Jose Abilio Osorio Soares
Governor of East Timor
Together with East Timor military commander Col Tono Suratman, Abilio Soares strongly opposed the offer of a ballot announced by President Habibie late in January 1999. He appeared less than committed to implementing it. Almost immediately he began using warlike language, and said that he rather favoured partitioning East Timor into an Indonesian west and an independent east. Sources said he took part in a survey of likely pro-Indonesian bases in the western districts around Suai, Maliana and Ambeno.
On 26 March 1999 at a secret meeting of military and militia leaders he urged that pro-independence leaders, and even nuns and priests, should be killed. The Dili indictment against him (clause 22) confirmed the meeting, adding that Col Tono Suratman and LtCol Yayat Sudrajat were also in attendance. According to this version, Abilio said that East Timorese who sought protection with priests and nuns were communists who ought to be killed. He added that TNI would supply weapons to pro-Indonesian forces, and that if they would not then he would pay for them himself through the pro-Indonesian organisation BRTT.
Money was his biggest contribution to the militia cause. Provincial secretary (sekwilda) Rajakarina Brahmana, Abilio Soares’ second-in-charge, later told the Jakarta ad hoc human rights court that between 10% and 20% of the total provincial government's budget went to anti-independence efforts, including paying for militiamen. ‘They were not paid on a regular basis but only when they performed a task’, he said. The Dili indictment against Abilio Soares (clauses 28-29) gave a similar figure - 60% or Rp 53 billion of East Timor’s regional development budget. He diverted these funds in April after seeking and receiving presidential approval. Abilio Soares then issued a written directive to all district chiefs as to how the money should be used.
Similarly, in late March 1999 a source in his office revealed that Abilio Soares claimed that President Habibie had personally promised to nearly double the provincial budget from Rp 400 billion to Rp 750 billion (US$ 75 million). 'Habibie said that the money could be used for anything at all, especially to maintain integration [with Indonesia]', the source added. Abilio also said he had an agreement from Armed Forces Chief of General Affairs LtGen Sugiono to supply '15,000' guns via the district military commands (Kodim) commencing on 5 April. The extra budgetary resources were to be used to pay for these weapons, he said. A new united pro-integration front would also soon be launched whose military forces were to be led by Joao Tavares. This actually happened a few days later. On the day of the ballot, these pro-integration forces would withdraw to a 'base camp' to be located in Suai. But afterwards, with the UN gone, they would emerge and launch simultaneous attacks on 'Dili, Baucau, Lospalos, Same, Ainaro, Viqueque and Manatuto', killing all pro-independence leaders in those places. This had been decided in a meeting at Abilio's home, the source said.
At the time, many foreign observers tended to dismiss such plans as fanciful. As it happened, though, they turned out to be remarkably accurate. There was an enlarged budget controlled by the governor, there was a coordinated militia front, extra weapons were channeled to militias through local district military commands, ballot day was quiet, and there were massive, well-coordinated attacks immediately after the ballot in which many pro-independence figures were murdered. Abilio Soares stood at the heart of these plans.
Abilio Soares was present at a large show of militia force in Dili on 17 April 1999, at which militia leader Eurico Guterres was officially appointed deputy commander of the combined pro-integration forces PPI. At the rally Guterres said that pro-independence leaders should be killed, and afterwards on the same day, the same militias killed at least a dozen people in the house of opposition figure Manuel Carrascalao. Abilio Soares took no action against those who had committed the murders.
As governor, Abilio Soares was in charge of all thirteen district heads (bupati) in the territory. Much of the funding for militias passed from his office through these subdistrict offices. Throughout 1999 he took no action against those district heads under his control who were clearly identified with acts of violence or intimidation: Edmundo Conceico, Leonito Martins, Guilherme dos Santos, Vidal Doutel Sarmento, Herman Sediono, Domingos Soares, Martinho Fernandes, and Suprapto Tarman. Instead, for example in the case of the Liquica church massacre on 6 April 1999, he blamed violence by pro-Indonesian militias on pro-independence 'provocation'.
In May 1999 he ordered the police and military, as well as local government all over the territory, to run a program to 'socialise' the pro-Indonesian autonomy option. This contradicted the 5 May 1999 UN Agreement not only because it began the campaign early but because it involved the threat of force. In June 1999 letters were leaked in which Governor Abilio Soares promised to use millions of dollars in World Bank poverty relief to pay for the 'socialisation' program. Five percent of the allocation for each district was set aside for the pro-Indonesian militias there. Other documents showed the militias were part of the military structure.
In February 2001, a year and a half after the Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor, he angrily rejected President Abdurrahman Wahid's apology for human rights abuses committed against the population of East Timor, and said he would continue to campaign for the 'return' of East Timor to Indonesia.
Abilio Soares was indicted with crimes against humanity before the Ad Hoc Human Rights Court in Indonesia, specifically with civilian command responsibility for the failings and actions of his subordinates, namely district head Leonito Martins (over the Liquica massacre of 6 April 1999), district head Herman Sediono (over the Suai massacre of 6 September 1999), and PPI deputy commander Eurico Guterres (over the attack on Manuel Carrascalao's house on 17 April 1999 and the attack on Bishop Belo's house on 6 September 1999). After a trial that was widely criticised outside Indonesia for failing to address the available evidence, he was found guilty and sentenced to three years prison on 14 August 2002. Although his appeal was later rejected, he has so far not been jailed.
On 24 February 2003 he was charged in absentia with crimes against humanity before the Dili special panel. Indicted with him were seven senior military officers including Gen Wiranto (where the indictment is summarised).
Abilio Soares was born in Laclubar, Manatuto district in central East Timor, on 2 June 1947. His elder brother Jose Fernando Osorio Soares was the secretary-general of the pro-Indonesian party Apodeti, and died at the hands of the pro-independence party Fretilin in the civil war before the Indonesian invasion late in 1975. Abilio Soares himself worked with the military to facilitate the invasion. In 1976 he became (in his own words) 'very close friends' with (then) Lieutenant Prabowo Subianto. He is not well educated.
Before being appointed governor in late 1992 he was first mayor of Dili, then district head (bupati) in his native Manatuto. As governor, he was closer to the military than his predecessor Mario Carrascalao had been. Just after becoming governor he triggered international outrage by an unrepentant remark about the Santa Cruz massacre of 11 November 1991 ('many more should have died').
The three ('inseparable') pillars of East Timor society, he said on one occasion, are 'the military, the provincial government, and the church'.
He was assisted throughout his tenure as governor by a succession of largely invisible but almost always military deputy governors: (1) Timor veteran Col/ BrigGen Johanes Haribowo, (2) Col Johanes Suryo Prabowo (no relation to Prabowo Subianto), who resigned prematurely, (3) former provincial secretary Rajakarina Brahmana, apparently very briefly if implemented at all, and (4) Air Commodore Musiran Darmosuwito, known as 'an intel man' who went on to become acting governor in Irian Jaya in 2000.
In May 1994, again with the backing of Prabowo Subianto, he put forward an autonomy proposal for East Timor, but President Suharto rejected it as 'unconstitutional' and Abilio Soares was sent to a military course in Jakarta for four months as an apparent disciplinary measure.
During his career as governor he faced a growing nationalist revolt within East Timor. He combated this revolt by frequently threatening to sack civil servants who favoured independence, and cutting off scholarship funding for students thought to feel the same way. In 1995 he presided at the inauguration of a military-backed vigilante group called Gadapaksi (sometimes spelled Gardapaksi) which, along the lines of the militias that terrorised East Timor in 1999, engaged in violence and intimidation against people suspected of pro-independence sentiments.
In September 1997 he was appointed for a second term as governor. It was widely reported that corrupt business practices involving Suharto's family were crucial sources of support. His corruption - through his family's Anak Liambau Group - was so odious that it led his deputy governor Suryo Prabowo to resign within a few months of arriving in 1998. In the first weeks after Suharto's resignation in May 1998, Abilio Soares' corruption was the theme of strong demonstrations against him. However the demonstrations soon acquired a political character, demanding a referendum.
Like his own sponsorship of Gadapaksi, his relatives sponsored a range of organisations that were in fact fronts for military interests. Among them were the East Timor Student Movement led in Yogyakarta in 1996 by his nephew Octavio Soares, Klibur Klibur Oan Timor Badame (KOTB) set up in February 1999 and run by his brother-in-law Gil Alves as a moderate pro-autonomy forum, and the Morok militia in Manatuto district run by his family members in 1999. All these organisations were insufficient to dam the East Timorese nationalist surge of 1998-99.