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Besi Merah Putih militia

Manuel de Sousa

Besi Merah Putih militia commander, Liquica

Manuel de Sousa has been twice indicted (in absentia) for crimes against humanity before the Special Panel for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court. First on 22 November 2001 over the Liquica church massacre of 6 April 1999, then on 18 February 2002 over the rampage after a militia rally in Dili of 17 April 1999.[1]

De Sousa was a member of the local elected assembly (DPRD-II) in Liquica 1992-97 for the political party PDI. He had been a leader in the Kopassus-sponsored militia group Gadapaksi, formed in 1995. In late December 1998 he worked with the Liquica district head (bupati) Leonito Martins and the district military commander (LtCol Asep Kuswani) as well as with the Kopassus intelligence organisation SGI (headed by LtCol Yayat Sudrajat) to establish the Besi Merah Putih militia. It was based in Maubara, just west of Liquica. De Sousa said it was formed in self-defence against pro-independence groups.[2]

Pro-independence sentiment was strong in the Liquica area, and the main purpose of the Besi Merah Putih militia was to reverse that sentiment through terror. In February 1999 his militia allegedly attacked the Guiso village near Liquica, arresting and then torturing women and children. De Sousa said the action was taken to punish village heads who were paid by the government while opposing it at the same time. He likened the push for independence to 'war'. 'Besi Merah Putih are planning for war, we are ready to be held responsible', he said.[3]

In March 1999 the militia attacked the pro-independence party CNRT in Liquica, leaving (by one account) 35 dead, and forcing survivors to flee to the forest.[4]

Besi Merah Putih worked together with police and military personnel to terrorise Liquica town. Manuel de Sousa said he wanted certain pro-independence people sheltering in the church to surrender to police. Refusing attempts by priests to mediate, he then ordered his men to attack the church and joined in the attack himself, saying it was in revenge for friends kidnapped and killed by Falintil. About 50 men, women and children were killed in the attack on 6 April 1999, which was conducted by militias together with soldiers and policemen. The massacre in the church in Liquica is one of the worst single incidents of 1999.[5]

De Sousa was also indicted in Dili for participating in an attack on the house of opposition politician Manuel Carrascalao in Dili on 17 April 1999 that left twelve dead and five seriously injured. Private Indonesian television station SCTV confirmed this when it showed him leading a crowd during the attack. On the same day, according to the indictment, he also led an attack that destroyed the office of the territory's only daily newspaper newspaper, Suara Timor Timur.  

In mid-May militias under his command again intimidated Suara Timor Timur, this time forcing it to close down. Manuel de Sousa, in a letter to the editor before it closed, blamed a previous attack on the newspaper on 'biased' reporting by the paper itself. The paper later reappeared but its editorial line was much less independent than before.[6]

In the same month of May 1999 Manuel de Sousa was allegedly a member of a team that went to Jakarta to assassinate former East Timor governor Mario Carrascalao, who had spoken out in favour of East Timorese self-determination. Carrascalao fled to Portugal when he learned of the team, which he was told contained known killers such as Lafaek Saburai and Hercules (both close associates of former Kopassus commander Prabowo Subianto).[7]

In May 1999 he and Martins, no doubt with the military, brought in many new militia members from outside East Timor, including West Timor, Sulawesi and Sumatra.[8] Also in May 1999, Manuel de Sousa and Leonito Martins ordered Besi Merah Putih to conduct military-style operations in villages around Liquica, in which houses were destroyed and alleged pro-independence villagers were arrested.[9]

Despite strong evidence of his violent activities, he continued to be prominent in Indonesian government circles. East Timor's police chief Col (Pol) Timbul Silaen in June 1999 appointed him and Eurico Guterres as leaders of a civil defence force (Pam Swakarsa). 'They will be in charge of maintaining security under the coordination of the Indonesian police,' he said.[10] In the 7 June 1999 national election he ran on a Golkar ticket, together with two other prominent militias leaders Eurico Guterres and Joao Tavares.[11]

The East Timorese human rights organisation Yayasan HAK says that Manuel de Sousa was present at a meeting in Liquica on 12 June 1999 with local government, military and other militia leaders where plans were discussed to forcibly evacuate women and children to West Timor. Human Rights Watch Asia says he was also present at another meeting of militia leaders on 2 September 1999 at which Besi Merah Putih commanders explained that with the population cleared out, it would be easier for the militias to fight a war for integration.[12]

Many BMP members under De Sousa's command have been indicted before the Special Panel in Dili for crimes in 1999. The events for which they were indicted include the Liquica church massacre of 6 April (Case 21/ 2001 - for details see Leonito Martins and LtCol Asep Kuswani), the rampage after the Dili rally of 17 April (Case 2/ 2002 - see Eurico Guterres), and separate indictments against BMP members Anastacio Martins and Domingos Goncalves (Case 11/ 2001) and Abilio Mendez Correia (Case 29/ 2001).[13]

After the Indonesian pull-out De Sousa went to Atambua in West Timor. He told KPP HAM about his involvement in the attack on Carrascalao's house and the Liquica church massacre, that he was not a militia leader but that he regretted Habibie's decision to let East Timor 'go', and was angry at UN 'cheating' in the ballot.[14]

He allegedly ordered his 200-strong Besi Merah Putih militia to conduct cross-border strikes into East Timor. Indonesian military told UN personnel in August 2000 that de Sousa had been arrested for doing this.[15] In September 2000 Indonesian Attorney General's Department officers wanting to call him as a witness were unable to find him (thus casting serious doubt on the military claim that he had been arrested a month earlier).[16]

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:
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
Eurico Guterres
LtCol Asep Kuswani
Leonito Martins
Lafaek Saburai
LtCol Saripudin
Col (Pol) Timbul Silaen

[1] Liquica: Case 21/ 2001, Serious Crimes indictment (summary on JSMP website) - see Leonito Martins and LtCol Asep Kuswani for a complete list of those indicted. Dili rally: Case 2/ 2002, Serious Crimes indictment (summary on JSMP website) - see Eurico Guterres for a complete list.

[2] Andrew Marshall, 'Armed militias sow fear in East Timor', Reuters, 12 March 1999; 'Pertikaian kembali meletus di Maubara: 100 KK disandera dan 500 warga mengungsi', Suara Timor Timur, 3 March 1999; 'Laporan dari Yayasan HAK: Anggota Besi Merah Putih telah memperkosa saya' (report from a woman whose husband was member BMP), Fortilos, 1 March 1999; 'Pratiwi: Catatan perjalanan di Bumi Loro Sa'e (11)', MateBEAN, 13 October 1999.

[3] 'Membalas teror, membela Merah Putih', Pos Kupang, 14 February 1999; 'Menelusuri mereka yang bertikai di Liquica (1)', Jawa Pos, 12 April 1999.

[4] 'Sama susahnya, menang atau kalah', Tajuk (ed.2 yr 2), 5-19 August 1999.

[5] 'Liquica rusuh lagi: 2 tewas, 10 luka dan 8 rumah dibakar milisi', MateBEAN, 7 April 1999; 'Laporan kasus pembantaian di Liquiça tanggal 5 - 6 Mei 1999', Yayasan HAK, 24 May 1999; (in English) 'Interim report Liquisa massacre, 05 - 07 April  1999', Yayasan HAK, 14 April 1999; 'Aksi pembantian di Liquica', Fokupers, 9 April 1999.

[6] 'Suara Timor Timur tak terbit, Dili', MateBEAN, 11 May 1999; Mark Dodd, 'Presses roll but Dili paper a puppet of its old enemy', Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1999.

[7] 'Mario diburu Kopassus', Xpos, No 15/II, 25 April-1 May 1999.

[8] '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; 'Fortilos: Apa yang harus dilakukan?', MateBEAN, 31 August 1999.

[9] 'Urgent Action 5/99: Disappearances in Bazartete', East Timor Human Rights Centre (ETHRC), 20 May 1999.

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

[11] John Zubrzycki, 'Militia swoop to check on voters', The Australian, 31 May 1999.

[12] 'Indonesia/ East Timor: Forced expulsions to West Timor and the refugee crisis', NY: Human Rights Watch (HRW), Vol. 11, No. 7 (c) (, December 1999.

[13] Case 11/ 2001, Serious Crimes trial documents ( Anastacio Martins and Domingos Goncalves were indicted on 1 May 2001 for a series of crimes against humanity, including murder and the forcible deportation of the population.  Anastacio Martins was a police assistant and often wore police uniform. He took part in the murder of Herminio dos Santos at the Battalion 143 post in Liquica on 5 April 1999.  On 4 September 1999 he took part in the murder of Jacinto dos Santos in Metagou village, near Liquica. On 5 September Anastacio Martins and Domingos Goncalves joined other BMP militiamen and TNI soldiers who burned more than 80 houses in Muka Bera (sic – actually Bucumera) village in Bazartete subdistrict, Liquica district, and forced the inhabitants to go to West Timor, using military facilities along the way. On 7 September both of them took part in the murders of Paulo Goncalves, Guilhermo Alves and Clementino Goncalves. On 8 September Anastacio took part with BMP militiamen and TNI soldiers to evict the population of Legumea village near Liquica to West Timor and to burn down the village. On 14 September Anastacio murdered Celestino Coreira in a refugee camp near Atambua for refusing to join the militia.

Case 19/ 2001, Serious Crimes trial documents ( Abilio Mendez Correia was indicted on 21 September 2001 for murders and torture in April and August 1999On 27 April 1999 he took part in the murders of Tobias Alves Correia and Elias Ataidi at Tutuge village, near Liquica. The murders were ordered by Tome Diogo, intelligence officer at the Liquica military district command. On 9 August 1999, he took part in the arrest and torture of Mariano da Costa that led to the disappearance of da Costa. Tome Diogo was complicit in this murder as well.

[14] 'Komandan milisi seperti anak pramuka', Tempo Interaktif, 31 December 1999; 'The militia commandant regretted Habibie's decision', Tempo Interaktif,  31 December 1999.

[15] 'East Timor: Wounded peacekeeper dies, speculation mounts of guerrilla strategy', Lusa, 11 August 2000.

[16] 'Abilio Soares tidak datang', Kompas, 16 September 2000.


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