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Chief of staff
PPI militia force

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.[3] In subsequent months he was prominent among pro-integration leaders, and one of several who later led militia forces.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]  

Immediately before the ballot, he accused Unamet of bias and threatened to reject the result if it went against the pro-integration side.[7] 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.'[8] 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.[9]

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'.[10] 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.[11]

In late 1999 it was reported da Costa controlled a militia called Rusafuik that ran the Noelbaki refugee camp in West Timor near Kupang.[12]

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.[13] Despite his protestations of innocence,[14] 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.[15]

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.[16] Ignoring threats from his former associate Eurico Guterres,[17] he sought contact with Untaet,[18] and apologised for the violence and destruction committed by members of his group and said he was prepared to face trial.[19] He returned to Dili for a brief visit in June 2000.

Extra Information

Implicated in Events:
Carrascalao - 17/04/1999 - Murder of 12 at home of Manuel Carrascalao, Dili

Liquica - 6/04/1999 - Liquica church massacre

Current Status:
1 - Priority 1 for further investigation. Not included in any other formal list, but mentioned in other independent reports, and supported by considerable data.

See map of location

This individual is also mentioned in these profiles:
MajGen Adam Damiri
MajGen Zacky Anwar Makarim
Col (Pol) Timbul Silaen
Col Tono Suratman

[1] Mark Dodd, 'Guerillas wary of visiting militia leader', Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 2000.

[2] 'Tolak referendum, ribuan warga Timtim unjuk rasa', Media Indonesia OnLine, 27 June 1998.

[3] 'Catatan perjalanan di Bumi Loro Sa'e (11)', MateBEAN, 13 October 1999.

[4] 'Menlu Ali Alatas mendadak bertemu tokoh Timor Timur', Media Indonesia OnLine, 15 October 1998; 'Wiranto gagal temui kubu prokem', Jawa Pos, 21 April 1999.

[5] Allan Nairn, 'License to kill in Timor', The Nation [NY], 31 May 1999.

[6] 'Selama empat bulan 85 pengungsi Timtim meninggal dunia', Kompas, 7 July 1999; 'Indonesian military accuses UN of abusing mandate', AFP, 7 July 1999.

[7] 'East Timor: Integration supporters plan to reject ballot result, says militia leader', Lusa, 2 August 1999.

[8] 'If poll is lost the slaughter will begin', The Independent [London], 3 September 1999.

[9] 'Kebrutalan ancam perang saudara: 145 orang lebih tewas', Kompas, 6 September 1999; 'ETimor pro-independence militias demand new vote or "we will burn everything"', AFX-Asia, 7 September 1999. 'We will burn (East Timor) down and start all over again ... we are ready to go the jungles for 20 years,' he told another journalist (Claudia Gazzini, ' E.Timor in flames as martial law imposed', Reuters, 7 September 1999). Elsewhere, he said: 'We have to work together, but if that can't be done and the international community does not review the vote process, we are ready to destroy everything' (David Lamb, '"Military option" to sway vote in E. Timor went awry', Los Angeles Times, 16 September 1999).

[10] 'Militia leader says cease-fire in force in E.Timor', Reuters, 9 September 1999.

[11] 'East Timor: Alatas pledges cooperation while militia chief issues veiled threat', Lusa, 15 September 1999.

[12] Humanitarian NGO Forum of West Timor, 'Information for the United Nations Security Council delegation regarding the situation in West Timor', distributed on [email protected], 15 November 2000.

[13] 'Panjang jalur penyanggah', Gamma, 31 October 1999; 'Diplomasi milisi yang terjepit', Gamma, 28 November 1999.

[14] 'Jika jenderal TNI diadili jangan berhubungan dengan Timor Lorosa'e', Surya Timor, 22 December 1999.

[15] Komisi Penyelidik Pelanggaraan Hak Asasi manusia di Timor Timur. 'Ringkasan Eksekutif Laporan Penyelidikan Pelanggaran Hak Asasi Manusiadi Timor Timur', detikcom, 31 January 2000, Chapter II. The two other PPI senior commanders, Eurico Guterres and Joao Tavares, were on the list recommended for prosecution.

[16] 'Herminio reports formation of new party to Vice Governor' (English translation), Sasando Pos, 23 May 2000.

[17] 'Eurico threatens to disperse Timorense Popular Party, Hermenio lazy to know', Surya Timor, 29 May 2000.

[18] 'Da Costa temui de Mello', Kompas, 9 June 2000; 'Militias urged to prove sincerity by releasing refugees', Kyodo News, 12 June 2000.

[19] '06/09/2000 BBC Monitoring Source: RDP Antena 1 radio, Lisbon, in Portuguese, 9 June 2000 - RDP: Militia leader apologizes, willing to stand trial', transcript made available on [email protected], 9 June 1999; Tim Johnson, 'Anti-independence leader apologizes to E. Timor 's Gusmao', Kyodo News, 15 June 2000.


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