quite an ominous sign. Logan Cudby later told me that unquestionably it was an Indonesian policeman that had fired those shots where he was in a place called Liquisha. That was the call that was made on the 5th September that the next morning this Hercules would come in.
That night there was a lot of firing around the town. The UN Headquarters was targeted, it was emptied and people were huddling down in their own buildings, which weren’t secure because we were an unarmed mission who had no weapons, we were relying on the Indonesian military and the police to secure us. Only the week before a police unit called the Bre Mob, which were like a police equivalent to the Armed Defenders Squad, come into Baucau from Java. It was well reported that they were involved in a lot of the problems that were happening.
The 6th September arrived and we headed down to the UN Headquarters in the old part of town. We had UN houses that were being used for accommodation and we decided to man them where they had strategic lookout positions because the town of Baucau is quite a hilly town and we reported anything that looked untoward. Well we got a report on the radio that there were two armed Indonesian soldiers in Indonesian military kit running down the hill towards the UN Headquarters. The next thing that I recall was hearing a lot of noise from outside the building and hearing this rumbling sound. The building was split into three rooms and all these people running into the room where I was as if they were being chased. At that point I looked out the window and saw an Indonesian sergeant with an M16 rifle, which is the usual thing they carried standing in a position almost ready to fire, which seemed strange. He looked around and saw me looking out the window and turned around and pointed his weapon at me and at that point I ducked back. There was a lot of shouting and aggression going on. I subsequently found out that the other soldier had come into the building and wanted to take hostage our local staff and there were many in the building at the time, quite a large building. I would estimate there would have been about 120 in the building at that point.
One of the Australian Military Liaison Officers was talking to him in Bahasa, Indonesia and those two soldiers within about 2 minutes backed off and went up the road. An uneasy calm came over the building. The Hercules for these hundred odd civilians were due to arrive at about 11 o’clock that morning. Probably about 15 minutes later without warning we started to hear gunfire and it started getting louder and louder and closer and closer until it was right outside our window. Everyone started lying on the floor and for about the next 45 minutes there was just gunfire all around the building. I ended up on the floor in the corner of our room with the UN CIVPOL Commander, Inspector Gerry Philips from the Irish Guarda. People were spread everywhere and a number of the UN civilians were lying in a state of panic. Sat phone contact was made with Dili and the situation passed to them. Radio warnings were given to all UN patrols to stay away from the UNHQ. Throughout the time lying on the floor the mind raced knowing that at any time gunmen could come into the building unhindered and spray the place. One Mozambican policeman’s mind was racing so much he couldn’t control his bowels. Gerry and I were trying to protect ourselves as much as we could as windows were breaking and bullets hit walls. I ended up with a computer hard drive on my stomach and a chair on my head while Gerry was hard in beside me using the PC monitor as protection. I hadn’t had a chance to look out to see who was firing. We had a UN house up the road which was being lived in by UN civilian police and they had a couple of people looking out on their balcony and it was these Bre Mob police in full uniform. We had numerous shots come into the building through the windows and into the walls. It was over in I would say 45 minutes and then that stopped. We were in communication with Dili. We had one chap on the SAT phone and another on the local radio network telling people to stay away from the building because we did have patrols out. After about half an hour when the shooting was still happening the call came from Dili that there was now another Hercules being re-routed to Baucau and every UN employee was to be evacuated and make their way to the airport.
When the firing stopped these policemen moved off around the road to a block away where they had a building they were based out of. Lieutenant Colonel Hutujutu arrived in full battle kit with flak jacket on and told us that he could no longer provide security for the UN, there were militia in town dressed as Indonesian police and he couldn’t 100% promise us security which had never really been the case anyway..
Then a very interesting thing happened. He requested that the UN provide UN vans to go out to a village, a place called Laga which is about 30 kilometres east along the coast where he had platoon strength of soldiers that he wanted to bring into town, but he didn’t have any transport. They were very poorly equipped the Indonesian military, apart from small arms they didn’t have much else. Our Austrian Team Leader and an Irish CIVPOL Commander made the call that we would assist in bringing the Indonesian military into town to provide security for us and to escort us to the airport which is probably about a 15 minute drive away. In hindsight it was a very stupid and unnecessarily risky thing to do.
I volunteered with 5 others and the whole area around the building was filled with UN vehicles and we managed to finally get the 6 vans out. We headed off unescorted to Laga 30 kilometres away, two to a van. I was with a British police officer, Tony and I don’t recall his last name. We arrived at this military establishment which was just some outpost buildings in a farming sort of area and there was Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hutujutu with biscuits and drinks for us whilst his soldiers loaded into our vans. We were really quite anxious to get on the road and to get back to Baucau to get to the airport which was our main goal at that time as we had been told to. He was quite happy and I quote him as saying, “Don’t worry the bad dream is over”. At that point I quite strongly told him that we were leaving now and if the soldiers weren’t in the vans in a few minutes we were going.
We went back to Baucau and by the time we had got into Baucau the UN Headquarters building had been emptied, there was about a 40 strong vehicle fleet lined up waiting for us to head to the airport. In hindsight it was a waste of time picking these soldiers up, because all we effectively did was to drive into Baucau and drop them off and then drive to the airport unescorted anyway.
We then drove to the airport; we didn’t have time to go to our accommodation so all our kit was left behind. We arrived at the airport where I should mention there was a Major with me, Phil Morrison from the New Zealand Army; he was present in the convoy.
Another UN district had evacuated to us from Lospaulos and there was a Squadron Leader Scotty Arrell and they had heard on the radio all the happenings that morning as they were approaching Baucau and had gone straight to the airport. We arrived at the airport relieved to meet Scott Arrell who I had done all my training with and he was relieved to see me too and we probably stayed at the airport for about the next hour or so. The first Hercules arrived, we loaded it up to the gunnels, and there were 126 people on board.
The big concern at that point was there was 50 local UN staff, local Timorese people who were at the airport very fearful of their lives because they knew if they were left behind they would almost certainly be killed. There was a lot of negotiations going on and it was reported that Prime Minister Howard was on the phone with President Habebe in Jakarta trying to get approval to evacuate these local staff for their safety. Approval wasn’t given and the Indonesian authorities at the airport were not prepared to let the local staff load onto the Hercules. Eventually we refused to leave until we knew the local staff would be secure. Two UN helicopters arrived, two Pumas from Dili and loaded them up. They are only supposed to carry 16 and they put something like 30 on each. They were almost falling out of it, but they managed to airlift them out to Dili. Once they were safe we loaded onto the Hercules.
We also had Bishop Belo with us, Bishop Belo had been evacuated from Dili the night before, his house had been burnt and he was very lucky to get away with his life. He had come to Baucau the night before and he got on board the Hercules under a false name we were told. I wasn’t aware of this at the time. When we were taxiing suddenly the plane stopped and the Australian aircrew put on their flak jackets and grabbed weapons they had hidden in the fuselage and the back door opened and we thought something was happening. We subsequently found out that the Indonesians had found out that Bishop Belo was on board somehow and had blocked the runway with a truck. There was a bit of a stand off.
I should have mentioned too that the aircrew was actually mostly SAS. When we were being herded onto the planes the Australian aircrew were doing a mock type of passport check. You could see they had microphones on and they were talking to each other, they had weapons behind their water pouches. That was a bit of a comfort I suppose. Eventually the truck left the runway and the plane took off and they must have been happy to let Bishop Belo leave.
EAST TIMOR – OCUSSI Lieutenant Commander Fogarty
I flew in to Ocussi on a UN aircraft and got straight into a vehicle and out to our base. It is quite a hilly mountainous part of the Island, right in the middle of the Island and there was initially me and an Australian, just the two of us an Australian diver, Lieutenant Commander Glen Kerr, RAN.
The Ocussi Enclave was the last to be secured by Interfet. The militia and Indonesians in the Ocussi Enclave had stripped it even worse than anywhere else I had seen. There wasn’t a scrap of corrugated iron left; every house’s corrugated iron had been taken. Every door had been taken, window frames, glass. We found a building that the Australian Company hadn’t moved into and in fact it ended up being one of the better ones around. We had a big long roll of tarpaulin supplied by the UNHCR and we covered the roof. There was just the two rooms in a little building which had been previously the Army Headquarters of that village. Initially we lived in that building, there was me and Glen and our interpreter Joe Pinto who was a young 19 year old Timorese fellow who spoke English.
We established contact with the local Indonesian military; they had a Lieutenant Colonel Manurong who was based in a place called Kefamenanau down on the other side of the border. Mainly we dealt with a Lieutenant and a Sergeant, there were about 14 soldiers covering that area for the Indonesians.
On a daily basis the main priority was to get back the refugees that had left. Many of the Timorese, when all the destruction was happening went into West Timor for the safety factor mainly. It should be noted that there were a lot of family people living in both parts. Many had relations living in West Timor they could go and live safely with for a few weeks or months or whatever it maybe. There was reported to be 200,000 East Timorese in West Timor in refugee camps.
UNHCR had established an office in Kefamenanau and they were going around the camps trying to coerce people into going back. Now a lot of people didn’t want to go back straight away that is. They had a number of reasons; number one is they might have actually been militia. They might have been related to militia and were fearful of reprisals. Thirdly they knew that their houses had been destroyed and there wasn’t much to go back to. The other thing was a lot of them because they were very much a farming subsistence culture they had planted some crops and they were prepared to go back in maybe 3 or 4 months when those crops had been harvested.
There was a lot of propaganda too, which we had no control over, there were a lot of militia groups going around in West Timor coercing people not to go back. Telling them that if they went back their families would be targeted. That was another thing that we heard the reason a lot of people had gone into West Timor was because they had been made to leave. We wondered why did they want them to leave and take them into West Timor, it was explained to us by an UNMO guy that the militia would take families. Then they would target the men and say, “You will now work for us and create problems in East Timor and make insurgencies in there and if you don’t then we will target your family”.
On the border there would be days when we might have 20, 30 up to 50 trucks that the UNHCR had rounded up in Kefamenanau, paid locals to drive the East Timorese back into Passabe, over the border.
Everyday there were problems and as soon as they got across the border they would come to you and say the Indonesian soldiers 5 miles down the track took all our chickens. You would talk to the soldiers about that, but they would never admit to it. There was a lot of underhand stuff going on. We were allowed a limited access into West Timor; they would let us go down to Kefamenanau and meet with the Lieutenant Colonel down there. We always had to be escorted we weren’t allowed to do any shopping. It was almost like a game they knew that we would want to do some shopping because there was shops down there, because everything in the Ocussi Enclave had been totally ransacked.
Things got better probably by about mid December the Australians had set up the kitchen and they were getting flown in fresh victuals. Luckily having an Australian offsider and being a Kiwi and the ANZAC sort of thing we would get a bit of meat and some milk off them and they would even throw us the odd pudding, pretty basic stuff, but it showed you what you could live off.
We had a river and I would run most mornings with Glen, we would always go for a run and then we would usually jump in the river if it wasn’t too dirty. We had to be careful about the water because it wasn’t clean. We were getting regular supplies from Ocussi of bottled water and the Australians did help us out, they were good like that.
One thing we did get to buy, we were with an escort one day with a couple of corporals and they weren’t too worried about us. We stopped at a shop in Kefamenanau and bought some paints and we painted Anzac House on our building and so that was always known as Anzac House with a Kiwi and a Kangaroo.
We had a Sat phone and the routine was that every evening, it was a 1900 schedule we would call up. We ran it from the car battery and flash up the vehicle. The Australians were pretty good at giving us diesel.
We had one UN vehicle. By this point more Landrover Discovery’s had come on the scene.
Because of the rainy season to get up to where we were you had to cross three major river beds and when it rained the river filled up as quick as a flash. The Australians lost a vehicle with three guys in, they weren’t killed but they were bloody close to getting killed.
One major incident I was involved with that occurred was one day we had three men come to us and say “We know where a mass grave is”. We thought oh right and we got the Australian OIC Major Steve Grace and we went and interviewed this chap and he said, “I was involved on the 8th September in having to bury a whole group of men”. We went down a river bed and it was certainly East Timor territory according to the map and he said 53 men were killed here, about 6 had been shot but the rest had been macheted. There was plenty of signs, there was probably about 6 skeletons that we saw and I think animals had got to them, there was pretty much only bones left. Subsequently I know now that they have dug up something like 60 bodies. The story was corroborated by a number of witnesses that these militia had gone there. The UN had evacuated by this stage on about the 10th or the 9th September, they had gone into a village, they had rounded up all these men and marched them to pretty close to the border. It surprised me that they didn’t take them over the border, it was late in the night and they killed them all. A couple had got away and they were found and interviewed not long after we initially found it. The murders were led by an Army Sergeant and a police officer from the Indonesian police who have now been indicted. They rounded up a whole lot of local men in Passabe as gravediggers and took them there and that is how we knew where they there. That was reported back in New Zealand papers when we found that grave.
EAST TIMOR UNMO Lieutenant Commander Fogarty
In the district of Baucau there was six sub districts, everything was always divided up, quite regimented. Each sub district had a thing called Korimil that is a name for an Army outpost, there is about 14 soldiers headed either by a Sergeant or a Lieutenant. They were like the regional army and then very close to them would be a police office. The police formed part of the Indonesian Military and they were just a fourth element, Army, Navy, Air Force and Police. International pressure I think had dictated that they needed to have an independent Police Force. In reality the Police were always the poor cousin in that group of four and they were still very subservient to the military. Wherever the military were the police always made sure that they didn’t do anything to upset the military, Indonesia being very military dictated.
We would get a lot of reports of things happening, houses being burnt and alleged shootings and we would go and talk with the local military commanders and ask them what they knew about it, even visit the alleged sites and talk with people. We weren’t observers and we weren’t investigators, we had a very restrictive role, it was just there to liaise and to report up our chain anything we noticed it didn’t seem kosher and so it was quite a frustrating role. We were observing a lot of problems that were being caused by the military and intimidation from the military and police towards the locals to vote a certain way in the forthcoming referendum and that was being reported up the chain. Of course Jakarta was saying all the right things that security was being provided for and there was no intimidation and there would be a free and fair election. In fact on the ground we could see that the locals were very, very scared.
You need to appreciate that the majority of East Timorese had never before ever been involved in a fair and free election like this because of the Suharto regime. The political scene in Indonesia was very corrupt and whilst they had these so called elections if you didn’t vote for who your boss told you to vote then you might be out of a job the next day. I think a lot of the locals were a bit sceptical about fair and free elections because they weren’t used to that. Of course behind the scenes a lot of the militia (supported by the Indonesian military) were saying that they would find out who voted which way and that they would be targeted.
We interviewed a lot of people that alleged they had people come around last night. They said that, “They would burn our house if we didn’t vote for staying with Indonesia”, just a lot of intimidation and a lot of threats. You would hear them say that the Indonesian Military told us that the UN are going to be forced to leave and things won’t change. The very sad thing we experienced as the UN was that after telling people that we were there for the long haul and were in there to respect what the referendum result would be we had to evacuate because of the heightened aggression from the militia.
The town we were in split into two areas, an old part and a newer part up on a plateau. The house of a local we were renting was up in the new part very close to the Police Headquarters, but the UN Headquarters itself was down in the old part. It had a police guard outside it and there were usually about three police. Whenever there was any trouble the police sentry, these three men would disappear, just conveniently before something would happen and it was generally a motorcyclist going around shooting into the air. But this night they started firing indiscriminately and they hit a UN house through the windows where some of the civilian police were staying. We had a radio call requesting us because we were up in our house at the time, and were close to the Indonesian Police Headquarters. We were tasked to go along and ask them to reactivate the sentry post outside the UN Headquarters and establish security around the place. I went along with an Australian Major who was my offsider, he could speak Indonesian and when we got there, there was a meeting of the military and police; they were quite shocked to see us arrive, because we just walked in. It was fairly orchestrated what was happening. These motorbikes were coming up to the new part driving past us, they were men dressed in Army camouflage trousers with boots on, but with militia red and white Tee shirts and bandannas around their head. They would stop by the gate not knowing that we were there because we could see them conversing with the local police and army people having a good joke and laugh there and then whipping off downtown again. We would hear on our UN radio net that more shots were being fired. It was well orchestrated and when we arrived they got quite a shock that we walked straight past their guards, because I don’t think they would have let us in there. The Army Chief a Lieutenant Colonel Hutujutu who was the Local Area Commander was trying to make every excuse under the sun that they were there to try and re-establish law and order.
It became pretty clear the nature of the way the military worked in Timor. I suppose everywhere else in Indonesia as well, because they are so infused in local society and everything that lives and breathes in a local village and towns. They are like village chiefs. There is a lot of corruption backhanders. I think at the end of the day the reason that East Timor went the way it did was because even though Jakarta and the Generals there were saying there would be no support of militia activities, there had been 24 years of co-operation and corruption. Most of these soldiers and local commanders had been living there for 10 or 15 odd years. They didn’t want to leave; they wanted to disrupt the process as much as they could because at the end of the day it was money and their home to them. I think that was the real motivation for them because the thought of having to shift to Java or somewhere else in Indonesia was unpalatable. There was a fairly high percentage I would say at the private corporal level on the Island of Timor who were indigenous Timorese people that had been recruited. Very, very few ever made it higher than say first sergeant. These people certainly wanted to stay in East Timor.