Yesterday, men in police uniforms were openly walking around the village of Dare where tens of thousands of refugees live under the discreet protection of Falintil after fleeing the military-backed campaign of violence which followed last month's vote for independence. "I am a policeman of Indonesia but I want independence for East Timor," said Agustinho Gomes da Silva, a former East Timorese sergeant in the Indonesian police. "I left the police to co-operate with Falintil for the security of our nation."
Next to him stood several other uniformed men, including one in the dress of Brimob, the Indonesian special riot police. According to Sergeant Gomes da Costa, there are 100 deserters in the Dare area alone, including members of both the police and military, and 25 of them have brought guns with them. "Many of my friends also try to come here but the situation is very difficult," he said. "Ninety per cent of East Timorese in the armed forces want independence."
Large numbers of police and soldiers stationed in the territory are ethnic Timorese. Almost none of them hold high rank, and there has long been tension between them and their Indonesian commanders. TNI generals have claimed that the recent violence in the territory has been perpetrated largely by local recruits, in what is seen as an attempt to portray East Timor as a fractious territory incapable of independent self rule.
But the deserters in Dare suggest the opposite - that many East Timorese are risking their lives to desert the force responsible for the persecution and displacement of their people.
Sergeant da Costa said: "I want to be a policeman in a new independent nation."Reuse content