Subject: SMH/Hamish McDonald: E.Timor: Never Forgotten, Though Maybe Forgiven

Sydney Morning Herald May 7 2002

Never forgotten, though maybe forgiven

East Timor's Truth and Reconciliation Commission faces huge problems, not least a long local tradition of revenge, writes Hamish McDonald.

In this land where fierce mountain warriors have tended to keep up family feuds for generations, no-one knows better than Jovito Araujo the difficulty of quelling the yearning for revenge among the Timorese. Though he has been a Catholic priest and courageous fighter for human rights for nearly six years, Araujo admits he still feels the passions of a feud that has split his own family since his grandfather's time.

Now he has joined a special panel that has just been set up to expose and heal the mental pain and guilt of a quarter-century of atrocities involving Timorese as victims and perpetrators during the turbulent transition from colony to nation.

Araujo is deputy chairman of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation whose job over the next two years is to investigate human rights violations by all sides from the start of Portugal's decolonisation program in April 1974 until the departure of Indonesian occupation forces in October 1999.

The commission aims to set up a "truth-telling" process for victims and abusers to acknowledge what happened, to set up community reconciliation procedures for lesser crimes, to refer serious crimes for prosecution.

Some task. This is a period which saw various Timorese start a civil war, sell out compatriots in political deals, enlist as partisans with invading Indonesians, massacre prisoners, become spies and informers, and finally take part in a mass terrorism and scorched earth campaign.

It starts out this week by launching public hearings into the exile in the early 1980s of thousands of political suspects by Indonesian authorities on Atauro, a small and arid island that lies off Dili, where they suffered hunger and abuse.

The process is parallel to investigating and prosecuting human rights violations, an undertaking by the serious crimes unit in the General Prosecutor's Office, which has so far resulted in convictions and sentences ranging up to 33 years' jail for some of the Timorese involved in 1999 atrocities.

In part, the reconciliation effort is designed to encourage former rank-and-file members of pro-Indonesian militias to return from West Timor by enabling them to settle their moral debts with their home communities rather than face a lifetime of hostility.

It will not be easy. "Timorese are not a people who find it easy to forgive," Araujo said. "They keep everything a long, long time. Especially revenge. They will not forget something that hurt them. They will keep it going a very long time, generation to generation."

Araujo recounted how his grandfather reacted when a cousin took one of his wives. He demanded compensation. The cousin could or would not oblige, so his branch of the family was ostracised.

After the grandfather died, Araujo's father resumed some contact.Then an aunt had a dream that the grandfather came back on a white horse, and picked up Araujo's second brother, then 18 months old.

Three days later, the brother died, and relations lapsed again. "When my father knew he was dying, he called us and one of the other side, and said, 'I think we can solve this in a Christian way,"' Araujo said. "He said, 'Just pay for a Mass for me, and bring flowers to the grave', and pray and ask forgiveness from him. But even this they didn't do.

"We know each other, we know that we [are] cousins. We shake hands. We have relationship, but just ordinary, not close. We have no affection, no emotional links. Because when we see them, we remember our grandfather's message."

Although Araujo said he sometimes felt that Christianity had touched the Timorese only as deeply as the batter around a pisang goreng [fried banana] snack, he did note that over the Indonesian occupation formal church membership rose from about one-third to near total among the East Timorese.

From being an "instrument of colonisation" with heavy Portuguese character, the church became an institution that identified with the Timorese and fought for them.

"This background gives us hope," he said. "The Catholic Church will be a strong mechanism, a strong pillar, an institution that can help people to reconcile."

The commission could only help, he said.

But the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa was not a good example. "It lets people exchange reconciliation with amnesty," Araujo said. "It means that you can live free, free from your guilty deeds, your sin, but this freedom cannot bring to life those who have been killed, or save that broken family that you caused. You cannot bring back everything. It needs forgiveness, but forgiveness not in this formalistic way. I forgive you because I want. I want to take this out of my heart. Not because Xanana [Gusmao, the president-elect] told me to forget, but because I recognise."

A month after Araujo was ordained a priest, he was serving in Dili's picturesque waterfront Motael church in December 1996 when Bishop Carlos Belo returned after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. There were clashes between crowds and Indonesian security men. A young man ran into the church seeking refuge after stabbing a government spy. Araujo hid him for several days and smuggled him out to a resistance group in the mountains around Dili.

Recently the young man returned. In 1999 he had been caught by the Indonesian militias, beaten so badly his skull was fractured, and almost thrown down a well. He still suffered headaches and dizzy spells, but when the same militia members had returned to Dili a few weeks back, he had gone out to the airport to receive them back.

"He is a crazy guy but how could he get this strong courage to welcome those who wanted to torture him, to kill him?" Araujo said. "I don't know; there is no reason to explain this. I don't understand. He just said to me, 'I think it's over."'

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