Memories of Dark Days in East Timor

The Observer (Gladstone, Australia), April 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Memories of Dark Days in East Timor


Byline: Matt Crook AFP

DILI - 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. …

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