British and Australian troops entered the East Timorese capital of Dili today. There was no resistance, although anti-independence militiamen were seen in the area.
September 20; The East Timor Militias. Little is known about the anti-independence militias in East Timor, and that is no accident. These part time soldiers were first officially formed in the early 1980s by former Indonesian dictator Suharto's son, general Prabowo Subianto. But militias had long existed unofficially in East Timor, as a remnant of the numerous different factions that fought for, or against the Portuguese colonial government. These groups, in turn, developed out of the thousands of guerillas that fought the Japanese during World War II. The militia were never well armed, often possessing only farming tools (especially machetes) and home made weapons (spears, bows and the like.) Some had firearms, but not much ammunition. The army handed out old rifles and some automatic weapons to the groups they favored, and these militias became dominant. While many of the militias were for self-defense, others were backed by criminal organizations. The local gangsters ran gambling, prostitution, extortion and smuggling rackets. The army offered not just guns, but also toleration for a lot of criminal activity if the gangsters would do the dirty work when asked.
Several militia leaders, and militia groups have been identified, but many others are still operating in the shadows.
Joao da Silva Tavares declared himself the commander of all militia earlier this year. This has more to do with his willingness to speak openly to the media than anything else. His militia is called the Hailinar militia, which operates in and around Bobonaro.
Basilio Araujo, who heads the Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice, is even more of a media creation. He acts as a spokesman for militia groups.
Eurico Guterres leads the Aitarak militia, which operates in Dili. This group only formed after the referendum for independence was announced earlier this year. But since Dili is full of people in the pay of the Indonesian government, there was no shortage of recruits. Guterres himself has a revolutionary background, as he was arrested in 1988 for plotting to assassinate the Indonesian dictator Suharto. But mainly Guterres is an opportunistic gangster, his principle source of income being gambling operations.
Cancio de Carvalho formed the Mahadi militia in 1998 and used the media to pump himself up. He claims 15,000 members, but closer examinations indicates that he may have as few as a few hundred poorly armed men. But this militia has been active in terrorizing and attacking East Timorese trying to vote for independence. Carvalho has also threatened UN personnel and armed resistance to any East Timorese independence.
Manuel de Sousa formed the Besi Merah Putih militia in late 1998, and gathered together a large number of men in the Liquica area by offering recruits two or three dollars a day to join. But de Sousa is not running a charity, his militia loots enthusiastically and makes much use of terror and intimidation. Probably a criminal, more than a political, organization.
The Saka militia, operating in the vicinity of Bacau, is one of the original militias, having formed in 1983 and kept going by a succession of leaders. Currently headed by a fellow known only as Sergeant Joanico. In March of this year, this group publicly pledged it's allegiance to Indonesia.
Pamuda Panca Sila and Pamuda Panca Sila Two are two youth militias that are based outside of East Timor. These are radical nationalist groups that provide the wild eyed youths for street demonstrations in Indonesia's major cities. Many of its members are armed and some of these have operated in East Timor just like another militia.
There are many other militia groups whose identity's are not known. Others form and disband with great frequency. But the existence of these groups shows that there are leaders, and followers, in East Timor capable of putting together lethal organizations. If there is armed resistance in East Timor, it will likely be from irregular outfits like these.