BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home  May news

"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)
Background: May 9 SBS: Australias East Timor secret
See also:
BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news
BD: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal - A collection of recent reports, articles and news
BD: Military and political aid to Indonesia - A collection of recent reports, articles and news
BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news

SBS Dateline: See No Evil

May 16, 2001

May 16, 2001 - East Timor Update

Last week Dateline reporter Mark Davis revealed Australia knew of Indonesia‘s plan to devastate East Timor yet chose to keep quiet, with tragic consequences. Here‘s a quick recap of that report.


Last week, a senior intelligence officer claimed Australia was complicit in the murder of East Timorese by withholding vital information about Indonesia‘s plans to massacre independence supporters.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: It was quite clear, the link between the militia and TNI and, you know, the militia being bit players, small pawns, and it was quite clear that they would kill a lot of people and destroy the infrastructure straight after the autonomy ballot.

Captain Andrew Plunkett, with dozens of specialist intelligence staff under his command, investigated the post-ballot massacre of at least 47 people in the town of Maliana.

FILOMENA FERREIRA DA SILVA (Translation): They surrounded us with thousands of militia and Indonesian troops together.

LUCIO MARQUES (Translation): The swords were on their backs, they came running, pulling out their swords. The ones in their way were killed on the spot.

According to Captain Plunkett, Australian intelligence knew of Indonesia‘s planned killing spree, but for diplomatic reasons government officials didn‘t tell UN staff on the ground. As a result, they unwittingly led independence supporters in Maliana into the arms of their killers, persuading hundreds to seek shelter in the police station, the scene of the massacre.

FILOMENA FERREIRA DA SILVA (Translation): They told us that if anything happened at our house, we must go to the police. UNAMET security were the ones who went to talk to the police commander about taking care of us.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: It‘s pretty devastated, and to be honest, I felt guilty myself, you know, being, associated with the intelligence area.

Captain Plunkett‘s claims are backed by 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.
Professor Des Ball has documented what Australia knew about Indonesia‘s murderous plans.

PROFESSOR DES BALL: You would have on tape particular Kopassus commanders ordering or discussing, at least, with militia leaders, the killing of particular individuals.

But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer denies he had any foreknowledge.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN MINISTER: I think we behaved most honourably throughout 1999, in fact, I think that‘s one of the most honourable periods in Australian foreign policy, where we did everything we possibly could to ensure that the ballot took place. We weren‘t playing a political game.

May 16, 2001 - See no Evil

Now, Dateline goes further. 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.


In September 1999, the Australian Army stepped into the carnage of East Timor as the lead contributor in the international force INTERFET.  Supposedly, they were there to contain the militias and the fearsome militias proved remarkably easy to contain, Displaying none of their previous bravery, bravado or organisational skills. The Australian soldiers had no doubt about who their real enemy was, even if it was never publicly stated. Military intelligence officer Captain Andrew Plunkett arrived with the first battalion to secure Dili. When he landed at the Dili wharf, the Indonesian Army the TNI, were still rampaging throughout the city, still forcing Timorese onto boats headed for Indonesia.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: In the initial week or so, it was just a ghost town and the few people that were here were pretty well terrified of the militia and the TNI that still remained here.

Initially, he was one of a team of intelligence officers investigating the killings in Dili and plotting the movements of the retreating Indonesian Army. Then, the absence of civilians in Dili wasn‘t surprising. What was, was the absence of the dead. Given the extent of the carnage and destruction, there were relatively few bodies found. As INTERFET began to secure the country, the media began commenting upon the absence of large numbers of corpses that perhaps mass killings hadn‘t occurred, perhaps sending in troops was an overreaction. Some even suggested that TNI was due an apology. Perhaps more than any other officer in East Timor, Captain Plunkett knows where the bodies went, how fastidiously the TNI cleaned up behind themselves, and how that information was withheld from the public and the international community. An act which assisted Indonesian figures evading justice and Plunkett doesn‘t want to wait 20 years for the truth to come out.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: The whole thing was designed with maximum deniability. You know, bodies disposed of out at sea, not in land-locked graves, you know. Dumping them in billabongs to decay, dropping them down wells and covering over the wells. The whole thing ... It was the mistakes that led us to some of the bigger killings like down in Oecussi, where they thought they were probably in West Timor.

After securing Dili, Captain Plunkett and his unit deployed further west, where he was in charge of intelligence and investigations in two of the most devastated districts in East Timor. Andrew Plunkett‘s unit uncovered more bodies than any other group in the country. He investigated hundreds of killings and found about 80 corpses, some simply shot, most of them hacked, mutilated and tortured. Based on eyewitness accounts, forensic evidence he gathered and the full utilisation of intelligence assets at his disposal, Captain Plunkett maintains that the bodies he found are a mere fraction of those killed in his area. The evidence also reveals the direct hand of Indonesian forces in the killings and in body disposal. Critical information that never became public because Plunkett maintains he and others were ordered to suppress it.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: We were actually told from our chain of command to go soft on the massacres, and soft on body disposal by the Indonesian military. So, yeah, there was some pretty upset people in the headquarters, where basically they‘re told to go quiet, in effect as well, soft on what had happened around here. It was explained to me afterwards, but it didn‘t sit well with me at all while we were here in Maliana, or for the remaining three months that we were in East Timor.

Did such a message come from the Australian Government, or from your department?


Reading the graffiti on the walls was depressing enough, but in this room here along with the burnt out furniture in the corner, were the remains of a child‘s bones.

Here at the Maliana Police Station, there were hundreds of witnesses to the massacre of 47 independence supporters by militias and Indonesian forces.  Witnesses to the bodies being loaded onto trucks and driven away to be dumped at sea.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: We found numerous sites where they‘d gunned them down.
Forensic evidence pointing to the massacre and the involvement of the military. But only one killing here was added to the official death toll - a small child found buried in the rubble. There was clear evidence indicating that a large massacre had occurred. Eight bodies were found in the fields around Maliana, with evidence of more. Plunkett and his unit knew that at least 59 people had been killed in and around the police station, but only nine of them were reported to the media, without further comment. As Australian INTERFET forces fanned out into the villages behind Maliana, dozens more executions were unveiled. Again, with eyewitnesses and supporting forensic evidence. But because the bodies were removed by their killers, no comments were made either by Australian or UN spokespeople about the deaths themselves, or the body disposal. Today, UN investigators privately acknowledge what Plunkett has claimed - that up to 300 people were killed around Maliana. The public record acknowledged only nine of them - a massive understatement that had a key impact on international judgments then and now.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT (speaking to villagers): Does he know anyone that was here in October/November 1999?
Captain Plunkett has returned to East Timor to retrace the evidence that he and his troops gathered almost two years ago, evidence he believes is still gathering dust in Australia.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: (Sitting in a café, speaking with Cornelio) We found burnt bodies, bodies dumped out at sea.

Pg CORNELIO: He kill at the moment. My brother.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: And what was the Indonesian military doing during this killing?

Pg CORNELIO: They instruct to the militias, or part of them... I mean TNI, or Indonesian Army - most of them are doing that.
Plunkett now fears that his work and that of his unit earned the trust given to them by brave informants has been abused, that the public account of the evidence he gathered has been grossly understated, both in the number killed and the depth of involvement of Indonesian forces.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT (speaking to Cornelio): It was just a clear police-military operation - the killing?

CORNELIO: They, most of them, they were directly killing the people, not others.


CORNELIO: They are the protagonists.

The key details of his investigation were, under orders, never made public.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: I want to make quite clear - it wasn‘t from General Cosgrove and it wasn‘t from the military mission here that decided that policy. We had a Department of Department of Foreign Affairs rep in Dili and we were getting political advice directly from Canberra, and not necessarily from politicians, but certainly from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

After a month in Maliana, Plunkett‘s battalion 3RAR, was shifted to secure the Oecussi district. Oecussi was the last area in East Timor to be liberated and the people came forward to Plunkett with eyewitness accounts and evidence of atrocities. They claimed that suspected independence supporters had been rounded up and shackled by Indonesian police and soldiers who then called in the militias to hack them to death. This man was lucky enough to escape.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: It was like a carbon copy of Maliana, but instead of the bodies being disposed of out at sea and us not being able to reclaim them, we had them all in a mass grave.

The grave, containing 52 bodies, was found in a disputed border region which the retreating TNI believed to be on the Indonesian side. Fortunately for Plunkett, it was just inside East Timor and it was discovered on the very eve of a ministerial media visit. Australian Defence Minister John Moore was scheduled to meet the troops in Oecussi just prior to Christmas, with a camera crew in tow. Plunkett‘s job was to provide a briefing to Moore and the assembled media - a normally mundane affair - but this time Captain Plunkett livened up events.

In an address that would later earn him a rebuke, he gave in great detail a frank description of the deaths.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT (footage from briefing): We‘ve got reports up to 52 buried right here. They rounded them up, put them on the back of a truck and they murdered them, according to witnesses, down here and along the road. The people responsible for murdering them and burying them made a mistake, in that they probably thought they were in West Timor, because of the closeness of the location.

The attempted flight to the border to bury the bodies confirmed other information that he‘d received, that more dead would be found on the Indonesian side of the border, successfully hidden across the dividing line. The implication was clear and uncomfortable.

JOHN MOORE, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE MINISTER: They‘re not confirmed at this point.

REPORTER: But if they are confirmed?

JOHN MOORE: There‘s no doubt about it, that what‘s happened here in East Timor and on the enclave is reprehensible. There‘s no doubt about that. But this is a matter for the United Nations.

From the very beginning, the message to Australian troops in East Timor was clear. The first words of the first page of their East Timor Handbook spelt it out.

“Our defence relationship with Indonesia is our most important in the region and a key element in Australia‘s approach to regional defence engagement.”

And it was a message further reinforced during their mission.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: Halfway through the operation here in Maliana, around October-November, things had changed strategically. There was a new Government, a new Wahid Government and the position was ... in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was “We don‘t want our long-term relationship with Indonesian affected by a war crimes tribunal.” That was how it was explained to me back in Australia. ‘Cause I was still pretty pissed off by the whole bloody, ah, by the whole thing.

The final months of 1999 were critical ones, informing international opinion on how to respond to Indonesian atrocities in East Timor. The cumulative effect of Australian and UN silence on the full extent of the carnage and the direct involvement of the Indonesian forces took the steam out of the call for an international war crimes tribunal.

(At a forest exhumation): What‘s your estimate of the number of graves like this that there will be in Liquica?

UN CIVPOL OFFICIAL: I know probably how many graves there are in Liquica, but under the UN sanction, I‘m afraid I‘m not allowed to tell you that.

By commenting only on information relating to retrieved bodies, INTERFET and the UN administration sustained the belief that only a few hundred were killed, when it‘s more likely to be closer to 2000 and climbing. In this state of disinformation, the UN agreed that any prosecution of Indonesian rogue elements would be left to the Indonesian Government, assisted by a UN investigation team in East Timor - a farce which continues to this day. At the same time as the face-saving deal was being struck with Indonesia, the known death toll was rising daily. But the Timorese were convinced by the UN that justice would soon follow. Their faith and their restraint was remarkable. This woman, (crying as she watches), at the end of 1999, is about to discover how her husband, the local schoolteacher, was killed.  Remarkably, the commander of the militia unit who captured him on the orders of the TNI dragged him into this forest and then at the very least, stood by as he was hacked to death, is in this crowd watching the exhumation. The dead man‘s uncle, the local leader of the independence group CNRT, knows that the man is here.

UNCLE OF DEAD SCHOOLTEACHER (Translation): Some of them have come back and are sorry. Others are in hiding.
But he‘s been persuaded by the UN police to say and do nothing.

International justice has now arrived to take over.

UNCLE OF DEAD SCHOOLTEACHER (translation): We at the CNRT can do nothing.  The international police, CIVPOL, are the ones who can take action. They are the ones who can ask the questions. The international community will investigate.
These people have been duped. Legal retribution is no closer than it was when Indonesia left here nearly two years ago. It‘s still unlikely that any prosecutions within Indonesia will proceed and even less likely that there‘ll be any convictions. The UN investigation unit in East Timor is reportedly in disarray and still struggling to find evidence. And the political will to push for an international war crimes tribunal has largely evaporated. But no-one has yet told these children that dead fathers are best forgotten.

When you say you were advised to go soft on the information you were gathering, did that also involve going soft on the investigation itself, on gathering information on TNI involvement?


So this information was gathered?


So is Australia holding information today that could lead to the conviction of Indonesian Army figures?


And is that being handed over as far as you‘re aware?

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: Not at the moment, no.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN MINISTER: The Attorney-General of Indonesia Marzuki Darusman was very enthusiastic about following up on those things and we indeed did have some conversations with the Indonesians about the violence that had taken place and what we knew about it.

Australia hasn‘t exactly been vocal in calling for international war tribunals or any forms of prosecution of military figures. It‘s been silent on this, largely.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, you can ask, again, is this ... I mean how immoral do you think I am? I mean, how bad do you think I am? Do you honestly think I wouldn‘t want people who had committed acts of violence, who had killed people, who‘d burnt their houses - brought to justice? You think I‘m so bad? I mean, how dumb is that?

Have you provided the intelligence gathered by Australia that could be used to implicate Indonesian military figures and police figures, have you provided that to the relevant UN authorities?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: We have provided a good deal of information to the UN authorities and to the Indonesians.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: At the same time, we discovered a lot of documentation, maps, files, talking about the organisational structure of the militia and the TNI here in Dili.

Australian INTERFET troops seized container loads of documents from military and militia bases. Anything that wasn‘t destroyed quite rightly was collected, but then it was shipped back to Australia. Sources within both the UN and the Australian military claim that some - but not all of those documents - have since been surrendered.

So what happened to those documents and those maps?

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: They were exploded further back up the chain, but there‘s no reason why they can‘t be declassified now and handed over in order for investigations to go on now.

And the story of the documents that were never collected is revealing in itself. Government offices in Dili like the Finance Department shown here were a goldmine of information charting the ceaseless flow of money from ministers in Jakarta to murderers in East Timor. Records that the UN administration piled up and burnt, or simply left to rot away. Records that were at odds with the diplomatic nicety that the Indonesian Government was not involved in the mayhem.

Apparently, justice has now arrived in East Timor. The militia trials have begun. A series of simple murder trials, disinterested in the command structure or the systematic nature of the carnage. Cases directly involving rogue elements of the Indonesian Army and police will be dealt with in Indonesia some day. And to prove that justice is blind, one of the first trials is not of a militiaman, but of a man accused of killing one of them, seven years jail for him, and a young wife left to fend for herself, while ministers, generals and their henchmen face neither prosecution, nor public exposure.

In the case of the massacre of 59 people in and around the Maliana Police Station, just one man faces a charge of one murder. Whether the UN has the will to prosecute this case fully up the chain of command is one issue. But if it had the will, Captain Plunkett knows that Australian intelligence has the information that could solve this and other cases.

CAPTAIN ANDREW PLUNKETT: Half the problem the UN‘s got here is knowing what to ask for. The low-level pawns, the militia, they‘ll get tried in Dili.  Falintil will get tried in Dili for killing militia, but none of the TNI, who organised it all, they‘ll all walk free. They will never see the inside of a jail.

Captain Plunkett and his team interviewed hundreds of witnesses and captured militiamen who revealed the Indonesian command structure. He claims that some - but not all of this information - went to the UN.  Plunkett had at his disposal intelligence assets and equipment that a UN investigation team could only dream of, but much of the information he gathered was withheld from the UN. In particular, intelligence on Indonesian police and army officers, information which corroborated witness statements as to the command structure and the location of particular officers at specific times. Since the interview with Alexander Downer concerning these matters, his office has announced it will now provide some Australian signals intelligence to UN investigators. But it‘s yet to be seen whether it contains the full spectrum which Des Ball from the Centre for Strategic and Defence Studies suggests would have been intercepted by Australia.

PROFESSOR DES BALL, CENTRE FOR STRATEGIC AND DEFENCE STUDIES: They would have monitored 100% of Indonesian radio traffic, that‘s field radio within East Timor, as well as the radio communications from various headquarters and levels of command, back to Bali and also back to Jakarta. They would have monitored all satellite telephone communications and all mobile telephone communications.

This would indeed make it an open and shut case, I would assume?

PROFESSOR DES BALL: I have no doubt that against many of the individuals who were responsible for giving some of the nastiest orders, that there would be transcripts of the giving of those orders held by DSD, yes.

With a tiny nation, a fragile border and a still dangerous neighbour in Indonesia, Xanana Gusmao has been largely silent on the question of war crimes. But his constant message of reconciliation has won him few friends in East Timor. While he talks of the future, patience is running out on the failed promise that the international community would pursue the injustices of the recent past. Politics in East Timor are now seriously fracturing, Gusmao facing unprecedented criticism, and on this day, an attempt on his life. There will be no fairybook ending to East Timor‘s long struggle for independence. For a traumatised people, it will be a Herculean task to move forward while their dead haven‘t even been acknowledged, let alone avenged.


May 9 SBS: Australias East Timor secret  TV documentary added May 13
"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: Calls for International War Crimes Tribunal - A collection of recent reports, articles and news

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

BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news

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