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Provincial police chief
Provincial police
East Timor

Col (Pol) Timbul Silaen

East Timor police chief (Kapolda)

Col Timbul Silaen came from assistant police chief in Central Sulawesi to be appointed East Timor police chief on 30 March 1998 (another source says 22 June 1998. In that year he was an appointed member of the supreme legislative assembly the MPR, representing the regions.)[1] He turned 51 in August 1999. He was nominally in charge of security in Indonesian East Timor for all of 1999 except during the short period of martial law after the ballot.

Timbul Silaen took part in meetings with military and militia leaders where violence was advocated and planned, he permitted militias to carry weapons and operate roadblocks, and he failed to act against those who committed violence even when overwhelming force was available to him (as during the Maliana police station massacre – see LtCol (Pol) Budi Susilo). Some policemen under his command took part directly in violence against civilians - notably in Liquica on 6 April 1999 and in Suai on 6 September 1999. Unamet chief executive Ian Martin writes that the deportation of East Timorese after the ballot was coordinated by the police. Martin was referring to Rencana Operasi Hanoin [Hanoen] Lorosae II, which Silaen drafted in August 1999.[2]

More broadly, the police were part of the repressive apparatus of the state that stretched down to the village level all over East Timor. The village police officer (Bimpolda - Bimbingan Polisi Desa), was one of three officials who made up the key institution of the state at this level, known as Tripides (Tri-Pimpinan Desa). Its other two members were the village chief (Kepala Desa) and the village NCO (Babinsa - Bintara Pembina Desa).

However, with the police still part of the armed forces in 1999, and still treated there as the 'little brother' of soldiers, Timbul Silaen's actual authority was much less than his formal one. ‘Every time I met with Timbul Silaen,’ Portuguese diplomat Ana Gomes told journalists, ‘the guy let me understand he was not in control.’[3]

Throughout his term in East Timor, Silaen consistently failed to act against or even condemn violence committed by groups in favour of East Timor's continued integration with Indonesia. Among the examples are the following:

In an interview in mid-1998 he downplayed 'ninja' violence against civilians as mere 'naughtiness'.[4]

Admitting the incarceration of villagers in the Liquica district by pro-Indonesian militias in April 1999 (in conditions journalists described as 'like a concentration camp'), Timbul Silaen did nothing and merely said: 'At most, there are 100 [people being held], and they are from the pro-independence faction.'[5]

When this situation deteriorated into a massacre of refugees in the church in Liquica on 6 April 1999, he again downplayed it as fighting between two groups, and ignored eyewitness reports of direct police involvement in the killing.[6]

Still in April 1999 he refused when asked to give a guarantee of security for the territory's only local newspaper, Suara Timor Timur, after it had been closed down by militias who said they disliked the tone of its reporting.[7]

In June 1999 he defended the appointment of notorious militia leader Eurico Guterres as chief of a civil defence force based in Dili, saying: 'We have yet to find evidence that Guterres and [Manuel de] Sousa were involved in the recent murders.'[8]

In the meantime, in contrast with his tolerance of violence committed by anti-independence activists, he did act rather vigorously in two cases of violence committed by pro-independence activists. These included the killers of Fernando Maia, who was murdered in Salesa on 12 July, and Joao da Silva, who allegedly killed an Aitarak militiaman on 29 August.[9]

Throughout 1999 he attended many meetings with military and militia leaders at which plans were made to commit, orchestrate or condone violent acts. We know the dates of only a few of these.

The most damning evidence of the kind of agreements reached at such meetings was given by militia leader Herminio da Costa to US journalist Allan Nairn. He told Nairn that Timbul Silaen and Tono Suratman had since January 1999 issued him and other militia leaders with immunity from prosecution in the case of militia attacks on CNRT leaders - including interrogation, assaults on their houses, or even their deaths.[10]

In early April 1999, Timbul Silaen attended a meeting in Gleno, Ermera, in which East Timor Governor Abilio Soares said that the safety of those civil servants who refused to sign a statement of support for autonomy (within Indonesia) could not be guaranteed.

On 1 May 1999 he attended a meeting at Oesilo (just inside the Oekussi/ Ambeno enclave), together with East Timor military commander Col Tono Suratman and governor Abilio Soares. In front of 2000 people, government officials held speeches in which among others they said the CNRT should no longer be allowed to exist.[11] Two days later, he and East Timor military commander Col Tono Suratman attended a ceremony in the Ambeno enclave where the local CNRT 'voluntarily' dissolved itself and said it had given up the idea of independence. Other CNRT leaders suggested the dissolution was forced on the Ambeno branch.[12]

Militias launched attacks around Dili for two days on 9 and 10 May in which police acknowledged four independence supporters died. Timbul Silaen took no action, and merely described the attacks as fighting between two East Timorese sides.[13]

Immediately after this round of violence, on 11 May, he allegedly attended a meeting with Tono Suratman, Domingos Soares, the Kopassus counter-insurgency unit SGI, and militia leaders at the East Timor military headquarters in Dili. The meeting discussed plans to conduct a second phase of the so-called 'Operasi Sisir' (Combing Operation) of 17-19 April. This second phase, planned by Tono Suratman, was to be executed by militia groups from 15 to 25 May under the motto 'Autonomy or Death'.[14]

On 24 July 1999 Timbul Silaen allegedly took part in a secret meeting at the East Timor military headquarters, together with military commander Tono Suratman, the provincial parliamentary speaker (Armindo Soares Mariano), and militia leaders. The meeting discussed plans for a scorched earth campaign in East Timor in the likely event of the pro-independence vote winning. Police and military personnel were assigned to 'assist' the Aitarak militia, which would play the central and most visible role.[15]

When just before this meeting a letter was leaked to the media in which the Aileu district allegedly passed on instructions from the armed forces commander (Gen Wiranto) ordering militia leaders in his district to harass Unamet officials, Timbul Silaen took a strong role in denying the letter's authenticity.[16]

A week before the referendum Timbul Silaen held a meeting at his office attended by senior police and military commanders, provincial government officials and referendum taskforce members. Quoting his own intelligence estimates, he told the meeting the vote would be close and that there would be large-scale bloodshed whatever the outcome of the referendum. He recommended drawing up plans to evacuate half the population or 250,000 people. The meeting made available aircraft, ships and 300 local government trucks for the evacuation.[17]

He did not react well to the UN police force (civpol) that came to East Timor to ‘assist’ Indonesian police in the run up to the referendum, warning there could be ‘misunderstandings’ if they were perceived to be sympathetic to the pro-independence side.[18]

On 5 September 1999, the day after the ballot result was announced, his office failed to respond to pleas for assistance from a priest at the Catholic diocesan chambers in Dili. Police and soldiers stood by as Aitarak militiamen invaded the compound and killed about 15 people (see Mateus de Carvalho). He was at that moment attending a meeting at the official residence of East Timor military commander Col Nur Muis. Gen Wiranto was also in attendance. Bishop Belo was pleading for action against the militias.

Bishop Belo had asked Timbul Silaen on 2 and 4 September for protection against the militias at his own residence, where over 5000 refugees were sheltering. Timbul Silaen had visited the residence but did nothing. Early in the morning on 6 September, according to the Dili indictment against Silaen (Case 13/ 2003), Bishop Belo phoned Timbul Silaen again asking for protection from militias milling about his residence. However, Silaen told Belo to contact Col Nur Muis, as the police could not help. He only sent an officer (BrigGen (Pol) J D Sitorus) to ‘save’ Bishop Belo after obtaining the permission of the military, who had by then emptied the compound of all the refugees. Brimob police personnel were among those who organised the attack (see LtCol Sujarwo). Before helicoptering him to Baucau, Silaen told Bishop Belo that it was necessary for police to take the action they did because whenever there was a problem the Timorese always sought shelter with the Church.

Timbul Silaen's human rights record in 1999 was not all negative. Unamet chief executive Ian Martin in his book praised Timbul Silaen for his 'active involvement' in 'addressing particular local problems of intimidation'.[19] The reference was to July 1999, but it could also have applied to April, when he sheltered CNRT leaders Leandro Isaac and Manuel Carrascalao following militia attacks on them and their followers.[20]

However, these were small victories amid the great failures that represented his tour of duty in East Timor. A UN High Commision on Human Rights delegation to East Timor questioned his ability to maintain security.[21] The East Timor human rights organisation Yayasan HAK said more straightforwardly: 'Clearly, the security situation has failed to improve not because of "conflict between the two sides" but because terror and intimidation by the pro-integration militias has been allowed continuously to go unchecked by the police and the military in East Timor.'[22]

Speaking in his own defence, Timbul Silaen usually blamed the 'extremely brutal' character of the militias for his own failure to act.[23] Others rejected this defence by pointing out that he had a vastly expanded police force at his disposal that should have permitted him to control the militias. In June 1999 an additional 3,100 Brimob elite policemen were brought in from outside (the so-called Lorosae Contingent) and placed under his command. Together with 1,000 'civil defence' members (Kamra), this gave him 8,000 men.[24]

After the East Timor ballot Timbul Silaen was promoted to Brigadier General and became first head of the police anti-corruption force at national headquarters, then head of the anti-narcotics unit. In February 2001 he was reassigned to a special team to track down the fugitive son of President Suharto, 'Tommy' Suharto (thus compounding his own record of consistent failure). In June 2001 he revealed that his personal wealth stood at Rp 1.2 billion (US$100,000).

He was quizzed extensively about his responsibility for the 1999 abuses in East Timor - first in January 2000 by KPP HAM and again in May 2000 by the Attorney General's team. KPP HAM investigators revealed that an unnamed witness had said Timbul Silaen ordered police to take part in killing and destruction in East Timor.[25] However, when KPP HAM named him as one of those responsible for the East Timor mayhem, his superiors dismissed the report as biassed to the pro-independence side.[26]

The weaknesses of the Indonesian Attorney-General's indictment against him and against Abilio Soares are described in a May 2002 report by the International Crisis Group.[27] The indictment before the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court in Indonesia of 20 February 2002 was for crimes against humanity. It specifically held him responsible for failing to order his subordinates (including named militia groups!) to prevent the Liquica massacre of 6 April 1999, the attack on Manuel Carrascalao's house on 17 April 1999, the attack on the Unamet office in Liquica on 4 September 1999, the attack on the Dili Diocesan office on 5 September 1999, and the attack on Bishop Belo's residence on 6 September 1999. After a trial that was widely criticised outside Indonesia for failing to address the available evidence, he was acquitted on 15 August 2002.[28]

On 28 February 2003 Timbul Silaen was indicted in absentia for crimes against humanity before the Dili special panel, specifically over his responsibility for the attacks on the Dili diocese and Bishop Belo’s house on 5 and 6 September 1999 respectively, and for his role in forcibly transferring over 25,000 civilians from Dili to West Timor between 5 and 9 September. Eurico Guterres was also indicted over this.

Several district police chiefs under his command have also been indicted for crimes against humanity, before the Jakarta ad hoc court and/ or the Dili special panel. They are LtCol (Pol) Hulam Gultom (Dili), LtCol (Pol) Budi Susilo (Bobonaro), LtCol (Pol) Gatot Subiaktoro (Covalima), and LtCol (Pol) Adios Salova (Liquica).

Extra Information

Implicated in Events:
Belo - 6/09/1999 - Attack on Bishop Belo's house, Dili

Carrascalao - 17/04/1999 - Murder of 12 at home of Manuel Carrascalao, Dili

Diocese - 5/09/1999 - Attack on Dili diocesan office

Liquica - 6/04/1999 - Liquica church massacre

Current Status:
T - Committed for trial in East Timor, some already sentenced.

A - (Indonesian) Attorney General's Department. Announced as suspects at various times (September 2000 - April 2001), some later dropped, some already sentenced.

K - KPP HAM. Listed in the 31/01/2000 report of the Indonesian commission of inquiry into atrocities committed in East Timor in 1999. More junior figures in Appendix 5 of the final report are added here under their superiors.

D - Dunn. The report of James Dunn, consultant to the Untaet Prosecutor General Mr Mohamed Othman, April 2001.

See map of location

This individual is also mentioned in these profiles:
Mateus de Carvalho
Herminio da Costa
MajGen Adam Damiri
Manuel de Sousa
Eurico Guterres
Col Nur Muis
Laurentino ('Moko') Soares
LtCol (Pol) Gatot Subiaktoro
Col Tono Suratman
MajGen Kiki Syahnakri

[1] Waspada, 13 August 1998.

[2] Ian Martin, Self-determination in East Timor: The United Nations, the ballot, and international intervention, Boulder (Col): Lynne Riener, 2001, p.96.

[3] Don Greenlees and Robert Garran, ‘Birth of a nation: Army's deadly double game’, The Australian, 21 May 2002.

[4] 'Wawancara Kolonel (Pol.) Drs. GM. Timbul Silaen: "Ninja adalah kelompok pengacau yang sporadis"', Tempo, 25 July 1998.

[5] Keith B. Richburg, 'A campaign of terror: Army-backed militias use violence to sway vote on E. Timor independence', Washington Post, 9 May 1999.

[6] 'Uskup Belo, Danrem Tono dan Kapolda Timtim Silaen tinjau situasi Liquica', Suara Timor Timur, 8 April 1999.

[7] 'Empat wartawan diburu Kopassus', MateBEAN, 29 April 1999.

[8] 'Police advocate militia chiefs appointment', The Jakarta Post, 10 June 1999.

[9] 'Clash mars East Timor registration', The Jakarta Post, 17 July 1999; 'Fortilos: Situasi Dili 1/9/99 - 21:00', SiaR, 31 August 1999 [the title of this report is probably mistaken - it should be 31/8/99].

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

[11] Amnesty International, 'EAST TIMOR: Seize the moment', 21 June 1999, ASA 21/49/99.

[12] 'CNRT Ambeno bubar, terima otonomi luas: Tolak jajak pendapat', Kompas, 3 May 1999.

[13] 'Wartawan asing berperan dalam aksi demo di Dili', Pos Kupang, 12 May 1999.

[14] 'Fortilos>FPDK: Otonomi atau mati', MateBEAN, 18 May 1999.

[15] 'Skenario bumi hangus TNI dijalankan di Timor Timur', MateBEAN, 9 September 1999.

[16] 'Propaganda hitam merajalela di Timtim: Bupati Aileu mengadu ke Polda', Kompas, 23 July 1999.

[17] Don Greenlees and Robert Garran, Deliverance: The inside story of East Timor's fight for freedom, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2002, p.206.

[18] 'Indonesian police warn of "misunderstandings"', Sydney Morning Herald, 6 May 1999.

[19] Ian Martin, Self-determination in East Timor: The United Nations, the ballot, and international intervention, Boulder (Col): Lynne Riener, 2001, p56.

[20] 'CNRT bubar, ikut pro-integrasi', Kompas, 27 April 1999.

[21] 'PBB minta penegakan hukum di Timtim', Kompas, 23 May 1999.

[22] 'HAK: Laporan pemantauan masa pendaftaran, 26 Juli - 8 Agustus 1999', MateBEAN, 10 August 1999.

[23] 'Kesepakatan damai Timtim: Hari ini ditandatangani', Kompas, 21 April 1999.

[24] The Kontingen Lorosae were commanded by Brig-Gen Pol James Daniel Sitorus, mentioned above as 'saving' Bishop Belo. Since Sitorus outranked Timbul Silaen, it is not clear in what sense this additional unit was actually under Silaen's command. The Kontingen Lorosae was part of a police operation named 'Hanoin Lorosae', with its headquarters at the East Timor police headquarters in Dili. It may be that these elite police acted directly under the command of Jakarta, perhaps even directly of General Wiranto, under whose command the police still fell in 1999. ('Skenario bumi hangus di Loro Sa'e', Tempo, 19 September 1999, pp28-29. One of the sources for this long report, though not for the info above, is a Carter Center weekly report, no.4, written by Annette Clear.) We do not yet know a great deal about Hanoin Loro Sae - for example, how did these special police forces interact with the military officers here named? However, see 'Wiranto kritik oknum Unamet', Kompas, 29 July 1999; '8.000 Personel Polri amankan jajak pendapat', Kompas, 1 June 1999.

Curiously, the ceremony marking the arrival of these elite police reinforcements on 5 June 1999 was also marked as the moment at which the police 'took over' control of security over East Timor from the military. Policemen told Unamet staffers that East Timor before this was in a state of war and thus not under police control. ('Police take over security in E. Timor', The Jakarta Post, 6 June 1999). The facts on the ground certainly strengthen the impression of a continuous state of war since the invasion of 1975. However, the military have never formally acknowledged that East Timor remained in a state of war until 5 June 1999.

[25] Lindsay Murdoch, 'Militiaman implicates generals', Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December 1999. Another report said a police witness in the Timbul Silaen case was Guntur Gatot Setiawan, chief of the patrol directorate at East Timor police headquarters (Kadit Samapta Polda Timtim). Was this the witness referred to by Lindsay Murdoch? ('Letkol Asep Kuswandi tidak datang', Kompas, 13 September 2000).

[26] 'Polri tidak akan tindak langsung: Timbul Silaen', Suara Pembaruan, 3 February 2000.

[27] 'Indonesia: Implications of the Timor trials', International Crisis Group, 8 May 2002 (

[28] Indictment availabe on Other documentation on The judgment is also available on the JSMP website.


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