Herminio da Costa [Hermenio, Herminho, Hermenio da Costa da Silva, Herminio da Silva da Costa]
Chief of staff, pro-integration combined forces (PPI)
Herminio da Costa, aged 50 in 1999, was third in command of the armed pro-integration group PPI (under Joao Tavares and Eurico Guterres), and one of its most militant spokespersons. On numerous occasions he issued threats of violence, and the fighters under his command did not hesitate to carry them out. An Australian Defence Force handbook on East Timor also listed him as a commander in the Aitarak militia that terrorised Dili.
When independence sentiment in East Timor surged following the resignation of President Suharto in May 1998, he was at the forefront of declarations of support for Jakarta. He worked in Dili as the chairperson of the civil servants' cooperative (Ketua Pusat KUD Timor Timur), and before that headed up the Baucau electricity authority. In subsequent months he was prominent among pro-integration leaders, and one of several who later led militia forces.
By May 1999 da Costa was chief of staff of the combined militia forces PPI. He told US journalist Allan Nairn that his militias had the previous January made a secret accord with East Timor military commander Col Tono Suratman and East Timor police chief Col (Pol) Timbul Silaen. It authorised his men to 'attack homes, interrogate and kill members of the [pro-independence] CNRT and Fretilin,' as long as the militias refrained from common crimes like 'car theft and stealing food.' Da Costa said the accord 'gave permission to do assaults on houses but not without [Suratman's] authorisation and knowledge.' The same applied to interrogations [of independence supporters]. He described how his men had executed unarmed 'enemies of the people,' but said that these killings had been carried out with prior clearance from the military. He praised both armed forces commander Gen Wiranto and TNI Headquarters intelligence specialist MajGen Zacky Makarim as a 'very good friend'.
In the Nairn interview, da Costa said about the Liquica killings of 6 April 1999 that they fell under the terms of the January accord. He claimed that local 'people asked us to kill them [the victims]. For us it wasn't a disaster. For the people of Liquica it was a liberation.' He added that in Liquica the militias had asked the TNI-Abri for backup - and got it from Brimob, a police crowd control unit. As Brimob lobbed in tear gas and gunshots, the militia machete-men waded in. Da Costa said: 'We assaulted the church and the rectory as Fretilin command posts. Those who died were not simple people. They were activists, CNRT members.... If we kill them, they say they died as people. But no, they died as Fretilin.'
Da Costa also spoke about the militia attack on the house of former parliamentarian Manuel Carrascalao on 17 April 1999, which left Carrascalao's 16-year old son Manuelito among the dead. Manuel Carrascalao, he said, is 'an enemy of the people.' When the militias arrived, they found that Manuel was not home. The execution of Manuelito was 'punishment for his father's activism,' according to da Costa.
When in July 1999 militias attacked a convoy of church and humanitarian organisations (NGOs) taking aid to many thousands refugees driven from their homes by militias, da Costa said the NGOs were Fretilin puppets who acted without police permits and intended to undermine the government and TNI.
Immediately before the ballot, he accused Unamet of bias and threatened to reject the result if it went against the pro-integration side. After the ballot, and knowing the result about to be announced would go against his side, he threatened to 'slaughter' all pro-independence East Timorese: 'If Unamet announces that the pro-independence side has won the ballot I promise it will be civil war again,.... [T]hen the pro-independence forces don't deserve to live any more, because it is not fair.... My plan is to bring the problem to the UN and ask them to hold another ballot, this time organised by Indonesia. If they refuse, I would rather go to war to slaughter all the pro-independence people, because we will be sure that they have cheated.' From his new base in Kupang, da Costa later warned that PPI would burn East Timor to the ground. 'It is not war between Indonesia and East Timor, but war between autonomy and independence', he said.
A couple of days later, with much of East Timor in flames and its population deported, he said, as if to confirm they had been at war, that his forces had declared a cease fire and had 'left all security matters to the Indonesian armed forces'. He then began to suggest, improbably, that he was not responsible for the destruction of East Timor because his commanders had 'lost control of the guys since September 4,' the day the result was announced.
In late 1999 it was reported da Costa controlled a militia called Rusafuik that ran the Noelbaki refugee camp in West Timor near Kupang.
For a while da Costa lobbied for the partition of East Timor into an independent sector in the east and a pro-Indonesian sector in the west. Despite his protestations of innocence, da Costa's name was mentioned in the KPP HAM report on the atrocities in East Timor - although in the body rather than in the list of those recommended for prosecution.
However, by May 2000 he had acknowledged the result of the East Timor ballot, and formed a political party (PPT) to contest the forthcoming elections in East Timor. He now attributed the failure to win the 1999 ballot not to misconduct on the part of Unamet, but to corruption among East Timor's political and military elite, as well as their gross violations of human rights. Ignoring threats from his former associate Eurico Guterres, he sought contact with Untaet, and apologised for the violence and destruction committed by members of his group and said he was prepared to face trial. He returned to Dili for a brief visit in June 2000.