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Halilintar militia

Joao da Silva Tavares     

Leader, Halilintar militia, Bobonaro district; supreme commander, PPI militia forces, East Timor

Joao Tavares was an ageing militia leader whose name inspired fear and hate in many East Timorese.

On 10 or 12 August 1998, in the face of rising independence demands following Suharto's resignation the previous May, he allegedly met Maj-Gen Adam Damiri and Col Tono Suratman, who told him and two other militia leaders, Eurico Guterres and Cancio de Carvalho they must organise 'to protect integration'. This meeting represented the official launch of the militias - part of a strategy worked out by Generals Syamsuddin and Zacky Anwar Makarim between July and September 1998.[1]

On 17 February 1999 Joao Tavares reportedly told a meeting of sub-district and village heads in Bobonaro that they would be sacked if they failed to mobilise their citizens to attend a pro-government rally in Balibo. On February 19 he told a Balibo rally that there would be war if people rejected the autonomy proposal.[2]

On 27 February 1999, witnessed by senior military officers and hundreds of militia members, he was installed as head of an East Timor-wide militia organisation. This formally made him responsible for all unlawful acts committed by the many militia groups around East Timor for the remainder of 1999.[3]

On 1 March 1999 Joao Tavares at a meeting said at least one Australian diplomat had to be 'sacrificed' in order to stop a civil war among East Timorese caused by Australia[n support for the ballot].[4]

On 11 March 1999 Tavares received a letter from the militia leader Lafaek Saburai (Afonso Pinto), informing the 'highly respected pro-integration war general' of plans to remove pro-integrationist (pro-Indonesian) people from Dili. It then went on to say that the rest 'whether they be men, women, children or old people, are anti-integration and must be eliminated', beginning on 1 May 1999.

On 19 March 1999 Halilintar members acting jointly with TNI personnel murdered four pro-independence villagers in Mariabo village (also named as Moleana-Maliubun) near Maliana.[5]

On 12 April 1999 he and LtCol Burhanuddin Siagian personally ordered the execution of four East Timorese civilians from the village of Cailaco near Maliana, in revenge for a Falintil attack on a pro-Indonesian militia leader.[6] On 15-17 April 1999 the same militia tortured five people from the village of Aidabalete, Bobonaro district.[7] A long list of Halilintar militia members indicted in Dili for this massacre and a subsequent rampage around Cailaco subdistrict is given in a footnote under LtCol Burhanuddin Siagian.

On 17 April 1999 Joao Tavares and Eurico Guterres spoke at a large militia rally in front of Governor Abilio Soares office in Dili. At this rally Joao Tavares was made supreme commander of the combined pro-integration forces PPI (Pasukan Pro-Integrasi), a military-backed umbrella grouping of militias. Eurico Guterres was made his deputy. After the rally, which was attended by all the top provincial officials, militias now nominally under his command murdered at least twelve people in the house of Manuel Carrascalao. On the same day Halilintar militias directly under his command destroyed equipment at the only local newspaper, forcing it to close down. A few days later his militias destroyed the house of a journalist with the same newspaper who lived in Maliana.[8]

Despite his record of violence, the state party Golkar did not hesitate to put him on its ticket for the 7 June 1999 election.[9]

On 17 July 1999 he allegedly wrote a letter to all his militia forces, with copies to all military and police commanders, ordering them to step up 'terror and intimidation' against pro-independence leaders, and informing them of plans to launch widespread violence should the independence option win. The letter may have been a fake.[10]

On 8 September 1999 he and Eurico Guterres reportedly met MajGen Adam Damiri and told him they had ordered their militias to stop the destruction of East Timor. He was lying. Militias under his PPI umbrella were murdering people at the Maliana police station as he spoke. This meeting once more demonstrated the close and hierarchical relationship between militias and the military.[11] In July 2003 Joao Tavares was indicted in absentia in Dili with crimes against humanity for his active leadership role in the militias in Bobonaro district, which led to a string of abuses culminating in the massacre at the Maliana police station on 8 September (see many details in LtCol Burhanuddin Siagian).

Following the Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor, Joao Tavares first openly supported armed incursions into East Timor, by '59,500' troops under his command. Many of them were ethnic East Timorese who had defected from the Indonesian armed forces after the withdrawal.[12]

He was questioned by KPP HAM in December 1999, where he did not deny his militias had engaged in destruction of East Timor after the ballot, but (implausibly) denied they had any contact with TNI at all.

He claimed that militias under PPI were disbanded on 13 November 1991. However, in October 2000 four militia leaders contemplating a return to East Timor said Joao Tavares had threatened them with 'extrajudicial action' for acting treasonously, thus demonstrating that the militias remained a coherent organisation.[13] In December 2000 his name was linked to a fresh surge in militia incursions into East Timor. It was alleged he had distributed more money to militias.[14]

  • Augusto Asameta Tavares, a Halilintar militia member, was on 18 June 2001 sentenced to 16 years prison by the Special Panel for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court for murdering Paulino, a CNRT supporter, in Memo village near Maliana on 7 September 1999.[15]
  • Paulo Gonsalves, Marcelino Leto Bili Purificasao, Rosalino Pires, respectively the commander, deputy commander and a member of the Halilintar militia based in the village of Hataz, Atabae sub-district, were indicted by the Special Panel for Serious Crimes in Dili for crimes against humanity on 12 June 2002. They were accused of detaining, beating, and repeatedly raping alleged Falintil supporters, often at the Halilintar post in Aidabasalala village in Atabae sub-district, between February and late September 1999. The mostly female victims were numbered 1 to 11.[16]

Several Halilintar militia members under Tavares' command are listed in Appendix 5 of the KPP HAM report with the recommendation they be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. They murdered two individuals in Bobonaro District on 21 April 1999, as well as committing other abuses. They are:[17]

  • Flaviano Dasilelo
  • Adao Babo
  • Paulo


Born into a wealthy farming family in Atabae village, western East Timor, on 6 April 1932 (another report says 1931), he is said to have married the daughter of an aristocrat (Raja Atambua) from (Indonesian) West Timor. Indeed he has several wives, and his constant need for money made him easy prey to military manipulators. He has a son, Jose da Silva Tavares, in the Foreign Affairs Department. A younger brother, Jorge Tavares, also led a militia band, as did another son, Rui Basilio Tavares. By 1999 he was described by one observer as 'a sick old man at the beck and call of the TNI', a militia leader who 'did not have a grasp of militia activities in wider East Timor'.[18]

As a pro-Indonesian 'partisan' in 1975 (he belonged to UDT), he supported the Indonesian army incursion into East Timor in October 1975. The Dunn Report says about this episode: 'The way East Timorese were used in this operation marked the beginning of a TNI policy of using willing Timorese in operations conceived and planned by military commanders, in which the former provided a political front designed to mask the leading role of the Indonesian military.'[19]

While still leading the Halilintar militias he was made district head for Bobonaro (1978-1988) - a mixing of military and civilian roles never thought incompatible under the Indonesian occupation. However, real power resided with several military officers stationed in every district. He became a wealthy landowner. After his term as district head he became a member of the East Timor provincial parliament.[20]

The Halilintar militia was inactive through the 1980s, but was revived in 1995, again with Joao Tavares at its head. Since then he built a record of lethal violence, especially well documented throughout 1999. The militia he led was closely integrated with the Indonesian armed forces.[21]

On 4 January 1998, a combined team of the Rajawali battalion, a territorial battalion, SGI (Special Intelligence Unit) and Halilintar militiamen, led by Joao Tavares, tortured and shot dead four suspected pro-independence East Timorese men near the Nunura-Bebai River in Coilima, Atabae sub-district, Bobonaro.[22]

Extra Information

Implicated in Events:
Cailaco - 13/04/1999 - Public execution of 5 (6?) suspected pro-independence supporters, Cailaco, Bobonaro

Maliana - 8/09/1999 - Maliana police station massacre

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

See map of location

This individual is also mentioned in these profiles:
Cancio Lopes de Carvalho
Herminio da Costa
MajGen Adam Damiri
Manuel de Sousa
Eurico Guterres
Sera Malik
Igidio Manek
Natalino Monteiro
Col Nur Muis
Lafaek Saburai
Guilherme dos Santos
LtCol Burhanuddin Siagian
Joao Franca da Silva
BrigGen Mahidin Simbolon
Laurentino ('Moko') Soares
Domingos Soares
Abilio Soares
Col Tono Suratman
Lt Sutrisno
Gen Wiranto

[1] James Dunn, 'Crimes against humanity in East Timor, January to October 1999: Their nature and causes', Sydney Morning Herald, 28 April 2001.

[2] James Dunn, 'Crmes against humanity in East Timor: Their nature and causes - Annex B - Select chronology May 1998 - October 1999', Sydney Morning Herald, 28 April 2001.

[3] 'Panglima perang prointegrasi, Joao da Silva Tavares: Pro integrasi tetap pertahankan Merah Putih', Suara Timor Timur, approx 5 March 1999 (after 27 February 1999).

[4] 'Getting away with murder: A chronology of Indonesian military sponsored paramilitary and militia atrocities in East Timor from November 1998 to May 1999', East Timor International Support Center (ETISC), 15 May 1999.

[5] 'Rekayasa penembakan untuk diskreditkan Abri. Kelompok prokemerdekaan korbankan anggotanya sendiri', Media Indonesia, 22 March 1999; 'East Timor: Militia leader Joao Tavares denied responsibility for murder of four civilians', Lusa, 25 March 1999; 'Civilians shot dead in East Timor', CNRT Press Release, 20 March 1999. The dead were Pedro Assamali (30), Domingos Manomau (25), Joao Ruben Barros (11), and Fonseca Gomes (11). Four others were wounded. Tavares claimed Fretilin did the shooting.

[6] James Dunn, 'Crmes against humanity in East Timor: Their nature and causes - Annex B - Select chronology May 1998 - October 1999', Sydney Morning Herald, 28 April 2001.

[7] Hamish McDonald, 'Architects of mass murder', Sydney Morning Herald, 28 April 2001.

[8] 'Rumah wartawan STT dihancurkan', MateBEAN, 29 April 1999; 'Empat wartawan diburu Kopassus', MateBEAN, 29 April 1999.

[9] 'Anggota milisi jadi caleg Golkar', MateBEAN, 15 June 1999.

[10] 'Instruksi PPI tentang kesiapan dan kesiagaan pasukan pejuang integrasi', MateBEAN, 1 August 1999; 'Solidamor> Surat rahasia Asmenko I/Poldagri', MateBEAN, 17 July 1999; 'Skenario bumi hangus TNI dijalankan di Timor Timur', MateBEAN, 9 September 1999. One report says General Wiranto personally slapped JoaoTavares in the face for 'embarrassing the armed forces' when this letter was widely leaked to the public ('Panglima pejuang integrasi ditampar Jenderal Wiranto', MateBEAN, 5 August 1999). Unamet considered it a fake (Geoffrey Robinson, 'The fruitless search for a smoking gun: Tracing the origins of violence in East Timor,' in Freek Colombijn and Thomas Lindblad, eds. Historical roots of political violence in contemporary Indonesia. Leiden: KITLV Press, forthcoming (2002)).

[11] 'Kekerasan masih berlangsung di Timtim: Komnas HAM: Cabut status darurat militer', Kompas, 9 September 1999; 'RI bahas masuknya pasukan perdamaian', Kompas, 12 September 1999.

[12] 'Bersama PPI siap mati', Gamma, 10 October 1999; Derwin Pereira, 'Inside Aitarak's jungle hideout', Straits Times [Singapore], 10 October 1999.

[13] 'Joao Tavares threatens Cancio and co.' (English translation), Radar Timor, 30 October 2000.

[14] Joanna Jolly, 'Militia pay-day linked to attack and rise in forays', South China Morning Post, 13 December 2000.

[15] Case 2/ 2001, Serious Crimes trial documents (

[16] Serious Crimes case number not yet allocated in 2002.

[17] 'HAK: Laporan situasi Ham Timor Timur April 1999 (1)', MateBEAN, 25 May 1999. The victims were Antonio Bazilio (26, student), and Armando Belaku (50).

[18] Peter Bartu, 'The militia, the military, and the people of Bobonaro', pp.73-90 in Richard Tanter, Mark Selden, and Stephen R Shalom (eds), Bitter flowers, sweet flowers:East Timor, Indonesia and the world community, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001, p78.

[19] James Dunn, 'Crimes against humanity in East Timor, January to October 1999: Their nature and causes', Sydney Morning Herald, 28 April 2001.

[20] 'Rela mati demi leluhur', Gamma, 24 October 1999.

[21] 'East Timor Centre for Human Rights Information, Education and Training, ETCHRIET (Human Rights Report N-:6 /95), 8 September 1995; 'East timor: Stop bank loans until militias disarmed', Human Rights Watch, 20 April 1999.

[22] 'East Timor: No solution without respect for human rights - Bi-annual report of human rights violations in East Timor, January to June, 1998', East Timor Human Rights Centre (SR1/98, Part 2), 18 August  1998. Was this the same incident as one reported for 'early 1998', when his Halilintar troops killed five suspected pro-independence minded villagers in Aidabalete, Bobonaro district? The Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) looked into this event but nothing further was done. See another reference to Aidabalete below. 'Laporan situasi Ham Timor Timur April 1999', Yayasan HAK, 25 May 1999.


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