The Timorese guerrilla movement has developed into a political weapon of underlying popular resistance, more than a military instrument.

The Chronology of Main Events in 1996, published in the January 1997 edition of this Bulletin, contains some general considerations on the situation of the East Timorese guerrilla movement. However, since then, a vast amount of written material (over twenty documents) has been received from different sources in East Timor's interior and, consequently, we are now in a position to expand on previous comments and prove, beyond doubt, that East Timor's armed Resistance is alive and kicking back with unexpected vitality.

Among the mass of new information, there are four reports dealing specifically with the guerrilla, which were sent from guerrilla Regions numbers 1, 3 and 4. These "Autonomous Regions" correspond to the Eastern point (two reports), Centre and Border areas (one report from each) in East Timor. The reports were dated October 1996, February 1997 and January 1997 respectively.

The level of military activity in East Timor in the period under review (about 3 months per Autonomous Region), and the number of casualties on both sides would seem to confirm the idea that low intensity warfare (the way the conflict has normally been described in military terms) persists. In fact, only five armed engagements are reported. The confrontations involved ABRI (Indonesian army) and Falintil forces. Two occurred in the Western/border area in October 1996, and the others in the Eastern tip of the island, in January and February 1997. As a result of these five clashes, 3 guerrillas were captured, 2 killed and 3 wounded (and managed to escape). On the Indonesian side, 6 were killed and 2 wounded.

If the periods under review were representative, the yearly total of casualties on each side would be in the region of 20 to 40. Such figures suggest that the situation in the territory is far from "peaceful" and under the occupier's control.

The enormous Indonesian military contingent stationed in East Timor reveals just how fragile that "peace" really is. At least 14 Battalions - about 10,000 men - were involved in military operations at the time in question. Their distribution on the ground provides us with an idea of where military instability is greatest: in the Eastern point there were 8 Battalions ( 141, 245, 301, 323, 523, BTT 623, 745 and 750). In the Southern and Western areas the following Battalions were to be found: 320, 411 and 743, and 512, 744 and Linud 700, respectively. Even though the now traditional heavy military presence in the Eastern area persists, it is interesting to note how the guerrilla activity throughout the territory has resulted in significant numbers of Indonesian troops being stationed in other areas, especially around the Western border area.

The growing numbers of native Timorese forces on the Indonesian side, (evidence of Indonesia's efforts to "Timorese" the war) must also be taken into account, and their presence (currently several thousand) should be added to those of Indonesian troops.

Indonesia's military strategy in the territory is described, in simplified terms, as one of containment and limited counter- insurgency, based on small-scale offensive operations. The tactics employed are mainly ambushes, encirclement and raids. Timorese collaborators and/or captured guerrillas often assist in the operations, either voluntarily or forced by the Indonesian military. Most of these operations are conducted on the outskirts of villages from which the guerrillas get both material and intelligence support. This makes any Timorese peasant a potential fighter and thus an enemy. Indiscriminate violence perpetrated against defenceless civilians is, therefore, commonplace. It is the civilian population that is paying the highest price in this war. An estimate (based on the documents in question) put the number of villagers murdered following retaliatory action taken by the Indonesians at five (at least) times the number of active guerrillas killed in combat.

The numbers of civilians from villages and towns who have been arrested and/or "disappeared" is naturally much higher than those killed - estimates (which do not include city-dwellers) put the figure in the region of 500 to 1,000 victims per year. Most are peasants. About a quarter of them are women, and the average age is over 30 years old.

The spread of collaboration and infiltration, which serve both to support the Indonesian war effort and repressive apparatus, and as means to divide the Timorese population, is reaching considerable proportions. Almost half the documents in question include lists of informers and spies, who are all Timorese. According to the figures in one such report, in the Eastern region alone there are 550 Timorese Intel (Indonesian secret police) agents. They are recruited from the public service, police, military, and the respective families of all these, either attracted by offers of financial gain and material rewards, such as houses, cars, etc., or by threatening individuals who then collaborate out of fear.

Large-scale Indonesian military operations continued to be regularly conducted in East Timor, and are the best proof of the armed Resistance's continuing vitality. One of the documents received gives a detailed description of the Indonesian offensive carried out in the Southern portion of Autonomous Region no. 1, between mid-January and mid-February this year. In a month-long operation, around 4,000 Indonesian soldiers took part in co- ordinated actions in a restricted area (20 to 30 kms.) of Iliomar, The troops, transported to the area by truck, were dropped off along the roads surrounding the area, and advanced from there in several fronts in what constituted a huge encirclement operation. They converged on the places believed to be guerrilla hideouts, and then commenced the "clean up" and raiding activities. It was during these operations that some of the engagements occurred. Once the operation had been completed, most of the troops were moved out to different areas, but small counter-insurgency units were left behind to conduct ambushes.

Given their enemies' overwhelming superiority in numbers and equipment, the Falintil are, understandably, limited to essentially defensive activity. In each of the five engagements referred to in the documents, it was the Indonesian military that had taken the initiative. The casualties inflicted on the enemy were the result of guerrilla counter-attacks.

On the basis of the small sample available, it would seem that the guerrilla's warfare more efficient than that of the Indonesian army (considering that the number of Indonesian soldiers killed and wounded is double that of the number of guerrillas). The lack of weapons and ammunition still appears to be the major constraint on the guerrillas (rather than lack of able-bodied men). This may be gathered from the reports received by the fact that as much emphasis is put on the loss or capture of weapons as it is on human casualties.

Guerrilla logistics depend entirely on the support of local civilian population: food (obtained from the plots and fields around the villages) and other essentials (salt, soap, etc.), medical supplies and intelligence. For this reason, the civilian population is the main target of Indonesia's army. At the same time, it is the Timorese population that is the driving force behind the Falintil's strength and persistence. As long as there is one Timorese alive in a village or town, there is sure to be a Timorese armed Resistance.

Source :
"Timor Leste" (monthly bulletin of the Lisbon-based East Timor solidarity organisation,
CDPM - Commission for the Rights of the Maubere People)
April 1997

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