Timorese militia leader arrested

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The Independent Online

Eurico Guterres, the notorious militia leader alleged to have organised and carried out much of the murderous violence in East Timor last year, was finally arrested yesterday in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Eurico Guterres, the notorious militia leader alleged to have organised and carried out much of the murderous violence in East Timor last year, was finally arrested yesterday in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

He was arrested on charges that he obstructed police in an operation to disarm members of his pro-Jakarta militia group during a weapons sweep in Indonesian West Timor last month. But 28-year old Mr Guterres, leader of the Aitarak or "Thorn" militia group, is also on a list of those suspected of engineering the rampage of violence which followed last August's vote on independence for East Timor. His boastful, swaggering, macho style and alleged complicity in dozens of murders and acts of terror have made him a loathed figure, typical of the gangsters and small time politicians used as a front by the Indonesian army in its attempt to prevent East Timorese independence.

During the run up to last year's UN-supervised referendum, he led efforts to intimidate the population into supporting continued rule from Jakarta. In April seven young men were massacred by his men in the home of the pro-independence leader, Manuel Carrascalao. When the Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence, the militias and their masters in the Indonesian army ran amok, burning towns, driving out the UN, and forcibly driving the population into West Timor.

The Hotel Flamboyant, which Aitarak used as its headquarters, became a torture centre; when multinational troops finally returned to Dili to restore order there were blood stains on its floors, and the rotting corpse of a woman was found in its well.

Since the arrival of the peacekeepers, Guterres has lived in West Timor where Aitarak and other militias have sown terror in the camps inhabited by East Timorese refugees. As many as 130,000 of these remain, many of them under duress and in wretched and unsanitary conditions. Last month, three foreign UN relief workers were murdered when hundreds of militia men attacked and ransacked their headquarters in the West Timorese town of Atambua.

After being named as a suspect this week, Guterres warned of further violence by his followers. "If I am arrested or put in jail there is no guarantee that they would not launch an attack," he said in Jakarta. "To take one district in East Timor is easy because there are 130,000 of us." While that is an enormous exaggeration, the militias still have great potential to disrupt the operation to repatriate the remaining refugees. But, like all the militias, Aitarak and Mr Guterres would have been nothing without the organisational support and weapons supplied by the Indonesian army or TNI. The TNI's complicity in militia activity reached absurd levels last month when Mr Guterres travelled to Bali to meet Indonesia's chief security minister, the former general, Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono, less than a fortnight after the murder of the UN workers.

In an address to the UN Security Council last week, the UN's chief in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, bitterly criticised the attitude of the Indonesian authorities, referring to Mr Guterres as a "thug" and "a well-known suspect of crimes against humanity [who] should be behind bars instead of being invited to attend meetings with high-level Indonesian officials".

Guterres was as striking for his personal dress as his politics - he liked to roar around Dili on a motorebike dressed either in military fatigues or in cowboy boots, dark glasses and tight Playboy T-shirts. His brutal behaviour has always been combined with an element of self-pity. "I, myself, have never done anything wrong. I feel innocent," he said before his arrest. "This is the Indonesian nation. When I bring honey, they come to me. But when I'm considered to bring poison, they leave me and even try to make me a victim."

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