07 April 2009

A Decade On, East Timor Remembers Liquica Massacre



Matt Crook DILI, East Timor, April 6 (AFP) -- It's been 10 years since Rudolfo dos Santos, then 14, watched as his neighbours and friends were shot, beaten and hacked to death by East Timorese and Indonesian anti-independence militias, police and soldiers.

In April 1999, about five months before East Timor would vote in favour of independence from Indonesia, it was a sign of the destruction that was to come when the Indonesian military and its militias pulled out of the country after 24 years of occupation.

"I saw with my own eyes people being killed in front of me like animals," said dos Santos, now 24, speaking from his home in northern Liquica district, less than a minute's walk from the site of the massacre.

On April 5, 1999, Besi Merah Puti (BMP) militias joined Indonesian police officers and soldiers in Dato village in Liquica. During the day, soldiers and militias burned and looted houses around the district.

About 2,000 people had sought refuge at the home of the local priest in the grounds of the Catholic church.

"People were squeezed together in the house and the yard. We thought the residence of the priest would be a safe place to go," said dos Santos.

Militias and soldiers then surrounded the church and the priest's residence. "They told us they were doing it for our protection," he said.

"The next morning, BMP militias came to the church and started killing people with katanas (a kind of sword) and guns. I fell to the ground and played dead. When I opened my eyes I could still see them killing people," he said.

"I got up and ran. I jumped over a fence and they chased me, shooting at me. I ran and hid until I got to the house of one of my relatives."

Dos Santos's father was one of up to 60 people killed that day, according to UN-commissioned research.

"My father didn't want to escape. He stayed there and died. He said he was ready to die for his country," he added.

That night, dos Santos went back to his home, from where he could see the site of the massacre.

"I watched as they loaded two military trucks with bodies and drove them away. Then the trucks came back and they loaded them up again," he said.

"My cousin pretended to be dead and he was thrown onto the trucks with the bodies. They took the bodies to a nearby lake and dumped them. That's when my cousin escaped."

The next day, militias went round the village telling people anyone who did not have an Indonesian flag showing in their house would "have trouble".

Soon after, BMP militias came and took another of dos Santos' cousins away, suspecting him of supporting the pro-independence movement. Anuku, 21, came back with stab wounds to his abdomen and died of his injuries.

Despite the gravity of the crimes, there has been little justice for the victims.

Last year, Indonesia expressed regret for violence in East Timor in 1999, after accepting a truth commission report -- written jointly with the East Timorese government -- blaming it for crimes against humanity.

But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, an ex-general, has rejected calls for an international tribunal. The current leadership of East Timor agree with him, arguing the past should be forgiven in the interests of a better future.

This has not satisfied neither the United Nations, which continues to press for some form of international justice, nor many of the victims.

On April 4, more than 200 people gathered at the site of the massacre to hold a commemorative ceremony. Conspicuous by their absence were East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, President Jose Ramos-Horta and UN Mission chief Atul Khare, all of whom had promised to attend.

One key player in the Liquica massacre was Eurico Guterres, a prominent anti-independence militia leader. Although himself East Timorese, he served in the Indonesian military and was involved in several other massacres.

In 2006, Guterres was convicted in Jakarta for crimes against humanity in East Timor, but he was cleared of all charges by Indonesia's Supreme Court in March last year.

Now he is campaigning in West Timor for election to Indonesia's national parliament.

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Australian Broadcasting News

April 6, 2009

East Timorese Families Lament Lack Of Justice

Reporter: Margie Smithurst

PETER CAVE: This month, ten years ago, East Timor was wrenched apart by violence on its path to independence.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of one of the worst massacres of 1999, at a church in the small town of Liquica, where it's estimated up to 100 people were killed by pro-Indonesian militia, with the support of Indonesian forces.

There were three significant massacres in East Timor April of 1999.

A special Indonesian criminal tribunal was set up to bring Indonesians who'd committed crimes to justice - but all those convicted were eventually acquitted.

The victims' families are outraged by the fact that so few people have ever been brought to justice over the 1999 crimes.

Margie Smithurst reports.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Christina Carrascalao was 20 years old when East Timor erupted into murderous violence, perpetrated by raging bands of pro-Indonesian militia groups.

She says it was terrifying and people were in constant fear of their lives.

CHRISTINA CARRASCALAO: You just have to learn to cope with the fear, to cope with the pressure - to cope with the terror that was going on.

You know a lot of killings were happening, a lot of houses being burned. People were being tortured.

MARGIE SMITHURST: The militia had the arms and support of the Indonesian military and were trying to force East Timorese to vote to become an autonomous part of Indonesia.

Ten years ago today, the terror reached its peak in the small seaside town of Liquica.

About 2000 pro-independence supporters were sheltering at the Catholic church in the town when they were attacked by machete wielding militia.

Estimates of the death toll vary, the official police report from the time says only five people died in the attack.

But eyewitness accounts reckon between 30 and 100 people were killed that day.

Only one person - a militia member - is serving jail time in East Timor for the crimes.

Now 30, Christina Carrascalao has spent the last decade helping the victims and says ten years on they still feel helpless - as they simply want justice.

CHRISTINA CARRASCALAO: They feel like their loved ones that were killed have not been honoured with justice. They only ask for that, they're not asking for compensation - they're not asking for money.

MARGIE SMITHURST: But Christina Carrascalao's story doesn't end there.

11 days after the Liquica church massacre, refugees fleeing that violence were sheltering at her father's house in Dili.

She and her father had just driven out to the airport, leaving their brother behind.

On their way home, her brother phoned to say militia had surrounded the house, and feared leader Eurico Guterres was holding a gun to her brother's head and asking where she and her father were.

It was the last time she spoke to her brother.

CHRISTINA CARRASCALAO: Eurico asked my brother 'so your dad is not here, so where is chris?' Chris is out with my dad. And then 10 - 15 minutes afterwards, we just heard gunshots.

And my father and others wereone block away from the house, and that was the moment where I knew that um? that was it.

That that was the end of everybody that was there at the house.

MARGIE SMITHURST: According to the International Centre for Transitional Justice, Guterres was one of 18 people - including a number of senior Indonesian military officers who were indicted to stand trial before an ad hoc Human Rights Court in relation to crimes in East Timor during 1999.

Only six people were convicted and all were eventually acquitted.

Fernanda Borges is a Member of Parliament in East Timor and heads the Committee on Justice and the Rule of Law.

She says the East Timorese Government hasn't done enough to demand the perpetrators of the crimes be brought to justice, and says the Government is more interested in reconciliation between East Timor and Indonesia.

Fernanda Borges believes the international community must set up a war crimes tribunal to handle the crimes of 1999.

FERNANADA BORGES: Unless they do this the country is still verging on instability because Eurico Guterres, the perpetrator of these violent crimes is living across the border from East Timor, in West Timor, and he is running for governor.

What if he gets elected and he is able to use his powers to destabilise East Timor again, and use that type of force on the people.

PETER CAVE: East Timorese Member of Parliament Fernanda Borges. Our reporter there was Margie Smithurst.

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