Accessibility links

Breaking News

Asia: East Timor Violence Apparently Prepared In Advance?

By Joe Laurie

A former UN official stationed in the East Timorese capital Dili says the recent violence in the territory seems to have been well organized. RFE/RL's UN correspondent, Joe Laurie, takes a look at the situation.

United Nations, 13 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A former United Nations official says the UN mission in East Timor was given a detailed document outlining plans by anti-independence militias to inflict death and destruction at least two weeks before the Aug. 30 referendum.

The official, who was stationed in the East Timorese capital Deli, says the document contained lists of independence supporters targeted for murder as well as pro-independence strongholds that would be hit if the pro-Indonesian forces lost the vote.

The official who was a former UN education officer, spoke on condition of anonymity. She says she saw the document and was under strict orders not to speak with the press. The former official says she hopes to go back to the mission in East Timor if the UN is able to return there in the aftermath of the violent rampage that followed the vote.

It is not clear whether the document was transmitted to UN headquarters in New York, however. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the East Timor desk in New York was not aware that such a document exists. A European military officer, posted to the UN peacekeeping department in New York also said on condition of anonymity that he was unaware of the document until this official told him about it.

"We received many, many documents, believe me, from many, many sources and some of them appeared to be forgeries, some of them may have been genuine, this specific one I don't know about," said David Wimhurst, the spokesman for the UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), in a phone interview yesterday from Darwin, Australia. "It sounds quite probable, but I can't say I've seen it."

Wimhurst said he was not aware of any document that had such details as a hit list and the names of high-ranking militia leaders.

"I never saw a document with names of people who they would go after, but there were documents that would suggest various scenarios of what they might do if they lost the vote, all of which were fairly grim scenarios, but nothing that has approached what we have actually seen here."

He added: "There's an awful lot of black propaganda going on and distinguishing what is true and false in written form is not always that easy. It is very, very difficult to determine whether they are exaggerations or forgeries put out by the other side to discredit the opposition."

Wimhurst said if a document was determined by the political office in Dili to be genuine it would have been cabled to UN headquarters in New York.

A UN official in Jakarta, speaking on condition of anonymity, added: "We heard lots of reports about planned atrocities. But what were we going to do?" He said he was not familiar with this specific report.

One option would have been calling off the vote. But Secretary General Kofi Annan said Friday: "I know there are people who, in hindsight, are saying one should have gone in with a force, that the United Nations should not have accepted the word of the Indonesians that they would maintain law and order. Everybody thought they would deliver. Nobody in his wildest dreams thought that what we are witnessing could have happened."

"If any of us had an inkling that it was going to be this chaotic, I don't think anyone would have gone forward. We are no fools," he said.

Another UN official, who asked not to be identified, said that if the document proved to be genuine, the UN would want a copy of it "to help prepare evidence for war crimes" allegations against Indonesian authorities and pro-Indonesian militia, who have gone on a rampage of murder, arson and looting after overwhelmingly losing the referendum.

Annan said that if the Indonesian government refused an international peacekeeping force "it cannot escape the responsibility of what could amount ... to crimes against humanity."

The official said she was handed the document in early August by a pro-independence student leader who said it was stolen from militia leaders. She said she marked a copy of the thick report "urgent" and put it on the desk of Ian Martin, the head of the UN Mission in East Timor, who could not be reached for comment in Dili.

"Two days later I received a copy of a translation of the document into English," the official said. "I do not know if Martin ever read it or if it was sent to New York." She added that additional copies of the translation were sent to the UN's political affairs department, the civilian police and UN security in Dili.

The report also contained a roster of Dili-based Aitarak militia members, including their ranks, she said. The official said in her haste to flee Dili as the violence was growing a week after the vote she was unable to take a copy of the document with her.

The incident recalls a fax sent by Canadian General Romeo Dellaire in January of 1994 to Annan, then head of UN peacekeeping efforts. Dellaire, as leader of UN troops in Rwanda, sent Annan a document which showed that arms were being distributed among the Hutu majority and provided detailed lists of Tutsis and moderate Hutus marked for murder.

The fax was never acted upon. Dellaire asked for 5,000 well-armed troops to put down the massacres once they began. Instead, UN forces were pulled out of the country.