Subject: The Age: Graves May Give Answers To Dili Massacre

also East Timor: Massacres and Miracles by Shirley Shackleton

The Age (Mlebourne, Australia)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Graves May Give Answers To Dili Massacre

Jill Jolliffe, Dili

TWENTY-EIGHT years after Timorese families began searching for the remains of loved ones killed in an Indonesian army massacre, 16 bodies have been unearthed by Timorese investigators and experts from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine.

If their identities are proven they will be the first bodies found of resisters to Indonesian rule shot down in Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery in 1991. They were discovered in unmarked graves at Hera, 15 kilometres east of the capital, last week. The last of the 16 cadavers was brought to Dili on Monday.

Gregorio Saldanha of the 12 November 1991 Committee said the breakthrough had come after a local gravedigger had testified that the army had forced him to bury the massacre victims in the local cemetery. "It was important to find a reliable source to recover the first bodies," he said. "It wasn't easy."

The massacre occurred after a UN-backed Portuguese parliamentary delegation due to visit East Timor was postponed after Indonesia vetoed several journalists due to accompany it.

A new generation of East Timorese nationalists had placed enormous faith in the visit. They took to the streets and for the first time since Indonesia's 1975 invasion unfurled banners demanding independence and supporting guerilla leader Xanana Gusmao.

The occasion was a funeral procession for Sebastiao Gomes, a student who had been killed by the army days before. When the youths reached the cemetery they were surrounded by soldiers who fired on the peaceful and unarmed crowd.

The filming of this event by journalist Max Stahl produced landmark footage that shocked the world, showing demonstrators who were often little more than children smeared in blood and praying for salvation from the bullets.

There were some estimates as many as 200 people may have died.

The killings triggered worldwide sympathy for East Timorese independence.

Mr Saldanha, a former East Timorese parliamentarian, was himself shot in the massacre and later served years in Semarang prison, Java, for his role in the demonstration.

Last year he formed the 12 November Committee to gather evidence from family members on the numbers of those killed and the possible whereabouts of bodies.

After months of investigation, the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine under Soren Blau became involved, with funding from the Australian Government. Their team vainly searched various sites indicated by family members last year.

Mr Saldanha said that after the massacre the Indonesian government had claimed only 19 people had been killed, and that the Hera site appeared to have held those 19 bodies, in separate unmarked graves, but the investigators found that three were empty.

"One had held the body of Kamal (Bamadhaj) but it was exhumed some time around 1995 and returned to his family," he said.

Kamal Bamadhaj was a student at the University of NSW and the only foreigner killed in the massacre, although various foreign journalists and activists marched with the demonstrators.

"Later the Indonesian government admitted under pressure that maybe 50 people had died," Mr Saldanha said, adding that the committee's current figures list 74 confirmed deaths.

Some family members had yet to be contacted so the number could be higher.


East Timor: Massacres and Miracles

Shirley Shackleton

ETLJB 9 April 2009 Melbourne In response to Jill Jolliffe's report in The Age on 1st April 2009, it should be noted that there were several massacres in Dili. The first occurred on 7th December 1975 when thousands of Chinese and Timorese were murdered.

A second Dili massacre took place the day after the Indonesian invasion when over a hundred citizens forced to the wharf witnessed the murders of Roger East and more than a hundred victims including Isabel Lobato and Rosa Muki Bonaparte.

Though the cemetery is in a suburb of Dili, I submit that to name it the Dili massacre marginalises all the other massacres that took place in the city during the Indonesian occupation.

See James Dunn 'East Timor a rough passage to independence' page 292 for details of massacres outside Dili.

Though I don’t suppose the demonstration at the Pope’s mass at Taci Tolu in 1989 could be described as ‘taking to the streets,’ it was an extremely courageous act since it took place in the presence of thousands of Indonesian soldiers dressed as scout masters or tourists. They were armed with cameras which they used to record the demonstrators, many of whom were subsequently disappeared. Brave Timorese youths also unfurled banners which had to be smuggled into Taci Tolu through military checkpoints. Rods designed in interlocking sections placed their carriers in particular danger.

Taci-Tolu is a place where thousands of Timorese had been butchered to the extent that people attending the Pope's mass wept as they entered the arena. ‘We are walking on the bones of our loved-ones.’

For weeks before the Pope's arrival, the site at Taci Tolu was out-of-bounds and bulldozers were observed clearing the grounds. There was much speculation about the disposal of the remains of many thousands of Timorese.

When the youths carrying the banners ran towards the dais where the Pope was standing, the batik-shirt brigade moved in and began to beat anyone who got in their way. A group of Timorese standing close to the dais saw what was happening; they found the courage to raise their fists. The cameras were adjusted to include them. Uniformed police appeared from nowhere hurling chairs and clouds of dust began to rise as if the Taci Tolu massacres were being repeated.

A hundred or so Timorese found the courage to try to help the protesters; they were beaten into the earth with riot sticks and chairs. A Filipino journalist's camera was torn from his hands and the film ripped out. I saw one man clutching his fractured jaw as a scout master continued to kick him.

A reporter from Darwin told me that when the protest began he asked his Indonesian press minder what was written on the banners. While looking straight at them, the minder had replied: ‘What banners?’


The Santa Cruz massacre did not take place during a funeral procession. When a Timorese burial takes place the mourners lay the Bitter Flowers. When time has elapsed so that the grief has lessened the ceremony of the Sweet Flowers is held. On 28 October, Gomes, a student activist, had sought refuge in the church of San Antonio de Motael. He was shot in the stomach by an Indonesian soldier in front of dozens of astonished witnesses.

The laying of the Sweet Flowers for Sabastião was a commemoration of the burial that had occurred two weeks earlier. On the morning of November 12th, thousands of East Timorese marched from the church of San Antonio de Motael to Santa Cruz cemetery after attending a memorial mass for Sabastião. Marchers were harassed by police and intelligence agents, who pelted the procession with rocks. As mourners entered the Santa Cruz cemetery to lay the sweet flowers Indonesian soldiers marching slowly and deliberately fired at them at point-blank range.

As to the numbers of the dead, Max Stahl told me he saw as many as four hundred manacled, desperate Timorese being driven off after the massacre.

A Paz e Possivel em Timor-Leste (Peace is Possible in Timor-Leste) published a list of their findings into the number of massacre victims in leading Portuguese newspapers in November, 1992. Jose Ramos-Horta described how the data was obtained:

"... has been compiled by 12 teams of East Timorese students, school teachers, priests, nuns, nurses, paramedics, hospital staff, workers at the morgues, totalling 72 researchers, working round the clock for three months, interviewing household members in each bairro, immediately after 12 November 1991.”

The preliminary report reached Lisbon in February and was handed over to two specialist groups in Portugal that had been investigating human rights abuses in East Timor for more than 10 years. A copy was channelled to Amnesty International for independent verification.

It took six months for the mass of detailed information sent from East Timor to be processed and analysed. The researchers took extreme care in double-checking each piece of information."

The Lists: 271 killed; 278 wounded; 103 hospitalised; 270 disappeared.

Google's cache of is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 27 Mar 2009 23:30:04 GMT.

For an eye-witness report of the Santa Cruz massacre Google Democracy Now via Santa Cruz massacre.

Max Stahl’s film footage and the subsequent reporting by Americans Amy Goodman and Alan Nairn broke the backs of the Jakarta Lobbyist's compromised assurances that the Timorese fared well under Indonesian rule. When Alan threw himself over Amy in an attempt to prevent her from being assaulted by the butt of an M16 rifle being wielded by an Indonesian soldier, he took the blow intended for her, which fractured his skull.

The fact that witnesses survived the massacres in Dili is something of a miracle.

I invite valid criticism of anything I publish in the interest of accuracy.



Back to March Menu

World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu