|Subject: Hartford Courant: Tragic
Anniversary For East Timor
COMMENTARY AND OTHER OPINION
A Tragic Anniversary For East Timor By KEVIN DEAME September 06, 2001
A little more than two years ago, the East Timorese people voted
overwhelmingly for independence in a U.N.-supervised referendum. This was
in spite of a campaign of intimidation waged by the Indonesian military
and its militia proxies. The event was truly historic in that the East
Timorese people ended 24 years of brutal, illegal occupation by the
Indonesian military through the peaceful, democratic use of a ballot box.
I had been selected as a volunteer observer and was stationed in the
village of Maubise, which is near the regional center of Suai in the
western mountains. The entire area is like a South Pacific postcard, with
an agrarian economy and the gentle people of the island eking out a modest
living. If not for the constant military and militia presence, it would
have been idyllic. But it was maddening to know that the M-16 rifles used
by the Indonesian armed forces to threaten my new friends and neighbors
were manufactured in West Hartford by Colt's.
Shortly after the election, one of the worst acts of violence in the
history of the country occurred inside a Catholic church in Suai.
Sept. 6 marks two dark anniversaries for East Timor - the Suai massacre
in 1999, and the murder of three U.N. refugee workers by military-backed
militias in 2000.
Military and militia violence in East Timor had been occurring
throughout 1999. However, when the results of the vote for independence
were announced on Sept. 4, the scorched-earth campaign exploded. The
escalating violence and targeting of internationals had forced virtually
all outside observers to leave East Timor.
Subsequent investigations revealed that the Indonesian army and police,
together with local militias, entered the Nossa Senhora de Fatima Catholic
Church in central Suai. Hundreds of people had taken refuge in the
churchyard, searching for sanctuary from the militias and their military
The attack was led by 1st Lt. Sugito of the Indonesian army and retired
Indonesian army Col. Herman Sedyono, the local administrative head.
Witnesses heard Sugito and Sedyono say everyone would be killed.
Militiaman Igidio Manek shot one of Suai's Catholic priests, the respected
and charismatic Father Hilario, and trod on his body. Manek later abducted
the 15-year-old East Timorese woman Juliana dos Santos (after killing her
brother), taking her as a sex slave. Militia and military killed
approximately 200 people. During the event, police and soldiers stationed
outside the churchyard shot those attempting to escape.
The Suai massacre was, tragically, only one incident in a month in
which more than 2,000 people were killed, hundreds of women and girls were
raped, 75 percent of all buildings were destroyed and some 300,000 people
were forced, often at gunpoint, across the border into Indonesian West
It was exactly one year after the Suai massacre - on Sept. 6, 2000 -
when militias hacked to death and set on fire three U.N. international
staff members working with East Timorese refugees in West Timor, as
Indonesian police stood by and did nothing. Six militiamen confessed to
the crime, but Indonesian courts gave them, as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan stated, "unacceptable" sentences of just 16 to 20 months.
After the verdict, one militiaman announced he was "proud of what he
Crimes against humanity are just that: They demand attention and action
from all people to end them and punish the perpetrators.
Today, 100,000 East Timorese continue to languish in Indonesian
military and militia-controlled refugee camps under deplorable conditions.
No one has been held responsible for the Suai massacre, and no military
members have been tried for any of the numerous war crimes committed in
The United States must pressure the Indonesian government for a just
resolution to the refugee crisis and must actively work for an
international tribunal for East Timor (as the U.N. has called for).
The Bush administration's plan to lift an embargo on ties with the
Indonesian military will act only to reward its heinous actions and cement
the idea that it can act with impunity.
Kevin Deame of Ellington is the Connecticut representative of the East
Timor Action Network, an advocacy group based in New York.
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