Former East Timor militia leader Eurico Gutteres is seen here in this January 2001 file photo. Guterres is calling for the removal of 403 former East Timor militiamen from a U.N. serious crime blacklist that prevents them from traveling abroad. (Photo by Weda/AFP)
Neglected for almost two decades, pro-Jakarta Catholic Timor-Leste militias who relocated to Indonesia after the country's independence have demanded the government begin a process to remove them from the United Nation's serious crime list, which prevents them traveling abroad.
The grievance was one of a list of mainly economic frustrations that saw 1,000 former fighters on Sept. 25 take to the streets of Kupang, the capital of Timor where they now live, eking out an impoverished existence despite having fought for the country.
Their plight is in stark contrast to the hero treatment handed to senior members of the Indonesian armed forces including East Timor campaign leader, retired general Wiranto, who is now a minister in President Joko Widodo's cabinet.
Eurico Guterres, a former leader of the pro-Jakarta fighters, pleaded with the Indonesian government to fight for legal certainty for 403 East Timorese whose names are still on the U.N.'s 'serious crime' list related to atrocities during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.
He made the appeal to Wiranto, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs the commander during East Timor's bloody 1999 vote for independence.
"I am one of 403 former East Timorese as well as Mr. Wiranto who are on the 'serious crime' list. But now, Wiranto can go anywhere, while we are banned everywhere," he told ucanews.com.
In 2003, Wiranto with six other generals were accused by the U.N.'s Serious Crimes Unit of being responsible for training and arming pro-Jakarta militias that joined the Indonesian military in killing more than 1,000 people and forcing 250,000 East Timorese to flee their homes before and after the independence referendum.
Guterres said that although they were granted Indonesia citizenship after the war, they cannot leave Indonesia, including traveling to Timor-Leste to see family members because their names are still on the U.N. list.
He also noted that Widodo has never mentioned former Timor-Leste fighters in official statements.
"The president has never talked about ex-combatants who are living below the poverty line," he said. "A great nation is a nation that honors its fighters," he said.
The protesters asked the government to provide compensation to 13,000 militiamen as well as a charter of appreciation for them.
"We also hope the government can provide the opportunity for the sons and daughters of militiamen to become members of the military, police and civil servants," they said in a statement.
Margarida Perera, 45, explained that her children cannot work in government agencies. "The reason is they are ex-East Timorese," she told ucanews.com.
Perera's husband died during the war and she has received no assistance from the Indonesian government for 18 years.
East Nusa Tenggara governor, Frans Lebu Raya, who spoke with the protesters said he "deeply understood the grievances of the ex-East Timorese" and promised to immediately raise the problem with Widodo.
Meanwhile, Natalius Pigai, commissioner of the National Commission on Human Rights, said that to fulfill the protesters' demands, the Indonesian government must work with with Timor-Leste government.
"Regarding the status of 403 on the U.N.'s list, it first needs an official apology from the Timor-Leste government, then both countries can appeal to the U.N. to remove those people from the blacklist," he told ucanews.com.
Pigai said, the stalemate also applies to other problems, such as their assets in Timor-Leste.
"The two countries should sit together to solve these problems," he said.
"In 2013, we submitted a recommendation to the Indonesian government, but it looks like there has been no progress," he said.