Subject: SMH: Massacre Horror Lives on For Town of Liquica

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday, April 8, 2000

Horror lives on for town of Liquica

A year after the church massacre many are still missing, writes Lindsay Murdoch.

Almost every day people trail into the Liquica police station to tell the United Nations police stationed there about new grave sites.

"Officially we must stay with the number of bodies that we have actually lifted, but the total number of people killed in this district is much, much higher than that, perhaps even astronomical," American police officer Alan Williams, says.

Mr Williams and other UN police stationed in the coastal town 40 kilometres west of the East Timorese capital, Dili, are frustrated by the slow progress in uncovering the truth about the killing rampage by pro-Jakarta militias before and after last August's vote, in which the territory rejected Indonesian rule.

A map on the wall of the decaying police station, which was vandalised and looted like everything else in the town, shows that UN police have so far recovered 123 bodies in the district, which was home to one of the most feared militia groups, Besi Merah Putih, or Red and White Iron. But 20 other sites are marked where bodies are known to be buried.

Police divers have recovered body parts in a lake outside the town, but are finding it difficult to continue searching because of the fear of spreading disease. Other body parts have been found jammed under a rock in a stream, but most of the remains had been dragged away by animals.

The UN has only one supervisor and three investigators trained in forensics in Liquica, and a small forensics squad based in Dili is swamped by an impossible workload.

While official UN figures show 180 bodies have been exhumed, the head of the UN operation in the territory, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, said the real count was much higher. "I wish I knew what it is - nobody knows."

The UN has reports of 680 missing people and witness accounts of killings in East Timor last year, but the number is considered an unreliable guide. Some UN officials put the toll at more than 2,000.

Wednesday was the first anniversary of what has become known as the Liquica church massacre, when the UN estimates that 200 men, women and children were slaughtered in that single incident by members of the Besi Merah Putih, backed by Indonesian police and soldiers. Earlier estimates had put the number of dead at 58.

The former Catholic priest in Liquica, Father Rafael dos Santos, who survived the slaughter despite a militiaman's homemade pistol being pointed at his head twice - it failed to fire - says many bodies have yet to the found.

"Ask the Indonesian police and soldiers where they are buried," he said after laying a flower at the church before emotional memorial masses. "They are the people who know because they are responsible."

Liquica's 43,000 residents are deeply troubled and divided, as they try to re-establish their lives. Former militia members are starting to return in significant numbers, some of them from camps in Indonesian-controlled West Timor.

The families of 450 former Indonesian soldiers, most of them Timorese, returned nervously to the town of Aileu this week after negotiating with the UN and representatives of Fretilin, the anti-Indonesian guerilla group. But the 300 militias who have returned to the Liquica district are frequently attacked by residents, forcing the UN police to intervene.

When those returning are accused of being former militia members, the UN police have their photographs taken to see if they can be identified by witnesses to the killings. But they cannot arrest the suspects even when there is strong evidence against them because the territory's only jail in Dili is full with 60 prisoners, and there is no functional judicial system.

Only 24 judges and prosecutors have been appointed, and the court system, which has to be developed from scratch, is still weeks from being able to hear cases.

Bishop Carlos Belo spells out the conditions under which he believes the former cohorts of the Indonesian military and police can return.

"As Timorese they can come back," he said. "This is their homeland. But people expect them to at least make a public apology for what they have done."

Jose Serrao, 38, wants to see the militiaman who bludgeoned him with a sword outside Father Rafael's house 12 months ago brought to justice. He was cradling his three-year-old son at the time and still wonders how he staggered away into the hands of a relative.

. "These crimes cannot be allowed to pass. I know we have to live together, but we owe it to our children to do something."


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