While the Indonesian military’s thugs continue their rampage in East Timor, most foreign reporters have fled the country. As of September 7, frequent Nation contributor and award-winning journalist Allan Nairn was believed to be the only US reporter still there. Nairn left the besieged UN compound and walked the streets of Dili, where he hid in abandoned houses as he observed troops and militia burning and looting. Nairn has been writing about the troubles there for years. In 1991, after being badly beaten by Indonesian troops while witnessing the massacre of several hundred East Timorese, he was declared a “threat to national security” and banned from the country. He has entered several times illegally since then. In his Nation dispatch from East Timor on March 30, 1998, Nairn disclosed the continuing US military training of Indonesian troops implicated in the torture and killing of civilians. He filed this report by satellite telephone to The Nation through Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!
Dili, East Timor
It is by now clear to most East Timorese and a few Westerners still left here that the militias are a wing of the TNI/ABRI, the Indonesian armed forces. Recently, for example, I was picked up by militiamen who turned out to be working for a uniformed colonel of the National Police. [Editors’ note: The Indonesian government has denied any connection between the militias and either the police or the military.] But there is another important political fact that is not known here or in the international community. Although the US government has publicly reprimanded the Indonesian Army for the militias, the US military has, behind the scenes and contrary to Congressional intent, been backing the TNI.
US officials say that this past April, as militia terror escalated, a top US officer was dispatched to give a message to Jakarta. Adm. Dennis Blair, the US Commander in Chief of the Pacific, leader of all US military forces in the Pacific region, was sent to meet with General Wiranto, the Indonesian armed forces commander, on April 8. Blair’s mission, as one senior US official told me, was to tell Wiranto that the time had come to shut the militia operation down. The gravity of the meeting was heightened by the fact that two days before, the militias had committed a horrific machete massacre at the Catholic church in Liquiça, Timor. YAYASAN HAK, a Timorese human rights group, estimated that many dozens of civilians were murdered. Some of the victims’ flesh was reportedly stuck to the walls of the church and a pastor’s house. But Admiral Blair, fully briefed on Liquiça, quickly made clear at the meeting with Wiranto that he was there to reassure the TNI chief. According to a classified cable on the meeting, circulating at Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, Blair, rather than telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, instead offered him a series of promises of new US assistance.
According to the cable, which was drafted by Col. Joseph Daves, US military attaché in Jakarta, Admiral Blair “told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region. He invited General Wiranto to come to Hawaii as his guest in conjunction with the next round of bilateral defense discussions in the July-August ’99 time frame. He said Pacific command is prepared to support a subject matter expert exchange for doctrinal development. He expects that approval will be granted to send a small team to provide technical assistance to police and…selected TNI personnel on crowd control measures.”
Admiral Blair at no point told Wiranto to stop the militia operation, going the other way by inviting him to be his personal guest in Hawaii. Blair told Wiranto that the United States would initiate this new riot-control training for the Indonesian armed forces. This was quite significant, because it would be the first new US training program for the Indonesian military since 1992. Although State Department officials had been assured in writing that only police and no soldiers would be part of this training, Blair told Wiranto that, yes, soldiers could be included. So although Blair was sent in with the mission of telling Wiranto to shut the militias down, he did the opposite.
Indonesian officers I spoke to said Wiranto was delighted by the meeting. They took this as a green light to proceed with the militia operation. The only reference in the classified cable to the militias was the following: “Wiranto was emphatic: as long as East Timor is an integral part of the territory of Indonesia, Armed Forces have responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the region. Wiranto said the military will take steps to disarm FALINTIL pro-independence group concurrently with the WANRA militia force. Admiral Blair reminded Wiranto that fairly or unfairly the international community looks at East Timor as a barometer of progress for Indonesian reform. Most importantly, the process of change in East Timor could proceed peacefully, he said.”
So that was it. No admonition. When Wiranto referred to disarming the WANRA force, he was talking about another militia force, different from the one that was staging attacks on Timorese civilians. When word got back to the State Department that Blair had said these things in a meeting, an “eyes only” cable was dispatched from the State Department to Ambassador Stapleton Roy at the embassy in Jakarta. The thrust of this cable was that what Blair had done was unacceptable and that it must be reversed. As a result of that cable from Washington to Roy, a corrective phone call was arranged between General Wiranto and Admiral Blair. That call took place on April 18.
I have the official report on that phone call, which was written by Blair’s aide, Lieut. Col. Tom Sidwell. According to the account of the call and according to US military officials I spoke to, once again Blair failed to tell Wiranto to shut the militias down. In fact, Blair instead permitted Wiranto to make, in essence, a political speech saying the same thing he had said before. Here is one passage from the account: “General Wiranto denies that TNI and the police supported any one group during the incidents”–meaning during the military attacks. “General Wiranto will go to East Timor tomorrow to emphasize three things:…Timorese, especially the two disputing groups, to solve the problem peacefully with dialogue; 2) encourage the militia to disarm; 3) make the situation peaceful and solve the problem.” At no point did Blair demand that the militias be shut down, and in fact this call was followed by escalating militia violence and increases in concrete, new US military assistance to Indonesia, including the sending in of a US Air Force trainer just weeks ago to train the Indonesian Air Force.