Companion to East Timor - Military pressure intensifies in the 1990s

Military pressure intensifies in the 1990s

The Indonesian military intensified its war against the clandestine and guerrilla resistance in the 1990s.

Undercover operations to penetrate the clandestine resistance were so successful that people couldn't be sure just how deeply the network had been infiltrated. Photograph and poster printing outlets in East Timor were required to notify the police if they spotted photos of Falintil guerrillas. For example, clandestine activist Kaiwua (Chiquito da Costa Guterres, also known as Michael Savio) was arrested on 21 February 1996 at the Juwita photoshop in Colmera, Dili while developing pictures for Falintil. He was tortured with beatings and electric shocks in order to uncover the identities of his clandestine contacts. 1

The authorities also engaged in disruption operations prior to demonstrations. They knew about most demonstrations before they happened, either through their own intelligence sources or because they anticipated the anniversary of a significant event. In the days before a major anniversary, there would be an increase in troop numbers. There would be checkpoints on the road to Dili, vehicle searches and random bag searches. Known clandestine leaders would be arrested without cause – a form of preventative detention – or on spurious grounds. Once arrested, some clandestine leaders would be transferred out of Dili to a regional detention centre until the anniversary had passed. Sometimes, especially on the eve of a major anniversary, the military would dig graves at Taci-Tolu in order to intimidate people.

The Indonesian military worked in multi-unit task forces in order to capture Falintil commanders such as Konis Santana and David Alex. Kostrad forces code-named Rajawali (Hawk) that had arrived in October 1995 worked alongside low-skilled civil defence troops, the anti-riot police mobile brigade and highly-trained paramilitaries which worked alongside special forces units. A major goal was the capture of Falintil commander David Alex, who operated in the vicinity of Baucau. On occasion, entire villages were rounded up and interrogated for information about David Alex.

The Indonesian authorities were keen to display the 'normality' of East Timor during the nation-wide elections of 29 May 1997. The resistance had other ideas. From his prison cell in Indonesia, Xanana Gusmao ordered the resistance to organize a boycott of the elections in East Timor. Accordingly, clandestine activists in Dili and Falintil forces under the command of David Alex launched a number of election-related attacks in May 1997. On 31st May 1997, Falintil forces under the command of David Alex ambushed a convoy of police and army personnel who were transporting a ballot box in Quelicai (Baucau). Four Indonesian troops were shot dead and 13 were burnt to death. In the crackdown that followed, more than a hundred people were arrested in the Quelicai sub-district. Most had no connection to the attack. Colonel Salamat Sidabutar had replaced Colonel Mahidin Simbolon as Commander of the regional military command (Korem 164) on 31 May 1997. Under Sidabutar's direction, a combined task force of troops began an intensive hunt for David Alex. On 25 June 1997, in a village named Caibada Wai-Ma'a, the task force captured David Alex along with five other East Timorese men. Considerable confusion, suspicion and misinformation accompanied this capture, leaving a legacy of suspicion that has never been erased. The mystery surrounding David Alex's capture and death and burial remains unresolved to this day.


1 CAVR, Chega 7.4, p. 173.