Militias bring new fear to Timor

TENSIONS ARE rising in the East Timorese capital, Dili, as thousands of pro-Indonesian militiamen pour in for a show of force today. At dusk yesterday the streets were empty as people hurried home to avoid militia patrols, some escorted by Indonesian soldiers.

Three hundred men, armed with sticks, were on parade outside the governor's office. A man in a scarlet shell-suit was inspecting them from the back of a jeep. These men werepreparing to defend Indonesian rule. All of them are Timorese.

The man on the jeep, Eurico Guterres, leads one of several pro-Indonesian militias which have sprung up in East Timor since late last year. The militiamen say they want to defend society against the violence of pro- independence guerrillas. Many people believe they are paid stooges of the Indonesian army.

Questioned by reporters, Mr Guterres' answers turn into a populist rant against the Timorese political elite, particularly those leaders who support independence. "They go to Macao or America and get the pretty girls and come back with enough to buy a Feroza or a Vitara [types of car], then they say they're pro-independence. The people must seize all of them and bring them to justice."

Anyone seen as an enemy of Timorese integration with Indonesia has been threatened by the militias, and some people now hang the red-and- white flag of Indonesia outside their houses to try to ward off the militiamen.

The militias draw support from some of the thousands of Timorese civil servants and businessmen with a vested interest in Indonesian rule, imposed by force in 1975. Some of these men had relatives murdered by left-wing Timorese guerrillas at that time. They are afraid that after independence, they may be targeted again.

"[The militias] have to take over Dili, because this is where all the people of influence are," said Manuel Carrascalao, a local grandee who used to support Indonesian rule but now advocates independence.

Mr Carrascalao is one of the few spokesmen for independence who has not gone underground. He spends the time in his shuttered villa in Dili. He seems unworried by the threats. "I don't think they can kill me that easily," he says.

The militiamen say they are volunteers, defending East Timor from the guerrillas of the detained independence leader, Xanana Gusmao. Two of their men were kidnapped from a Dili bus terminal on 5 April and have not been seen since, they said.

But if they are on the side of the people, why is everyone terrified of them? "The people who are afraid are those who are guilty," says a young militia officer, standing next to Mr Guterres. "If they're not guilty, why are they afraid?"

Some East Timorese believe many of the militiamen were forced to sign up. "They are given drugs so that they don't even know who their parents are," said one hotel worker in Dili.

The militias have been blamed for dozens of killings this year as Indonesia and Portugal, the former colonial power, discussed East Timor's future with the United Nations. The East Timorese were due to vote on independence in July.

The worse the violence, the less chance the vote will go ahead. This would suit nationalist elements within the army which do not want to see East Timor break away. The worst reported atrocity was in Liquica, west of Dili, 10 days ago, where as many as 50 people may have been murdered by militiamen. The official death toll is seven.

The Indonesian army says that Mr Guterres' group are auxiliaries who will work with the police to keep public order. Colonel Tono Suratman, the local commander, said: "For 23 years we've worked to keep East Timor secure. But as you know, there aren't enough police."

But one militia officer said: "We're not working for the government. We're here to defend the people."

Mr Guterres put things more forcefully. In a statement issued this week, he called on people to "destroy the disturbers of integration [with Indonesia] to their very roots".

For anyone who does not support Indonesian rule in East Timor, the message is clear.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
music
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IP Opportunity at Major Firm

vary Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - AN OPENING AT A VERY HIGH Q...

Nursery Manager

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Nursery Manager Long term Ran...

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"