Subject: In search of a mass grave near Dili
also comment by Clinton Fernandes
In search of a mass grave near Dili
In search of a mass grave near Dili
August 20, 2008
TWO weeks ago, the families of "disappeared" victims of the 1991 Santa Cruz Cemetery massacre gathered at a site west of the East Timor capital, Dili, and held a ceremony calling for spirits of their dead to rise out of the earth.
They were watched by an international team of forensic experts, led by a Melbourne scientist and helped by local police and medics she had trained for the task. The team then resumed digging trenches across the site, looking for evidence of a long-rumoured mass grave that might hold the bodies of up to 100 victims of the massacre.
But after 17 years, and two weeks keeping vigil as investigators turned the earth, the families' long wait continues. The sites at Tibar there were two excavated have yielded no evidence of human remains, and the international forensic effort has paused so investigators can assess other possible grave sites.
"Even though we haven't found the remains, the fact that the process of finding their loved ones has started is really important, both for the families and for Timor-Leste as a whole," said Dr Soren Blau, the forensic anthropologist from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine who has led the site investigation.
It is the culmination of years of preliminary detective work into accounts of what became of
the Santa Cruz victims. Estimates of the dead vary, but it is believed up to 200 people died.
Dr Blau said the families had gained comfort from a weekend visit to the site by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who spent about 2½ hours talking to families and investigators. Grieving families of those missing have been frustrated at the lack of investigation into the fate of their lost relatives.
"Mr Gusmao's visit gave credence to the families, and that was hugely important for them."
The investigation had now gained new momentum with the emergence of more reports and anecdotes on the fate of the missing people.
Local police, medical staff and mortuary workers who were trained in body identification and
recovery techniques as part of the project which was funded by AusAID as a humanitarian and training exercise will use their new skills to continue to evaluate potential grave sites, Dr Blau said. She did not rule out a return to East Timor by the international team.
Professor Stephen Cordner, head of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, said Dr Blau's project emerged from the institute's interest in using its skills in humanitarian contexts internationally.
While the exercise had so far not been able to return the dead to their families, the project
had succeeded in training local people in handling human remains, and "engaged with the
communities in the task of finding the grave", he said, and that effort would continue.
The massacre occurred on November 12, 1991, when a funeral for a man killed by Indonesian security forces turned into a protest. Video of what followed showed Indonesian troops attacking unarmed protesters, provoking international outrage and fuelling the push for independence.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008 2:48 AM
Subject: In search of a mass grave near Dili, The Age
"Estimates of the dead vary, but it is believed up to 200 people died".
Comment: There is some confusion here. The fact is that 271 people were reported dead by name. The reports were carried by Asociação Oikoumenis and A Paz e Possivel em Timor Leste in 1993 and 1995 respectively. These reports also identified an addition 382 wounded and 250 missing. The "estimates of the dead vary", as the author of this story writes, but only in the sense that some of those reported missing at the time have never been found.
Of the 250 reported missing at the time, how many are still missing? The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) established "that the whereabouts of 59 people on the Portuguese list of missing people were still unknown. In addition it received the names of a further 18 missing people through its statement-taking process. Excluding duplicated names that were given to the Commission through both processes, the Commission collected the names of a total of 72 people who have been missing since November 1991. It is clear to the Commission that the total number of missing people must be much higher ... [because its] survey was far from comprehensive, covering only a few of Dili's neighbourhoods and excluding much of the area immediately around the Santa Cruz Cemetery itself... The Commission has no way of judging how many are still missing, but it believes that a figure of 200 is not an unreasonable estimate." See Chapter 7.3 of Chega! for details.
As for the wounded figure claimed by Asociação Oikoumenis and A Paz e Possivel em Timor Leste, that has since been confirmed by the Indonesian military's internal investigation of casualties taken to Wira Husada Hospital. ("About 400", it said).