Subject: SMH: Savagery lurks in `safe' suburb: killers mutilate journalist
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 1999 12:11:23 EDT

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, September 23, 1999

Uniformed men kill, mutilate journalist

Savagery lurks in a `safe' suburb

By LINDSAY MURDOCH, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The attackers, allegedly Indonesian soldiers, who murdered Sander Thoenes (pictured left) cut his ear and took it away as some sort of bizarre souvenir.

The 30-year-old Dutch journalist thought it was safe enough to take a ride late on Tuesday on the back of a motorbike through the Dili suburb of Becora, a one-time independence stronghold that is now a wasteland.

We all had a false sense of security, after seeing hundreds of heavily armed Australian troops arriving in the devastated capital of East Timor, and hearing from Interfet commander Major-General Peter Cosgrove about the co-operation of the Indonesian military, or TNI.

But they had only secured the airport, wharf and United Nations compound. The rest of Dili remains a dangerous no-man's land.

Motorbike rider Florindo Araujo knew he and Mr Thoenes were in trouble when he saw six men dressed and equipped as Indonesian soldiers on the road about 200 metres ahead shortly before dusk. Although militias sometimes wear bits of uniform, Mr Araujo has no doubt these were Indonesian troops.

"I saw them lift their automatic rifles towards us and motioned us to stop. I tried to turn around but they started shooting, maybe 10 or 20 times. There were bullets all around. My motorbike was damaged and we went down. The journalist looked asleep. It looked like they were going to continue shooting so I ran away."

Shortly after dawn the body of Thoenes, who works for London's Financial Times and the Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland, was found by friends face down behind a gutted Becora house, his notebook lying just in front, his body battered and apparently mutilated.

American photographer Chip Hires and British journalist Jon Swain were not greatly worried when they saw a convoy of Indonesian soldiers on the edge of Dili about the same time as Thoenes was killed. But the soldiers, East Timorese from one of the two locally-raised TNI batallions, stopped their taxi.

"For me it was sort of the year of living dangerously all over again," said Hires. "They started hammering our driver - then his eye came out. He was beaten very badly. They put him on the back of a truck and were still beating him."

One of the soldiers then pulled out a pistol and shot out the taxi's tyres.

Hires said he and Swain, a veteran Asian journalist who survived Pol Pot's occupation of Phnom Penh in 1975, were then told to go away. "They fired in our direction but not at us," Hires said. "We took cover in a small village and called our office in London on a mobile telephone."

The call mobilised more than 100 Australian soldiers, armoured personnel carriers and Black Hawk helicopters. The men were rescued early yesterday morning.

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