Companion to East Timor - Massacres in the 1980s

Massacres in the 1980s

Despite its claims of normalization, the two pillars of Indonesia's rule remained its military presence and its ability to minimize international awareness of the situation there. There was little doubt about the outcome of a conventional fight between the Indonesian military and the guerillas. These poorly armed local adversaries were no match for a military with air power and artillery at its disposal, as well as weapons and equipment purchased from Western governments. Indeed, a consistent pattern in the first half of the 1980s was that a Falintil attack on a legitimate target such as an Indonesian military unit would be followed by a severe and indiscriminate response against combatants and non-combatants alike, then deportation of the survivors to Atauro.

Retaliation in June 1980

On the night of 10 June 1980, members of Dili's clandestine networks and Falintil troops attacked several military posts in and around Dili. The military responded by mobilizing almost all the forces at its disposal. It swooped on all known and suspected members of the resistance and their families, detaining them in informal detention centres for the specific purpose of interrogation and torture. Its aim was not just to destroy the resistance but to send a message to the population that retribution would be severe and indiscriminate. For example, the CAVR has documented how Venancio Gomes (Mau Seran), a former member of the Fretilin Central Committee, was arrested at his residence and taken to the Dili Kodim headquarters, then taken by helicopter to Remexio and shot dead. His body was left on the ground and was eaten by dogs.1

People were detained in an arbitrary fashion, regardless of whether they had had any involvement in the 10th June attacks. Hundreds of people were killed or disappeared, and hundreds more – many of them women and children – were deported to the island of Atauro from 10 July 1980 onwards.

Fence of Legs

In June 1981, the Indonesian military deployed at least 15 territorial battalions from outside East Timor and as many as 145,000 conscripted civilians in an operation known as Operasi Keamanan (Operation Security). The operation is also known as Operasi Kikis or Pagar Betis (Fence of Legs).2 It involved the formation of a human chain that would march across large areas of land with the military behind it in order to flush out guerrillas from their hiding places. The fence of legs targeted the eastern part of the territory. because the military's view was that 'It is in the eastern sector that people's support is the most militant and most difficult to expose. This is because of the very strong, close family ties and also because it has been possible for the [enemy] to consolidate its political leadership in this region for several years.'3

The civilians who had been conscripted into the operation were subsistence farmers, who were unable to plant their crops in time for the next harvest.

Massacre near the Rock of St Anthony

Not a single senior member of the resistance was captured as a result of this operation.4 However, as the operation was coming to an end in September 1981, Indonesian forces encountered a Falintil unit that had attended the 1981 national conference. This was Fera Lafaek's Company IV, based in the region around Mount Aitana on the Viqueque-Manatuto border. Fighting ensued for several days, culminating in a massacre of a large number of civilians near the Rock of St Anthony in Lacluta, Viqueque. Indonesia deported more than 3,000 civilians to Atauro.

Massacre in Mauchiga

The resistance needed to demonstrate once again that it continued to exist and that the people were not reconciled to integration with Indonesia. It planned a series of uprisings to coincide with the anniversary of the formation of Falintil on 20 August 1982. This was followed by an indiscriminate and disproportionate Indonesian military retaliation. Indonesian forces from Ainaro, Same, Aileu, Dili and Lospalos burnt houses in Dare, murdered and abducted civilians, and razed Mauchiga (Ainaro) to the ground. They deported several hundred people to Atauro once again.

In order to send a message to the population, Indonesian forces committed torture and rape during interrogations and conducted public execution of civilians. For example, the CAVR found that Indonesian soldiers beheaded a man named Joao Tilman and forced an East Timorese woman from Mauchiga to carry his head to Dare. The head was buried in Dare, 'and she was taken to the Ainaro Kodim [Kodim 1633] where she was held for three months. During this time she was given electric shocks to the face. She was also forced to become a Muslim. When she refused, she was beaten unconscious. She was forced with another detainee to search out Falintil in the forest for one and a half months. When they returned empty handed, she was forced to "marry" a soldier for more than one year.'5

Massacre in Kraras

Inside East Timor, the resistance and the Indonesian military negotiated a cease-fire that would last from May to July 1983. The Indonesian military allowed the ceasefire to continue until an Australian parliamentary delegation led by former Defence Minister Bill Morrison visited the territory. Morrison's report to the Australian parliament concluded that the 'administrative authority … of the Indonesian government [was] firmly in place' and that the Indonesian government was acting in good faith in the territory.

What has since become known as the Kraras Massacre occurred next. The people of Kraras were actually inhabitants of the village of Bibileo who had fled to the mountains in 1977 ahead of advancing Indonesian forces. After they surrendered in the Viqueque township, they tried to return to Bibileo but were moved to a new settlement called Kraras instead. As fears mounted that the Indonesian military was planning another harsh crackdown, they fled to their original village of Bibileo and to the nearby village of Buikarin. Indonesian forces entered Bibileo and took the villagers who were sheltering there to Beloi in Viqueque. On 7 September Indonesian forces entered Kraras, which was almost completely empty. They killed all four or five people who had stayed behind and burnt many houses. Two days later the Indonesian government declared a state of emergency. On 16 September Indonesian forces went back to Beloi, took the villagers to Caraubalu and handed them to Indonesian soldiers from a different unit. The villagers were then taken to a location called Welamo where they were told to stand in a hole and executed. At least 55 people aged one to 61 were killed at this time.6 The next day, Indonesian forces went to Buikarin, collected the rest of the people from Kraras who were sheltering there and separated the men from the women. They marched the men to the Wetuku River in the vicinity of Tahubein not far from Buikarin. At least 141 men were executed at this location.7

A visitor reported:

I'm going to tell you something that you might not believe. I went to [Lalerek] Mutin. There weren't any men. Only women and children. There weren't any houses either. When the military took them to [Lalerek] Mutin, the military took all the villagers' possessions. They don't have houses – they're living in a field. They killed all the adult men, all of them. There are a few who ran into the forest. And they were all buried near the Luca river.8

Members of the clandestine resistance such as Antonio Tomas Amaral da Costa were transferred to Penfui Prison in Kupang (West Timor) without trial. Each received only a spoonful of rice per day. Only 14 of the 69 East Timorese in Penfui Prison were alive in August 1984 when the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the prison and their conditions changed. Those who survived did so because they were able to eat papaya leaves. Antonio Tomas Amaral da Costa, who survived the ordeal, was thereafter known as Aitahan Matak (green – i.e. raw – leaves).


1CAVR, Chega, Vol. 7.3, n. 496.

2C. Budiardjo and L.S. Liong, The war against East Timor. (London: Zed Books, 1984).

3C. Budiardjo and L.S. Liong, 1984, pp. 193-210

4CAVR, Chega, 7.4, p. 138.

5CAVR, Chega, 7.4, p. 142.

6CAVR, Chega, 7.2, pp. 169-171.

7Ibid, 7.5 p 13.

8B. Anderson et al, October 2003.