Guardian: Legacy of Indon troops and militia uncovered
The Guardian [UK] Tuesday December 21, 1999
Mass graves found in Timor
Legacy of Indonesian troops and militia uncovered
John Aglionby in Jakarta
International peacekeepers in East Timor yesterday found decayed body parts from at least 25 corpses at two sites in the territory. It is thought the graves will eventually yield more than 100 victims of brutality by Indonesian soldiers and militia thugs. Australian navy divers recovered the remains of about a dozen bodies from a lake near Maubara, a one-time militia stronghold 30 miles west of the capital Dili.
The bodies are thought to be the victims of an attack on April 6 by Indonesian soldiers and members of the local Red and White Iron militia on the main Catholic church in the nearby town of Liquica. The church was full of hundreds of people who had fled the militia in their villages.
The East Timorese human rights group Yayasan Hak said 67 people were killed or went missing in the wake of the assault.
The divers were acting on a tip-off from a local man who said he was forced to drive a truck full of bodies from the Liquica church to the lake. They are expected to return to the scene today to look for more bodies.
"We have been asked to search the lake to see if we can find anything else to connect the atrocity to the [Indonesian army] or the militia in the area at the time," said Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Peacock, the leader of the team.
One hundred miles to the west in Oecussi, the East Timorese enclave surrounded by Indonesian West Timor, soldiers unearthed the remains of 14 bodies.
"There are 18 separate sites next to each other, some of which appear to contain many more than one body," Resik Hodzic, a United Nations information officer, said. The graves are in rugged mountainous terrain only 350 yards from West Timor, prompting speculation that the perpetrators miscalculated the location of the border.
Locals said the graves contained the bodies of at least 50 people who were forced to flee three villages in early September as the militia and Indonesian army began to systematically destroy the enclave in the wake of the East Timorese voting overwhelmingly to secede from Indonesia.
Mr Hodzic said it would probably be several weeks before the full horror of the massacre was known. "We have to wait for forensic experts to come to do a scientific exhumation and they are not due here until the beginning of January."
If the villagers' estimates of the number of bodies are correct, it will take the tally of confirmed victims of Indonesian military and militia violence to more than 300. Unofficial estimates of the total death toll are thought to be "in the high hundreds, rather than the thousands", according to one source.
"However we cannot speculate officially in any way because there are still about 100,000 refugees in West Timor," Mr Hodzic said. "[Not] until they return, and we know who is still alive, can we start to think about the dead."
Many of the refugees in West Timor are being prevented from returning by militiamen who continue to roam with impunity around the camps, despite promises by the Indonesian authorities to clamp down on the gangs. However the situation is improving, according to Quang Bui, a protection officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
"I think the militia are facing an identity crisis about their future, whether or not the government of Indonesia will continue to support them," he said. "So the cohesiveness of this group has become weaker."
The rebuilding of East Timor is continuing slowly. Last week, international donors pledged $250m (£150m) in aid to the territory.
However with the six-month-long rainy season starting, hundreds of thousands of people are still without shelter and dependent on humanitarian aid for their food.
21 Dec 99 10:43
Liquica, East Timor, Dec. 21 (Lusa) - About 300 East Timorese were massacred last April in a Catholic church in the town of Liquica, but few of their bodies will be found, a local independence activist told Lusa Tuesday. Amadeu Albino Santos, the local representative of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), said at least 40 people had witnessed Indonesian troops removing the remains of massacre victims from a nearby lake and transporting them to the coast for dumping into the ocean. The witnesses, he added, had recounted the horror to members of a human rights inquiry team. He said Indonesian soldiers acted in June to wipe evidence of the Liquica slaughter, after the United Nations began preparations to send officials to the territory to organize the Aug. 30 self-determination plebiscite. Santos spoke to Lusa the day after Australian Interfet divers recovered 12 bodies from nearby Maubara Lake. Two other bodies were retrieved from the big lake last week, the CNRT official said. Timorese human rights group Yayasan Hak has estimated a lesser figure of 67 people killed in the April 6 church bloodbath, carried out by anti-independence militias with the complicity of Indonesian troops. The CNRT has said that 100 bodies from the Liquica massacre have been found. Santos said that some militiamen had recently returned to Liquica and that the local CNRT was doing its best "to neutralize situations of rancor and revenge". The devastated town, he added, now had about 38,000 people, 8,000 more than at the time of the August plebiscite - but fewer than its original population of 50,000. A first wave abandoned the town after the April massacre. The remaining population fled in September, when Indonesian forces and their militia proxies rampaged through Liquica, killing and burning.
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