LtCol (Inf) Saripudin
Commander, Battalion 143, operating in Liquica, Ermera, Ainaro and Covalima districts
Saripudin (serial no. 29763, military academy graduate of 1983) commanded an infantry battalion active in East Timor that is accused of numerous human rights violations, always in conjunction with local militias. Originally from Lampung in southern Sumatra, Battalion 143 was seconded to the territorial command in East Timor, thus being designated a territorial combat battalion (BTT - batalyon tempur teritorial). Its overall movements crossed various military districts. It would have been controlled by the Sector B combat command under LtCol Tatang Zaenuddin.
Part of the battalion was based in Maubara, within the Liquica military district under commander LtCol Asep Kuswani. Battalion 143's active support for militias there was first reported on 27 December 1998, when its members joined Gadapaksi militiamen in arresting and torturing four villagers in Maubara sub-district. After that, over a hundred other villagers fled to Dili and sought refuge in the home of former parliamentarian Manuel Carrascalao.
On 10 January 1999, Battalion 143 soldiers joined Gadapaksi militiamen in an attack on the inhabitants of Gugleur village, Maubara sub-district, leaving several injured and houses burnt down. On 16 January, Battalion 143 troops helped militiamen burn down the house of Cancio Morae (45), in Vaviquinia village.
A newer militia than Gadapaksi, and destined to become the biggest in this district, was the Besi Merah Putih (BMP). Based in Maubara, it was formed in late 1998 as a 'self-defence' force against possible Falintil attacks, and was controlled by Leonito Martins. The Dili indictment against Martins and others states that BMP's first members were recruited in Vatuboro village, Maubara sub-district, mainly because Battalion 143 was based there. BMP and Battalion 143 soldiers conducted joint patrols. One of BMP's founders, Joaquim dos Santos, acknowledged regularly 'consulting' with Battalion 143. A report in June 1999 describes Battalion 143 soldiers working with BMP militiamen to 'control' the population of Maubara, 'so they are unable to carry out their daily tasks'.
Militia members were foot soldiers who could be moved even across district borders, but who would always return to the military post from whence their orders came. For example, on 14 January 1999 Battalion 143 soldiers and members of several militias - BMP, Naga Merah and Mahidi - arrested nine residents of Fatuboro village and detained them at the Battalion 143 post on suspicion of being supporters of independence. They were later released.
On 22 February, Battalion 143 soldiers joined BMP and Halilintar militias in fighting hundreds of villagers at Guiso, near Maubara. The villagers had struck back after the district head (Leonito Martins) fired in their direction for allegedly being pro-independence supporters. The Battalion 143 soldiers joined the fray to assist BMP, leaving four villagers injured and 39 houses burnt down. On the same day, Battalion 143 soldiers joined Rajawali (Kopassus) troops and BMP militiamen in an attack on Fatuvou (Fatuboro?) villagers, leaving four injured and eighteen arrested. Soldiers stopped an ambulance that came to attend the wounded. The report of the Indonesian inquiry into atrocities in East Timor (KPP HAM) listed Battalion 143 among the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Appendix 5 over these two incidents.
On 5 April 1999, in the buildup to the Liquica church massacre of 6 April, Battalion 143 troops joined BMP militiamen in an attack on the village of Dato, three kilometres from Liquica. Shots were fired, killing five people and wounding at least eight others.
Eyewitnesses said soldiers from Battalion 143 took part in the massacre at the Liquica Catholic church on 6 April 1999, which left (by one account) 35 dead (see the item on Manuel de Sousa, BMP commander).
Another Maubara militia which Battalion 143 supported was Pana. It was based at Fatuboro village west of Maubara and was led by Graciano Filipe, with the support of Maubara sub-district head (camat) Jose Afat, and of district head Leonito Martins, whose birth place this was. Pana was responsible for causing the majority of Maubara sub-district population in this area to flee to Dili early in 1999. Another Pana militia commander was Domingos Policarpo, a spokesperson for the pro-integration group FPDK in Dili.
Some personnel from Battalion 143 were based in Gleno, part of the Ermera district military command of LtCol Muhamad Nur, where they were commanded by Capt (?) Tony Darmansyah. The Darah Merah militia in Ermera was based at the Battalion 143 post in Manusae Village, southern Ermera district. According to Yayasan HAK, among those murdered at this post were Francisco Naicay (35) on 18 or 19 June 1999, and Francisco Alves (28) shortly before 20 June 1999.
On 9 August 1999, four individuals, one of them named Mariano da Costa, were murdered at the Battalion 143 post near Ermera by the militia leader Mauona. The victims were pro-independence activists.
Battalion 143 also had a post in Hatu-udo, Ainaro district, where it was commanded by Capt Handoko.
It also had a post in Laktos village, Fohorem subdistrict west of Suai, Covalima district. The unit was led by Lt Ari (full name unknown). Lt Ari was indicted in absentia before the Dili special panel on 8 April 2003 for having led soldiers and militias in a massacre at this village on 12 September 1999. With the 16 deaths on that day the military made good its threat to kill anyone who refused to be evacuated to West Timor after the ballot. The entire village was burned to the ground afterwards.
On at least one occasion, Battalion 143 also played a role in Dili. On 19 April 1999 Battalion 143 soldiers took part in the arrest of a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Adao (36), from Camea suburb in Dili. The arrest took place after the same soldiers fired shots during a wild chase against local Dili youths suspected of pro-independence sentiments. Battalion 744 soldiers and Aitarak militiamen also joined in the shooting, which was supposed to have been directed against undisciplined Besi Merah Putih militiamen, but was in fact directed against the local population. There were no reports of casualties.
Some of this militia-military collaboration was aimed at profit. The Battalion 143 soldiers and militiamen, according to the East Timor human rights organisation Yayasan HAK, were forcing villagers to sell coffee beans at a low price and then taking the product to Dili for resale.
After the ballot, eyewitnesses said Battalion 143 organised the forced evacuation of East Timorese civilians to Indonesian West Timor. Together with local militias, who told people they would all be killed if they did not leave, they ordered all of Liquica's residents onto a beach just down the hill from the church. For up to two weeks, ships came and the militia ordered everybody to board, often splitting families.
Two other battalions active in East Timor in 1999, with similar numbers but for which we do not know their commanding officers, were Battalions 141 and 144. They are often posted to trouble spots together. Like Battalion 143, they are from the Sriwijaya military area command in southern Sumatra.
· Battalion 141 patrolled mainly in the Ainaro and Ermera districts. It allegedly supported militias with money, guns, and transport. On the weekend of 10-11 April 1999, soldiers from Battalions 141, 143, and 144 (acting without militia members this time) attacked a bus of independence supporters in Ermera, killing 13, according to pro-independence spokesperson Manuel Carrascalao.
· Battalion 144 was based at Atabae sub-district, in Bobonaro district, but also conducted patrols with territorial soldiers and militiamen across the border in Ermera district. It was accused of arbitrarily arresting and torturing a number of individuals on at least four occasions in Atabae sub-district in November 1998. On 5 April 1999 members of Battalion 144, together with soldiers from the Atsabe sub-district command in southern Ermera, allegedly shot dead Adelino Magaleus (23), and arbitarily arrested Belsior Maupelu, a refugee, during a patrol. This battalion may also have been implicated in the Cailaco massacre of 12 April 1999 and subsequent reprisals (see LtCol Burhanuddin Siagian).