BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home May news

"In an extraordinary investigation, reporter Mark Davis returns to East Timor to disclose disturbing new revelations about Australia’s secret intelligence information prior to the country’s independence referendum. ... A senior officer has now revealed for the first time that Canberra knew the Indonesian Army had plans to destroy East Timor and murder independence supporters, and failed to alert those most at risk." SBS Dateline (Australia)
See also:

BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news
BD: Military and political aid to Indonesia - A collection of recent reports, articles and news
BD: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal - A collection of recent reports, articles and news

Australias East Timor secret

SBS Dateline (Australia) - May 9, 2001

In an extraordinary investigation, reporter Mark Davis returns to East Timor to disclose disturbing new revelations about Australia’s secret intelligence information prior to the country’s independence referendum. Davis’s report in 2000 on militias in East Timor won him both the Walkley for Investigative Reporting and the Gold Walkley. A senior officer has now revealed for the first time that Canberra knew the Indonesian Army had plans to destroy East Timor and murder independence supporters, and failed to alert those most at risk.
 

Timor intelligence

Jana Wendt: Hello, and welcome to Dateline. I’m Jana Wendt. Indonesia has always tested Australia’s diplomatic skills, never more so than two years ago during East Timor’s independence referendum. Tonight, a special report on how Australia played that diplomatic game and the consequences of its strategies. We lay bare what Australia knew about the impending catastrophe surrounding the vote which gave East Timor its freedom. It’s a devastating insight into the workings of Australian intelligence, and the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence.  This special report from Mark Davis.

Reporter: Mark Davis: It’s almost two years since the Indonesian army and their militias fled across this border, leaving nothing but ruins and rubble and they are still no closer to being called to account than they were then. The people here know how the Indonesian Army did it’s best to hide it’s involvement here—the bodies of their relatives still haven’t been found, dumped at sea or dragged across the border. The chances of legal justice are now increasingly remote, but one man in this room may hold the key to revealing the full magnitude of their involvement here, and he’s held it secret for nearly two years. A military intelligence officer with the Australian Army, risking not just his career, but possible imprisonment for what he is now prepared to reveal.

Captain Andrew Plunkett is returning to Maliana. He last made this journey in 1999 with an Australian INTERFET battalion liberating the border regions after the independence referendum. Then, the Indonesian Army and the militias were still fleeing, the evidence still fresh, and Captain Plunkett was the senior intelligence officer in charge of gathering it. The investigation he began here at the Maliana POLRI or police station, led him to question his service, his career and his government.

Captain Andrew Plunkett: Unfortunately, the open ceiling is weathered, the writing on the walls. But it was full of graffiti and basically it translated as, “We‘re about to die, why have people forsaken us.” And little crucifixes and pictures of Mary and Jesus.

At least 47 people who‘d been sheltering here were massacred by militiamen and Indonesian forces. Another 12 were hunted down in surrounding fields. There may be more. For Captain Plunkett, the most disturbing aspect of his investigation was the killings here not only implicated Indonesian police and TNI soldiers in atrocious acts of murder but they implicated his country, the United Nations and the intelligence agencies that he worked with.

Captain Andrew Plunkett: It was discussed that it would be too embarrassing for the UN to talk at that time about the link between the UN and handing the pro-independence supporters to the police here. So I guess you can say we‘re pretty silent on it. Captain Plunkett is now on stress leave. The untold story of what occurred here is that UN personal from the UNAMET electoral mission unwittingly led key independence figures literally into the arms of their killers. To Plunkett, that act was more than an unfortunate misunderstanding. It was an act in which his country was culpable. The intelligence group that he worked with had information that would have prevented the massacre, critical information about Indonesian TNI soldiers and police, information that never reached UN staff, including Australian police who are stationed here during the referendum.

Captain Andrew Plunkett: If they had accurate information, they would not have trusted TNI and POLRI full stop. Least of all, recommending they could seek refuge in a POLRI station, you know.

How did you feel when the full extent of what happened here sort of dawned on you?

I was pretty devastated, and to be honest, I felt guilty myself, being associated with the intelligence area. I felt for the UN monitors here. I could understand from what they were being fed, you know, they probably would have taken that course of action and I was pretty upset to put it mildly. Yeah, and then when the decision was to not talk about that aspect of it, sort of compounded it, made it a bit worse.

As intelligence officer for Australia’s highest readiness combat unit, 3RAR, Captain Plunkett was part of the country’s most sophisticated intelligence network. He had up to 30 intelligence field staff and electronic satellite and thermal imagery specialists attached to his unit and under his command. In Timor and in Australia, he carried a top-secret security clearance, giving him rare access to internal working of Australian national security.

Captain Plunkett has not passed classified documents or signals in making this story. But what he does unambiguously state is that Australia knew in great detail exactly what Indonesia’s plans were in East Timor and decided to remain silent. Although numerous leaks have circulated over the past 18 months, he is the first intelligence insider to speak publicly on these matters. And he’s doing it primarily to prompt the prosecution of the killers he investigated.  And if they’re to escape justice, then to at least give the Timorese the full truth about what happened here.

In the ruins of the main street, a small freshly painted building stands out. The locals call it the widow’s co-op. Dozens of women in this group saw their husbands hacked to death at the police station. Some of them had worked for the UN. The UN helped construct this building for them. But it hasn’t told them the full depth of its role in the death of their husbands and it hasn’t told them how little it’s done to avenge that atrocity.

This is your husband? What was your husband’s name?

Filomena Da Silva: Lorenco dos Santos Gomes.

Lorenco dos Santos Gomes was killed in front of his wife and eight children.  Filomena and her husband both worked for UNAMET. With at least 500 others she and her family were sheltering at the police station when the UN unexpectedly left Maliana. The police were protecting them, she was told.

Filomena Da Silva (Subtitles): They surrounded us with thousands of militia and Indonesian troops together. Then they called out, “Call for Xanana now! Go on, call for Xanana to come and rule over the dirt.” After that, they were looking for the local staff from UNAMET. They pinned me against the wall, shaking five knives in my face and saying, “You’ve hated Indonesia since 1975, you take Indonesia’s money, you eat its rice, and then you turn against it.” They yelled out “Laurenco, Laurenco!” and I thought “That’s it, he’s going to die” because there were many people being killed, so many were already dead.

After 24 years of being brutalised by the Indonesian Army and police and indistinguishable joint force, the last place the Timorese would go for protection was a police station. It needed the advice and presentation of a powerful and authoritative body to get them there.

Filomena Da Silva: This photograph was taken at the 27th August dinner together with the UNAMET people. This photograph is from the registration time.

Unlike others in Maliana who fled to the hills, Filomena stayed with UNAMET until the bitter end, helping to bring in the precious referendum votes gathered in the villages.

Filomena Da Silva: On the 31st, I came back with UNAMET and things were hotting up ... They told us that if anything happened at our house we must go to the police. UNAMET security was the ones who went to talk to the police commander about taking care of us. We had some hope while UNAMET was still there. When UNAMET left, we lost our trust.

Filomena bares no animosity to the UNAMET staff that she worked with. They couldn’t have known that police were going to kill them, or could they? It seems hard to believe that the UN hierarchy at least, didn’t know how deeply the Indonesian Army and police were involved with the militias. According to Captain Plunkett, at the time of the deaths, Australian intelligence knew even more than that. They knew that Indonesia was about to embark on the destruction of East Timor, and the execution of independent supporters. He alleges the four diplomatic reasons officials within the Australian Government withheld that critical information from staff on the ground, including Australian police and military observers.

Captain Andrew Plunkett: It was done at a pretty senior governmental level and as I said, the military handed over what we’d collected and, from there, you know, because there was a foreign affairs basically mission here, you know, they directed the policy as to how much information and where it would go.

What was that information indicating?

Captain Andrew Plunkett: That the militia were proxies of TNI and TNI were going to basically destroy East Timor after the autonomy vote, if it went against Indonesia. It was quite clear.

So you knew that before?

Alexander Downer, Foreigh Affairs Minister: Yeah. I think we behaved most honourably throughout 1999. In fact, it’s one of the most honourable periods in Australian foreign policy, where we did everything we possibly could to ensure the ballot took place. We weren’t playing a political game. We weren’t trying to engage in some childlike debate. We were trying to get the ballot to take place. At the end of the day, we handled it just right and the proof of that is in the result.

The massacre at Maliana happened on 8 September 1999. But the story of how the people came to shelter at the police station begins in Canberra at the beginning of that year. On the stores of Lake Burley Griffin, at the headquarters of the Defence Intelligence Organisation, the DIO. The DIO was receiving information about the then emerging pro-Indonesian militia groups in East Timor. They received details that the militias were solidly under the control of the Indonesian military. It made a mockery of the Indonesian Government’s claims that they were trying to reign in the militias. Despite its own military intelligence, Australia publicly maintained that Indonesia was not behind the violence, but perhaps just some rogue elements of its army were.

When did you become aware that they weren’t rogue elements but it was systemic?

Alexander Downer, Foreign Affairs Minister: I’m not sure ... they were always rogue elements in the sense that it was not the policy of President Habibe to see the ballot disrupted and violence perpetrated in East Timor. That there were elements of the army who were doing that, or were assisting with militias was not their policy. That was certainly a behave which was not.

A rogue army perhaps, not rogue elements of that army.

Alexander Downer: I don’t think that’s right.

Professor Des Ball, Strategic & Defence Study Centre, ANU: This is three days before and it says there is no evidence of any Indonesian involvement other than perhaps rogue elements.

Professor Des Ball from the strategic and defence study centre at the ANU is one of Australia’s foremost intelligence experts.

Professor Des Ball: This is giving the Government plenty of notice as to who’s doing it and what is going to happen.

Ball is about to publish an extraordinary paper, “silent Witness”, which documents the extent of the intelligence that the Australian military had gathered regarding Indonesia’s involvement in the bloodshed in East Timor.  Based partly on leaks from defence intelligence, it solidly underscores Captain Plunkett’s allegations. Clearly, Plunkett is not the only disillusioned military figure.

Professor Des Ball: So, in other words they’re angry about the fact that they were advising the Government as early as the very first months of 1999 about what was likely to happen and pretty much predicted it pretty much right.  Yet the Government was ignoring this and that made many of them angry.

Alexander Downer: I don’t want to go down the path of where they came from, but it has to be understood that they were ... the leaks that there have been were very selective and they were party political in their motivation. There is no doubt about that. I know that only too well.

Professor Des Ball: These are senior intelligence figures. Many of the ones who I believe, or not believe, who I know for a fact are behind some of the leaks, are senior people in the intelligence community who have been there for a long time, who simply became very unhappy about the way things were happening in 1999. They’re not political hacks.

Whatever intelligence he was receiving in 1999, Downer was facing difficult choices. Unquestionably, he was doing more to confront Indonesian atrocities in East Timor than any of his predecessors in 25 years. But, given Australia’s history on the issue, that’s not saying a lot. Decades of Australian appeasement had won it a special relationship with key figures in the most murderous regime in the region. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, constantly assured Downer that the few mysterious figures behind the carnage in East Timor would be brought under control before the referendum. Presumably, he didn’t mention at this dinner in February that his own department was feverishly funding the militias with millions of dollars as has since been revealed. And other Cabinet ministries were to follow. From Ali Alatas down, Australian foreign affairs had developed extensive personal relationships with Ministers, Generals and intelligence figures within the Indonesian hierarchy. A long policy of engagement that was now hoped to be put to good use in East Timor.

Professor Des Ball: They had put a lot of investment in building up their own political and indeed intelligence links with their Indonesian counterparts.  Not only did they want to exploit those links, I think many of them saw this as an opportunity where Australian diplomacy could really fly high. We could use that special relationship to bring about good outcomes that could have been very high minded, but they were really ... they were fooling themselves.

It would be a remarkable situation if foreign affairs advisers believed the assurances of their Indonesian counterparts over the advice of their own military. What sets Australian military intelligence apart from other forms of analysis is that military advice is based not so much on opinion as on electronic surveillance. It’s the military’s surveillance assets that give Australia its reputation as the leader source of information on the Indonesian Army. And it’s why Australian opinions on East Timor were relied upon so heavily internationally and by the UN.

Shoal Bay in the remote far north of Australia, controlled by the Australian military Defence Signals Directorate, the DSD, it’s the most sophisticated listening station in the region. It was from here that military intelligence had a ringside view over events in East Timor in 1999.

Professor Des Ball: There’s absolutely no question. These are based on raw intelligence and most particularly signals intercepts by the Defence Signals Directorate.

It’s Shoal Bay that gives particular weight to information coming from military intelligence officers. Captain Plunkett has not passed any documents from Shoal Bay. But a search warrant issued against another military intelligence figure reveals an extensive list of defence signals recordings relating to East Timor that the Government is seeking.

Professor Des Ball: We know from the titles of the DSD ones which were included in the warrant, that they included situation reports on a regular basis—more frequently than a daily basis—about particular conversations or communications which had been intercepted involving Indonesian military and militia leaders, as well as communications from which a more general picture of events in East Timor was being built up.

If you were to launch prosecutions against TNI figures, or police figures within Indonesia, would that information be useful in a criminal prosecution or a war crimes tribunal?

Professor Des Ball: It would be extremely useful. It’s invaluable. You would have on tape particular Kopassus commanders ordering or discussing at least with militia leaders the killing of particular individuals, particular movements to set particular houses on fire, to relocate particular families. Evidence right down to the individual level is all there on tape, yes.

If the Australian military were monitoring anywhere in East Timor in 1999, it would have been monitoring in Maliana. Maliana was the cradle of the militia movement. The leader of all the militia groups in East Timor lived in a mansion overlooking the town. Joao Tavares, the wealthiest man in the district, with long and intimate links to Indonesian police and intelligence. Under his patronly command, the Maliana militias had been openly murdering and raping since the beginning of the year. If Indonesia was trying to put an end to the militias, Tavares apparently wasn’t aware of it. In April, Indonesia’s denials that it was fostering and controlling the militias reached the level of black comedy with the massacre of suspected independence supporters at the Liquica church. The army and police surrounded the church, preventing any escape while the militias were sent in to murder up to 50 people. It was a dress rehearsal for Maliana, but this time the soldiers and police didn’t directly kill anyone.

They stood there and watched for half an hour. They were neutral, they claim.

Just enough distance to maintain a level of plausible deniability to an uncertain international community.

Alexander Downer, Foreign Affairs Minister: I know almost better than anybody in Australia and perhaps well beyond that, that the information that was coming from the ground was very mixed, conflicting and uncertain.

This worked to Indonesia’s advantage and the accusation is that Australia added to that uncertainty.

Alexander Downer: What worked to Indonesia’s advantage?

The plausible deniability that Indonesia was not funding or supporting the militia?

Alexander Downer: I don’t think that’s, if I may say so, with the greatest of respect, a completely bizarre view.

This leaked defence intelligence report left no doubt about the culpability of the police and army in the deaths at Liquica. It also left no doubt about the credibility of Indonesia’s defence or the role its forces were playing in East Timor. Just four weeks later, Indonesia signed the 5th May agreement, finalising the arrangements for the upcoming referendum in East Timor. No armed international force would be allowed in. Security would be provided by Indonesian police. The same men who so ably assisted in the murders at Liquica church. A force which just one month before remained within the official command structure of the Indonesian Army, but was now apparently fully independent.  With the referendum now set for August, Australia committed to send unarmed Federal Police and military officers to East Timor to monitor the poll. By May the dissenting figures in military intelligence had been largely silenced.  Indonesia was not officially backing the militias. Reasonable words to say in public perhaps, but hopefully someone would tell the representatives heading for East Timor all the details that were known.

At the Sundown Motel on the outskirts of Canberra, 50 volunteers from the Australian Federal Police began training for their mission in East Timor.  They were to be working directly with the Indonesian police, supporting their efforts to reign-in any rogue elements wishing to disrupt the pole. An AFP intelligence officer, Wayne Sievers, was amongst them.

That was unambiguously the message “rogue elements”?

Wayne Sievers: Absolutely unambitious and that the Indonesian Government and that there was goodwill in the Indonesian Government, certainly goodwill in the Indonesian military and police to work with us to conduct a successful ballot and that, with ... and that it was expected had the rogue elements would be brought under control, and that part of our duties would be to bring the two sides together in a bridge building exercise as well to develop trust.

Before departing, the police gathered with UN staff from around the world for more briefings conducted by Australian officials. Reputedly, the greatest source of intelligence on Indonesia and East Timor. Parallel training was given for Australian military liaison officers who were to work with the Indonesian Army.

Although he didn’t deploy, Captain Plunkett undertook all of the training and briefings.

Captain Andrew Plunkerr: This is low-level, low-grade information. As I said, you could read better in Reuters or News Limited.
As they entered East Timor, the military and police observers were walking into an environment far deadlier than they could have imagined, armed with neither guns nor the life-saving intelligence their nation could have given them.  The militias in Maliana weren’t too fussed about the arrival of UN monitors.  They already had the run of the town with the full complicity of the police and army.
As international observers arrived, they were just limbering up. Through July and August, as UN civilian electoral teams spread throughout Timor, Australian and international police and military officers deployed with them, watching over the Indonesian police and army, assuring the Timorese that they were here to stay.

Wayne Sievers: It was the central message that we wanted to convey out in the field, and that was the message I went around saying every day we will stay and help you into the transition of a new society.

Do you feel guilty or compromised now by those statements?

Wayne Sievers: Absolutely. I feel as if ... I do. I actually feel that if I had my time over again, I would have been more critical of both the UN and my own Government and perhaps I would have done things differently. “You may need to consider going to the hills,” that’s what I should have been saying. But I trusted my own Government and I trusted the UN.

For international staff on the ground, the duplicity of the police and army soon became blatantly apparent. When a militia operation was to be mounted, the police would seal off an area and then the militias would come in. The police would either stand idly by, or if the militia had no chance of being outnumbered, would simply leave. In the weeks leading up to the referendum, the Indonesian military appeared confident that their charade of neutrality was convincing, that the militias were a spontaneous local movement and the police an independent force. In keeping with UN policy, the international military observers who were working with them weren’t about to tell them otherwise.  Having got away with so much so far, the Generals began devising an even more audacious plan and according to Captain Plunkett, defence intelligence in Australia became aware of it. The Generals were planning to decimate East Timor of the referendum, together with all known independent supporters. Captain Plunkett was at a military base in Sydney watching events unfold in East Timor.

He claims that the information then received by UNAMET officers in the field was sanitised beyond recognition.

Captain Andrew Plunkett: The analysis was that the TNI would basically destroy East Timor and they’d use militia as proxies. It was quite clear the link between the militia and TNI and the militia being bit players, small pawns, and it was quite clear that they would kill a lot of people and destroy their infrastructure straight after the autonomy ballot, if it won independence.  It was quite clear from the analysis and the reporting and the information that was coming out of East Timor. But unfortunately by the time it left the military, and went up the chain of command, in effect to foreign affairs, it wasn’t pushed down to the UN or the Australian UN observers on the ground.

But it wasn’t just agencies in Australia gathering this information.  Intelligence staff on the ground such as Wayne Sievers were gathering their own.

He and others were collecting leaked Indonesian documents and feeding them into the UNAMET structure.

What were these documents and reports indicating?

Wayne Sievers: They were indicating that indeed it was the Indonesian military at the highest levels that were organising, arming, training and funding the militias at a time when they were supposed to be disarming them and protecting us. I started to get increasingly worried because there seemed to be a culture of denial in the UN and their reaction was to this kind of information, to these reports was, “Oh, it’s alarmist talking, it’s misinformation from the independent side. We have to accept the assurances that the Indonesian authorities have given us.” And I got really worried about that.

In Maliana, despite intimidation, the registration for the referendum continued.

But the situation for the UNAMET staff there became increasingly dangerous.  They started to come under direct attack from the militias, and the police, as always, stood idly by or simply disappeared.

The head of UNAMET, Ian Martin, visits Maliana to seek assurances from the police regarding the safety of his staff and ominously a small group of independence leaders had been moved together with their families into the police station under UN supervision.
Ian Martin, head of UNAMET: There have been pro-independence leaders who are still here in the police station because of their concerns about the security situation, and we’ve been talking about how they can go back to their homes with adequate guarantees of security from the place. It is the responsibility of the police and the police alone to be backed up by the military where necessary to maintain security and not of any other groups.

In the final weeks of the campaign, the charade of the May 5 agreement with Indonesia reached its climax. The Peace and Stability Commission, a joint venture between the Indonesian police and the UN, had apparently bought the militias to the negotiating table. The Peace and Stability Commission organised meetings, introducing independence leaders to the police, army and the militias.
A reasonable act in Dili, but when replicated, as it was in remote towns and hamlets, it had rather more sinister implications.
Wayne Sievers: Things like that were participated in for appearance sake only, not for any meaningful reconciliation. You saw in the end where you saw, like you’re referring I take it to the massacre at the Maliana police station during the violence. All of that bridge building work that we did in the three months of the mission, all came to nothing and in some cases were used against those who were fairly naively trusted if UN and thought that there was some substance in this reconciliation. All of that was used against them in the end. As the people that lost their lives in Maliana found, it was a misplaced trust.

Ian Martin: It commits participants to avoid and condemn political violence or intimidation ...

As the charade about Indonesia’s neutrality continued, the rules of the game were further spelt out.

Ian Martin: It commits participants in the campaigns to avoid inflammatory or defamatory language.

The good news was echoed throughout East Timor, including Maliana and surrounding villages.

Australian Woman: All participants should avoid using language that is inflammatory, defamatory or incites violence.
Although now safe from defamatory comments, the reconciliation arrangements took the independence leaders in Maliana a step closer to their graves.

Australian Woman: Intimidation in any form is prohibited.

The leadership of the independence group in Maliana, the CNRT, many of whom had been operating anonymously, were now encouraged to participate in the peace and stability meetings with the police and militia groups, the FPDK and BRTT.

Adriano Joao: Yes, UNAMET was the facilitator of the meetings between FPDK, BRTT and CNRT.

Adriano Joao was the vice-secretary of the CNRT in Maliana. And Maliana was probably the deadliest place in East Timor to openly declare yourself pro-independence.

Adriano Joao: UANMET also promised us and the people that we would not be harmed. If we were, then within 24 hours a peacekeeping army would come.

That’s why the people didn’t run into the mountains.

Wayne Sievers: And on the basis of what my own Government had said to me, I went around busily putting the minds of East Timorese at rest that the security situation would be in hand for the ballot and that no matter we would stay and that this transition they were about to undergo, everything would be fine. They didn’t need to worry, they could trust us.

Australian Woman: If, over this period of campaigning that you experience any form of intimidation or violence, it’s very, very important that you report it to the POLRI, and the civilian police will talk to POLRI to find out that they were actually following up on your complaint. So the most important thing is you must speak up.

Adriano Joao: UNAMET were holding on to the May 5 agreement. They thought that the Indonesians were like people from other parts of the world, that they would abide by what they signed in an agreement.

In their final weeks, the situation for the UNAMET staff in Maliana was becoming perilous. Random killings were occurring in their area, and attacks were being made upon them. Their reporting to headquarters expressed a growing desperation and a deepening suspicion of the police. But the UN script still had to be followed. 11 days before the referendum, Wayne Sievers, who was in Dili, filed the first of two devastating reports concerning the situation in Maliana.  The reports advised with chilling accuracy what was about to occur there. They were filed to both the UN and an officer from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
Wayne Sievers: Because I thought it was my moral duty. The last bit of trust, if you like, I had in our Government, I had to exercise by sending it back, at least if they hear my side of it, and I wouldn’t be the only one doing this, there would be other people on the ground, perhaps they might see that it’s not the rogue elements. In fact that our hosts had been engaged in a tremendous doublecross.

Sievers reported from an informant inside the pro-Indonesian forces in Maliana, a plan to execute all independence supporters in the town immediately after the vote. A plan that was then to spread across East Timor, igniting the whole country. The informant was at a meeting in Maliana of Indonesian government officials, military intelligence officers and militia leaders. He specified that certain UNAMET officers were to be killed, but more particularly the document detailed how and when the mass killings would begin. It was the blueprint for the massacre. The UN dismissed the report. And the foreign affairs officer showed no interest in even receiving the follow-up documentation.

Wayne Sievers: He refused to come to my house to take it. It was at that stage that the warning light went on and I thought, “These guys already know and they don’t want any more information that would be unwelcome news because there’s a line here that the Government has taken or a position that the Government has got itself into, that it can’t extract itself from.” So it doesn’t want to hear the bad news or the contrary news, so it can claim ignorance at the end of the day, if indeed the whole thing turns bad. That’s what I believe what happened.

Increasingly desperate, Sievers leaked the contents of the documents to the Defence Intelligence Organisation in Canberra. It would seem that they took the Sievers information seriously. Perhaps it accorded with other information they had. The day he filed his report, the Australian military liaison officer in Maliana was suddenly withdrawn. Concern for his life was cited, but nothing else was said to UNAMET staff. Just days after the Sievers reports were filed, the UN peace and stability juggernaut rolled up into the hills behind Maliana, where many of the men had taken refuge. A peace agreement with the militias was heralded to induce these people back into the town.

Lucio Marques: They organised a campaign because much of the population was scattered. Some to the mountains, some hid in the bush.

Lucio Marques was a key figure in the clandestine movement. He and his group were in the mountains planning on coming down to vote and returning immediately to the hideouts. But on 27 August, a joint team of militias and independence leaders formed under the peace and reconciliation group, implored them to come down, to remain in Maliana, to create a sense of peace and calm in the town for the safety of all.

Lucio Marques: On the 28th, they went from village to village, and those still in the mountains could come down and listen, calling people back saying “Don’t leave your houses, when the vote is over, whoever wins, nothing is going to happen.”
Lucio was convinced to return by his best friend and clandestine comrade, CNRT leader, Manuel Magalhaes, who had joined the reconciliation effort.

Lucio Marques: I and my family will always pray for those who died.  Especially my brother, Manuel Magalhaes. Whenever I think about him it tears me apart.

In his house on the hill in the final days of referendum, Joao Tavares was completing the details of a dark plan, a plan to keep the people of Maliana inside the town after the vote. A reconciliation feast was to be held. And then the army would seal off the town.
Adriano Joao: In Maliana on September 3, they were going to kill 10 cows and invite all the youth and the people for reconciliation. So that nothing would happen.

In a crude but effective device to overcome the secrecy of the ballot, it was announced that any independence supporters who had concerns for their safety could camp at the police station. The UN had been keeping people there for months, and they had been safe.

We knew this would just be a tactic to get us. So we didn’t come down, we went up again. Those who believed it went back to the police station and that’s why they died.

In the days following the election, the noose tightened around Maliana. The men who didn’t take the chance to vote and run were trapped within two days as the army began to encircle the town. The UN officers came under attack and 100 people who had been sheltering there were taken to the police station.  Others in the town had filed in as well. A grim choice, but the presence of UN police and military monitors gave some sense of security. By 3 September, unarmed, under attack, the city in flames, the UN monitors had to leave, taking as many civilians as they could cram into their vehicles. It was now too late to give the advice the UN should have been giving—vote and run. The trap was set.

Lucio Marques: They had red and white flags draped around them. The swords were on their backs, they came running, pulling out their swords. The ones in their way were killed on the spot.

The first victim of the militiamen soldiers and police who attacked with knives and bayonet was as 12-year-old child. Lucio was saved by his sister who buried him under bedding with three other men. Manuel Magalhaes, the CNRT leader who heralded the peace agreement was hacked to death. The murderers then began working to a list, a list prepared during the reconciliation meetings. A list prepared from police records of people who had lodged security complaints against the militias when the UN was there.

Filomena Da Silva: The night they killed my husband and his friends, they were playing guitar, laughing, singing, making fun of people. The police commander kept saying “Keep going, keep going.” The police kept playing guitar and making fun of us women and children. We were like this ... we couldn’t cry. Dead here, dead there. We couldn’t cry.

Alexander Downer: I have no idea, I wasn’t in Maliana. As the Foreign Minister, as you can imagine, I wasn’t, you know, entirely familiar with the details of what was happening in every single village, and every town and village in East Timor or hamlet or behind every tree in East Timor and nor would of course our intelligence have provided that information.

You would hope that your staff or Australians that are going to East Timor in that situation would be fully and frankly briefed.
Alexander Downer: Well, of course they would be.

Well, were they fully and frankly briefed?

Alexander Downer: Of course they were fully and frankly briefed.

In the days after the evacuation from Maliana, the entire UN mission began to collapse. Contracting in to this small compound in Dili, together with a flood of refugees. The UN was now planning a complete withdrawal. It was here that UNAMET officers ill advised before they came, ill advised while they were here, risked their lives to save thousands. In an astounding act of bravery and rebellion, they signed a petition that whatever orders they were given, they would not leave. They would die here with the Timorese. It was their last stand that finally drove Australia and the UN to confront the rogue elements of East Timor.

Jana Wendt: That report from Mark Davis has already prompted reaction. The Australian member of the International Commission of Jurists, Justice John Dowd, says the report reinforces the need for an International War Crimes Tribunal to examine crimes committed by the Indonesian Army and the Indonesian-backed militia. Justice Dowd also says the Australian Government should explain why reports from the Defence Intelligence Organisation were not passed on to UN officers in East Timor.


The story continues to unfold:

May 16 SBS: See No Evil  TV documentary added May 18
"We reveal the extent of intelligence gathered by the Australian Army in East Timor after the ballot and the bloodshed in 1999. And we show how that information was withheld at a critical time. This report from Mark Davis examines Australia‘s ongoing silence - a silence which has helped rehabilitate Indonesia in the eyes of the world, and continues to impede the establishment of an International War Crimes Tribunal." SBS Dateline (Australia)

See also:

BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news

BD: Military and political aid to Indonesia - A collection of recent reports, articles and news

BD: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal - A collection of recent reports, articles and news


BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home May news
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