Sabica Besi Kulit


Americo Ximenes was the overall commander of the 150 Fretilin troops who were stationed in Balibo. He had been at Balibo for twelve days prior to the attack of 16 October 1975. His nom de guerre of Sabica Besi Kulit means "bulletproof". (Sabica, which is pronounced "Sabika", means "covering"; Besi Kulit means "iron skin")

According to Sabica, the journalists were friendly and got along with everyone. Their usual abode in Balibo was the house of a Chinese trader (near the house on which Greg Shackleton had painted the Australian flag). This was known as the Chinese house.

The attack on Balibo, which was part of a general offensive along the border, began with a diversionary operation at Batugade (approximately 10 km away). Four or five old tanks were driven around Batugade in order to trick Fretilin forces into believing that the Indonesians were advancing up the single narrow road from Batugade to Balibo. Artillery was also used to soften up the Fretilin defenders.

Sunrise that morning occurred at 0517h. Thus it was light when the ground attack on Balibo began at 0600h. There was very little fighting because Fretilin troops had never intended to hold the town. All the fighting was over by around 0645h.

Sabica fought the Indonesian occupying forces for the duration of the 24-year war. He became a senior member of Falintil (the Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor)1. He was military commander of Region 2, which covered parts of Baucau, Viqueque and parts of Manatuto.2 He joined the East Timor Defence Force after independence.

The prominence afforded to the armed resistance has obscured an important fact: the armed resistance did not defeat the occupier. Its main role for most of the occupation was to survive as a symbol of the East Timorese resistance. As such, it fitted into pre-existing concepts of an independence struggle that the world could understand. As the CAVR notes:

"The diplomacy of the East Timorese resistance was the most important factor in achieving self-determination. The Resistance maintained its commitment in the face of extraordinary challenges including significant disunity, resource constraints, isolation and overwhelming odds, both inside and outside Timor-Leste. The diplomacy of the Resistance was ultimately successful because it focused on internationally agreed principles, eschewed ideology and violence, was open to
the contribution of all East Timorese, and made maximum use of the international
system, media and civil society networks. As a human rights and moral (rather than ideological) issue, the question of Timor-Leste gained international legitimacy and support at the expense of Indonesia whose case rested on force and had no basis in international law or morality."3

1 Forças Armadas de Libertaçâo Nacional de Timor Leste.

2 There were four Falintil regions following the 1998 territorial re-structure of the resistance.

3 Chega 2005, Executive Summary, p 52.