Nurse Volunteer Reports Rare Look at Fear and Brutality in East Timor

Article excerpt

The people of East Timor continue to live under the iron heel of military occupation, says Simon de Faux, a nurse from Melbourne, Australia, who recently returned from a two-month visit to the small nation.

De Faux's harrowing excursion to East Timor came about unexpectedly, he said in a telephone interview from Melbourne in early July. De Faux later testified at the United Nations in New York at hearings on East Timor.

Unlike many activists who approach East Timor with a well-developed agenda, de Faux said he knew nothing about the island before his visit, having originally sought a posting through the Australian Catholic church as a volunteer health care worker in Brazil. Learning that nothing was available there, de Faux responded to a faxed request for assistance from Bishop Carlos Belo, the leader of the Catholic church on East Timor, the Pacific island nation that Indonesia invaded in 1975 and has occupied ever since.

During his stay, which began Feb. 8, de Faux says he was approached by dozens of men with burns on the insides of their noses and on their genitals -- injuries he had never seen before. A local priest later informed him that these were marks of torture, which the Indonesian army routinely administers to a defenseless population. De Faux also spoke to women who told him they had been raped by Indonesian officers and of children who had been bashed with rifle butts. On Feb. 16, de Faux himself witnessed such an assault on an 8-year-old boy. Upon intervening to stop the assault, de Faux was himself beaten.

A spokesperson at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington would not comment publicly on de Faux's charges. When he arrived in Dili, East Timor's capital, de Faux said Indonesian authorities told him that his services as a health care worker were not needed and denied him a position in the hospitals. Undeterred, he went from village to village, learning in the process that many Timorese avoid the hospitals out of fear. "I treated numerous people who were in the end stage of tuberculosis, coughing up blood. People lined up in droves to see me once they learned I was a nurse" unaffiliated with the occupying power, de Faux said.

"These people were really sick, but say they are afraid to get treatment from Indonesians. Women complained of going to hospitals five months into their pregnancy and being given abortions which they, as Catholics, did not want; others said there were coercively given Depo Provera, (the controversial birth control treatment)," he said. …