Subject: Torment of Timor's Damned

The Australian 16 November 99

Torment of Timor's damned

By Sian Powell

RAOUL Freitas knows the future of an ex-militiaman in East Timor is not bright. His town of Baukau came through the violence of recent months relatively unscathed.

But even so, since his return from West Timor last month he has lived under the protection of the independence movement, too frightened to return to his nearby village.

Recruited in 1989 by Saka, one of several militia set up by the Indonesian military, he now has no trade, no property.

All he has earned is the enmity of his neighbours. "I will stay here," the 33-year-old said of the independence house high on the hill above Baukau. "There's nothing else to do. I will advise the local secretary of the CNRT (East Timor's independence movement)".

Saka earned the grudging respect of some citizens by drawing the line at the senseless violence, looting and burning of people's homes that characterised other militia in East Timor.

Freitas said he personally had beaten no one nor did he shoot anyone, and neither did many of his compadres ­ perhaps largely because the Saka leader, Juanico Cesario Belo, was a moderate man.

Martin Gusmao, a priest who works with the bishop in Baukau, said the Saka militia members were persuaded to avoid violence by the Catholic church and the independence movement.

Juanico Belo was Father Martin's school friend and amenable to being bought off. "I gave them money, rice, beans and fuel, and then I organised trucks to get them water."

Father Martin decided dealing with the militia was the right thing to do, especially since they had not murdered anyone. "They burned things here, but they did not kill," he said.

When Interfet arrived in East Timor, some Saka members fled to Kupang in West Timor. Others, ironically, ran to the hills and joined the Falintil freedom fighters.

Saka leader Juanico, as he is known, apparently now wants to return to East Timor from Kupang, but many believe he is being held by Indonesia because he failed to do his job and sufficiently terrorise Baukau.

Yet many buildings in Baukau, East Timor's second-largest town, have been reduced to rubble ­ mainly government offices and utilities ­ the economy has been disrupted and people are still recovering emotionally from weeks spent living in fear.

Freitas might not be as hated as former members of the rampaging Aitarak militia in Dili, or Besi Merah Putih in Liquica, but he will not be welcomed home.

Freitas said Saka members were paid by the Indonesian military; from 1996 he received 70,000 rupiahs (about $20) for a month's work.

A leader of the local CNRT, Agustino Cabral, confirmed his movement's co-operation with Saka and the local military. This co-operation, he said, depended on the leaders in every town. "Here we talk with them and say if independence wins we will work with you," he said. "Saka is good ­ maybe in this group only two or three people who are bad killed people. The houses that were burned here were not burned by Saka, but by Kopassus."

Mr Cabral predicted the eventual return to Baukau of most Saka members, barring perhaps the leaders, and said people would probably be extremely angry with them.

"But we will tell them now is not the time to kill, but the time for reconciliation."


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