Alas inquiry labelled a PR exercise
January 9, 1999

The Sydney Morning Herald

Bernard Lagan, Lindsay Murdoch, John Martinkus

A visit by an Australian military attache to the site of an alleged Indonesian Army massacre in East Timor last month, claimed as a fact-finding mission by the Government, has been exposed as a public relations exercise, the Opposition said yesterday.

The Government confirmed last night that the attache Colonel Brian Millen, who was sent to East Timor in December to investigate allegations that 50 villagers were massacred in the Alas area, had conducted the mission while on a pre-arranged tour to introduce his successor to Indonesian military contacts.

"Presented by Foreign Minister Downer as a significant effort to resolve allegations of human rights abuse, Colonel Millen's visit now appears to have been more designed to relieve international pressure on the Indonesian Government than as a serious investigation into the Alas killings," said Labor's acting foreign affairs spokesman, Mr Arch Bevis.

Colonel Millen reported to Canberra that between one and nine East Timorese had been killed in Alas during Indonesian military operations there in November and that up to 30 houses had been destroyed.

How the trip was arranged emerged when the Australian Naval Attache in Jakarta, Captain David Ramsey, told the West Australian newspaper his colleague's December 2 visit to Alas was not a human rights investigation but merely a routine visit to introduce Colonel Millen's successor to various Indonesian military contacts in the region.

"He did not go there with a view to conducting an exhaustive investigation and to speak to all parties," Captain Ramsay told the newspaper.

Mr Downer's spokesman yesterday confirmed that the East Timor visit had been pre-arranged to introduce the new attache when the Government's request to go to Alas was received. Colonel Millen spent 24 hours in Alas, speaking to a wide range of people.

But, according to a source at the Jakarta embassy, Colonel Millen spent "approximately two hours" in Alas before bad weather started closing in and he had to leave early.

Colonel Millen was accompanied by Indonesian army officers throughout the Alas visit, the source indicated. "In other areas apart from Alas the military attache was not always in the presence of Abri [the Indonesian Armed Forces]," the source said.

According to Timorese human rights activists in Dili, Colonel Millen did not visit displaced people staying in the Alas school house, and local people were told not to approach him.

Dili's Student Solidarity Council, which had brought news of the Alas events to Dili, said it attempted to speak to the Colonel Millen at his hotel in Dili. "I was told it was not an appropriate time and maybe next visit he would talk to us," said the council's representative, Mr Sebastion da Costa. The National Council of Timorese Resistance, or CNRT, formally headed by jailed resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, said it had not been made aware of the attache's visit.

The embassy source said that Colonel Millen had met "level two" representatives of the local organisations while in East Timor.

Colonel Millen's later findings contrast with comments by a former East Timor governor, Mr Mario Carrascalao, who said in November he had information that at least 42 people were killed and about 200 people were still missing after the Indonesian military activity in Alas.

Mr Downer's spokesman said Colonel Millen's findings were consistent with those of the International Red Cross, which believes at least six people had been killed and hundreds had fled the area.

The Red Cross head in Indonesia, Mr Toni Pfanner, said his organisation had spent two weeks in Alas. "We have learned that several persons have been killed, in fact six persons to our knowledge in several villages in several incidents in and around Alas," he told ABC radio yesterday.

"There were as well three persons missing or still unaccounted for and hundreds of persons have fled the area."