Col (Inf) Tono Suratman F X
East Timor military resort commander (Komandan Korem 164/ Wiradharma)
Col Tono Suratman played a formative role in the last and bloodiest phase of militia history in East Timor from as early as August 1998. On 10 or 12 August 1998, in the face of rising independence demands following Suharto's resignation the previous May, Suratman and his superior officer, Udayana commander Maj-Gen Adam Damiri, met in Dili with three men who were already or were to become prominent militia leaders: Joao Tavares, Eurico Guterres, Cancio de Carvalho. The East Timorese were told they must organise 'to protect integration'.
According to the Dili indictment against him, at a follow-up meeting at his Dili headquarters in November 1998, Suratman told the group he wanted Eurico Guterres to form a new organisation to defend integration similar to the pro-Indonesian youth organisation Garda Paksi. LtCol Yayat Sudrajat was also present at this meeting.
He told a reporter in December 1998 that the military would train five to ten people in each rural village to fight against pro-independence guerrillas. He said the military would not give them guns, but ‘if they use other weapons [such as knives and guns] then that is their own initiative’.
Suratman was openly critical of the decision announced by President Habibie on 27 January 1999 that gave the East Timorese an internationally supervised referendum, and he seemed less than committed to implementing it.
In February 1999, according to the Dili indictment, he met with an unnamed pro-Indonesian East Timorese leader in Dili and told him that because TNI was under a reformist regime, it could not take part in open operations against the independence movement. However, he asked the leader to form a militia and TNI was willing to provide any form of assistance required.
After that, according to defecting militia leader Tomas Goncalves, Suratman’s office became one of two key military organisers of the militias around East Timor, the other being the Kopassus-run SGI (headed by LtCol Wiyotomo Nugroho, then LtCol Yayat Sudrajat). His two closest civilian associates in this endeavour were Armindo Soares, the speaker of East Timor's provincial parliament, and Domingos Soares, the district head (bupati) of Dili.
The East Timor commander was in charge of thirteen district military commanders. The military districts (kodim) coincided with the administrative districts (kabupaten). All kodim commanders are listed in the present report. Some have been charged with crimes against humanity in Indonesia and/ or in an independent East Timor. Those charged are LtCol Lilik Kushadiyanto, LtCol Asep Kuswani, LtCol Endar Priyanto, LtCol Burhanuddin Siagian, and LtCol Sujarwo. Kodim commanders in turn controlled sub-district commanders (komandan koramil). The koramil coincided with the administrative subdistrict (kecamatan) - each district had about five of them. Militia were generally organised at this level. Subdistrict commanders have been included in the present report only in exceptional circumstances – there are so many that they would swamp the ‘masters’ who make up the focus of this book.
Tono Suratman had direct contact with the territory’s top militia leaders. One of them, Herminio da Costa (not a defector), told American journalist Allan Nairn that he had made a secret accord with Tono Suratman and East Timor police chief Col (Pol) Timbul Silaen. It authorised his men to 'attack homes, interrogate and kill members of the [pro-independence] CNRT and Fretilin'. The one condition, he added, was that they must refrain from common crimes like 'car theft and stealing food'.
After the deadly militia attack on the home of former provincial parliamentarian Manuel Carrascalao on 17 April, Suratman paid militia leader Eurico Guterres, with money that turned out to be counterfeit! Intercepted communications described by sources within the Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) in March 2002 show that Suratman was supervising Guterres in April 1999. In the first of two specific intercepts described to the press in the leak, Suratman phoned Guterres on 5 May 1999 to ask where he was massing his militia group for a show of force in Dili. Guterres reported 400 militias waiting outside a city hotel. On June 1, he told Guterres: 'Don't deal with me directly. Contact me via Bambang [Wisnumurthy, Suratman's intelligence chief].'
Throughout 1999 he held a constant round of meetings with militia leaders. At many of these meetings, it is alleged, plans were made to conduct unlawful activities including (threats of) murder and forced deportation. We know only some of the dates. They included the following:
- 26 March, in Dili: a coordination meeting, including with notorious militia leaders Joao Tavares and Eurico Guterres, at which Governor Abilio Soares allegedly said even priests and nuns should be killed.
- 1 May, in Oesilo (East Timorese Oecussi-Ambeno enclave within West Timor): a rally at which government officials said the CNRT should not be allowed to exist. Two days later, he attended another meeting at which the CNRT 'voluntarily' disbanded itself in Ambeno.
- 11 May, in Dili: Tono Suratman led a meeting with Domingos Soares, SGI, and police chief Timbul Silaen, at which plans were discussed to conduct a second phase of the so-called 'Operasi Sisir' (Combing Operation) of 17-19 April. This second phase was to be executed by militia groups from 15 to 25 May under the motto 'Autonomy or Death'.
- 18 June, at the East Timor military headquarters (Korem) in Dili: coordination meeting with MajGen Zacky Makarim, BrigGen Glenny Kairupan, and MajGen Kiki Syahnakri (who all outranked Suratman!), and several militia leaders. The meeting developed two detailed contingency plans. The first aimed to derail the vote through coordinated violence. The second, far more complex, plan was prepared in case the vote was held and went against Indonesia. This involved using the militias to reject the results and to demand that East Timor be partitioned.
- In July, according to the Dili indictment against him (clause 32) he gave money to a militia and told them to go to Roti Island, off West Timor, to buy homemade guns.
- 24 July, at the East Timor military headquarters: similar coordination meeting with police chief Timbul Silaen, 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.
- 26 July, at Baucau Kopassus headquarters. Coordination meeting with local militia commanders, accompanied by MajGen Zacky Makarim. The meeting concerned the distribution of weapons in the event of a 'civil war'.
He told Australia’s Channel 9 program Sunday about four months prior to the ballot: 'I want to give you this message: If the pro-independence side wins, it is not going to be just the government of Indonesia that has to deal with what follows. The UN and Australia are also going to have to solve the problem, for there will be no limit. Everything is going to be destroyed. East Timor will not exist as it does now. It’ll be much worse than 23 years ago'. In June 1999, according to the Dili indictment against him (clause 31), he had a similar message for a group of TNI soldiers and militia leaders gathered at his headquarters. If autonomy lost, he told them, everything that had been given to East Timor by the Indonesian government had to be destroyed. There would be a scorched earth policy so that an independent East Timor would have to start with nothing. All forces in East Timor would have to carry out the order, he added.
Following Unamet pressure to remove officers who were sponsoring militia violence, Tono Suratman was replaced on 13 August 1999, a fortnight before the ballot, by Col Nur Muis. Tono Suratman was promoted to Brigadier-General, and became deputy spokesperson at TNI Headquarters - a desk job that would probably not please a Kopassus officer.
Among his direct subordinates at Korem 164 headquarters, two who are also suspected of involvement in arming militias were his deputy commander (first Col Mudjiono then Col Danang Priadi), and his intelligence head (Maj RM Bambang Wisnumurthy).
His information chief, Capt (Inf) Agus Nurkasa, routinely highlighted Falintil attacks on TNI officers and pro-Indonesian militias while ignoring or downplaying militia or military violence. Other Korem 164 officers named in the present report are his chiefs of staff (first LtCol Supadi then LtCol Hardiono Saroso), and Capt Agus Suwarno. The names of most of the 47 officers at the Korem command at the time are known.
Tono Suratman was named in the Indonesian KPP HAM report for having failed to prevent soldiers under his command from participating in militia activities, and for having conducted briefings for the militias. He was on 1 July 2002 indicted for crimes against humanity before the Indonesian Ad Hoc Court, specifically over the massacres at the Liquica church (6 April 1999) and Manuel Carrascalao’s house (17 April 1999).
The indictment said he had sent his deputy Col Mudjiono and SGI commander LtCol Yayat Sudrajat to the Liquica church scene on 6 April after receiving several reports from Liquica district commander LtCol Asep Kuswani. The massacre occurred shortly after their arrival. On 17 April, during the deadly attack by soldiers and militiamen on the home of Manuel Carrascalao, he personally refused a plea for help from Manuel Carrascalao, saying ‘TNI is neutral’.
However, in a decision the East Timor Attorney General called ‘irrational’, the Jakarta court acquitted him on 22 May 2003. The verdict led more than 90 religious figures in the US to issue a call for an international tribunal.
In a book he wrote about his East Timor experiences, Suratman said he had to overcome deeply-rooted conflicts among East Timorese (eg pp.63, 75, 98), as well as a 'culture of violence' (pp.15, 24) and 'civil war' (p.27), in order to preserve law and order and carry out the ballot successfully. He categorically denied any TNI command responsibility for the militia violence, which he said emerged spontaneously (pp.45-46, 76).
One observer has argued that Suratman's actions to support violence in 1999 could have been carried out in defiance of contrary orders from Gen Wiranto in Jakarta. Such a case of 'broken command' could have arisen from officers on the ground who feared losing all that they had fought for. A more likely alternative, if we need an alternative at all to the idea that Suratman was simply following orders, was that he may have acted under a parallel Jakarta command issuing from Kopassus. Kopassus exercised a strong influence over many key military positions in East Timor in 1999.
The Serious Crimes Unit in Dili has no doubt he was acting under orders. On 24 February 2003 he was charged in absentia with crimes against humanity before the Dili special panel. Indicted with him were six other senior military officers including Gen Wiranto (where the indictment is summarised), as well as Governor Abilio Soares.
Suhartono Suratman (serial number 27923) was born on 6 September 1952, and graduated from the military academy in 1975. He commanded combat Sector A (in eastern East Timor) for a time until 1996. He then commanded Kopassus Group 3, a training unit based in Batujajar, West Java. This unit also trained East Timorese militia leaders. He spent some time training in England in this period. He was appointed to the East Timor command on 10 June 1998 after the incumbent was killed in a helicopter crash. Suratman retained the Group 3 command after becoming Korem commander, thus facilitating the continued flow of arms from Kopassus to paramilitary groups even after Prabowo’s fall from grace.