Militias `directed, supplied and trained by Indonesian army'

PLACIDO XIMENES was buried in Dili this week with the finest pomp and ceremonial the Aitarak militia could muster. The cortege began in front of Aitarak headquarters, a run-down hotel in the town centre. An honour guard of 50 spluttering motorbikes rode in the vanguard, followed by four-wheel-drives, pick-up trucks and charabancs. Driving them, crammed inside, squatting on the running- boards and sitting on their roofs were the Aitarak men - a cross between the Hell's Angels, Dad's Army and the kind of small-time gangsters to be found in Third World cities everywhere.

Two weeks ago, no one but a few South-East Asia specialists had heard of East Timor's militias but suddenly they have become the subject of the highest-level international concern. All year, ever since the preparations began for Monday's poll on East Timorese independence, pro-Indonesian militia groups such as Aitarak have been trying to sabotage it.

In April, more than 25 people were massacred in a church in the town of Liquisa. A few days later, the son of a leading independence campaigner was murdered in Dili. This week the terror, violence and killing reached its climax.

Beginning on the day of the referendum itself, militia gangs have taken control of regional towns all over East Timor. Placido Ximenes was one of the few militiamen to die this week, when he was stabbed in a suburb of Dili. Overwhelmingly it is pro-independence supporters who have been the victims.

In Dili and Suai yesterday people were locking themselves in their homes as fires and gunfire raged outside. Fifty-four UN officials fled the town of Maliana after an all- night rampage of arson and shooting in which two local UN drivers were stabbed to death, with five others thought to have been murdered.

In cabinet rooms and foreign ministries from London to Tokyo, there is talk of sending in international peace-keepers and rescuing foreign nationals. The self-important thugs in the silly uniforms are holding the world to ransom.

In a panelled room on the Dili seafront last week, a portly man named Herminio da Silva da Costa set out the militias' view of themselves. His business card describes him as chief of staff of the Armed Forces for the Integration Struggle of East Timor , an umbrella group for militias in different parts of East Timor. Mr Da Costa compared his co- ordinating role to that of the Nato secretary general. Some dozen or so member militias operate in different towns in East Timor under names including the Bats, the Scorpions and the Red and White Iron.

He claimed to have 15,000 active members, with reserves of 150,000, all vehemently opposed to separation from Indonesia. One thousand guns are at their disposal, with many more machetes, spears and homemade muskets.

Mr Da Costa says this morning's announcement of the referendum result will show at least 80 per cent in favour of autonomy under continued Indonesian rule; a majority in favour of independence, which everyone else expects, will prove the UN has fixed the result: "If Unamet [UN Assistance Mission in East Timor] announces that the pro- independence side has won the ballot," he said, "I promise it will be civil war."

Analysts present a less impressive picture of the militias. According to a diplomat, the total number of active and committed militia is a few hundred at most; the rest have been paid or press-ganged into joining up. Their leaders are a handful of East Timorese, some disaffected former members of the independence opposition, others businessmen, politicians or gang leaders with a financial stake in continuing Indonesian rule. "There are between twenty and fifty people who really matter," the diplomat said. "If you took them out, you would solve the problem."

Why, then, are they wreaking such devastation? The truth is that they are artificial creations of the Indonesian army, which opposes East Timorese independence. "They are directed, supported, and trained by the military and there are military guys right in there among them," said a diplomat.

This partly explains why the Indonesian police in East Timor, the sole guardians of security during the referendum, are so reluctant to prevent their activities. "That's why the police can't fire on them," said another foreign official. "Because they would end up killing their own people."

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

Retail Promotions Manager – TV and Film Catalogue

Up to £171 PAYE per day (equal to 40 – 45K ) : Sauce Recruitment: This is a te...

Nursery Nurse

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Level 3 or above Ear...

Special Needs teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Need teachers required t...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on