A story of resistance

Padre Dasbach is an American priest who has lived up in the mountains of Timor for fourty years, the last fifteen of these in the isolated village of Cutete. This village nestles in under the peaks of the coastal mountain range, up over a pass three hours walk south of Oecussi town. The views west from Cutete are over the broad valley of the Tono river which drains most of the enclave. From the pass to the north are extensive views of the coast road from Indonesia. While the village of Cutete and the border regions are now idyllic, while passing through you may reflect on some of the history of this area as told by Padre Dasbach: This was back in the time of the popular consultation, and the voting for integration or independence from Indonesia. Up in Cutete during August September and October of 1999 we were fighting for our lives, having formed the only organised resistance in all of East Timor. (During the lead-up to the consultation, the Indonesian military (TNI) had disarmed the population except for the militia. Then the TNI and the militia worked together and couldn’t be separated.)The resistance group was in fact the first government of a free East Timor, although it only lasted three weeks. Our army had very few guns, but had made spears, bows and arrows, etc from local materials. Our resistance people had been distributing propaganda, so the enemy believed we were well armed. Passwords were needed to get by the guards we had posted at the mountain passes. At this time the whole of Oecussi was on fire.

The first attack came on the 22nd of September. Looking down from the mountains we could see the TNI and militia preparing for the three-hour trek up to the pass. Because of the way we were deployed we were able to beat off the first attack. Knowing there would be another attack, we removed all our food and valuables from the village and these were cached in the mountains, with the food thrown in the gullies and fenced off so it couldn’t be seen.


The second and much stronger attack came on the 29th of September. Our fighters gave local resistance whilst making a slow and orderly retreat into the shelter of the mountains. Cutete was then burnt to the ground. In the late afternoon TNI and the militia would return to West Timor, being too frightened to stay in Oecussi overnight. We were ‘lords of the night’.

During this period thousands of people took refuge and lived in the mountains. At night many people were coming and going along the mountain routes. We were able to steal medicines from the central clinic that was empty at the time. This allowed us to treat people who had been shot or stabbed while collecting food, etc from the lowlands. One of our fighters was shot dead by what seemed to be a stray bullet. Another got a bullet in the foot. Our soldiers managed to cut down and kill five of the enemy as they came over the passes. There were no Falantil resistance fighters active in Oecussi.

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