Excerpts from the Testimony of Allan Nairn before the United States Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations
February 27, 1992
"Mr. Chairman, my name is Allan Nairn. On November 12, 1991, while in East
Timor on assignment for the New Yorker magazine, I witnessed and survived the
massacre at the Santa Cruz cemetery."
Terror more intense
When I returned to East Timor in October of this past year, the air of terror was more
intense and the repression was greater still. The Indonesian army was sweeping through
villages and towns rounding up Timorese who, the army suspected, might be preparing to
talk to a UN-sponsored delegation that was due to arrive from the parliament of Portugal.
The Indonesians were holding hundreds of meetings across the country, warning that those
who spoke to the delegation would be killed. Bishop Belo told me that the army was saying
that it would find the families of Timorese who tried to speak or demonstrate and hunt
them down and kill them "to the seventh generation." The Bishop said he thought
that the army's threats were credible and that if the Timorese did try to speak out in
public, the army would respond with massacres as soon as the delegation left.
As it happened, the delegation never arrived in East Timor, but the army staged a
massacre anyway. Within days after the postponement of the visit was announced, the army
stormed the seaside church of San Antonio de Motael. I arrived in Dill a few hours after
the attack, and later spoke with numerous eyewitnesses. During the attack the soldiers
seized a young man named Sebastiao Gomes. They executed him at point blank range with a
pistol shot to the gut. Gomes was one of a number of young men who had sought sanctuary in
the church. He had been hunted by the army during the pre-delegation sweeps. Gomes'
funeral attracted a crowd of more than a thousand people. The Timorese were clearly shaken
by this attack on their flagship church.
The two-week commemoration of Gomes' death took place on November 12. It began with the
traditional morning mass at the Motael and continued with a procession to lay flowers on
It should be noted that the Catholic Church is the only Timorese institution. All
others have been obliterated on orders of the army high command. There are no Timorese
unions or press, peasant leagues, political parties, or student groups. Their leaders have
been executed and their existence banned. Timorese have been jailed and tortured for
reading newspapers from overseas or attempting to listen on short wave to Radio Australia
or the BBC. Social organization can only take place under the army's control. Public
speech and assembly are prohibited by army fiat. This means that the civic life of the
East Timorese must be conducted underground.
Gomes's funeral was a breakthrough event because people turned out and dared to speak.
Some held up their hands in the sign of the "V" and shouted "Viva East
Timor." The commemorative procession on November 12 was even larger and more
outspoken. As the mass broke up people assembled on the street. The army
intelligence chief drove by. Along the route of march there were soldiers and police, who
carefully eyed the passing Timorese. This time a number of people were carrying
hand-lettered banners supporting the church and the cause of Timorese independence. The
banners said things like "Indonesia, Why You Shoot Our Church?" One was a plea
addressed to "President Busch." There were young men, young women, children in
Catholic school uniforms, and old people in traditional Timorese dress.
As the procession wound through Dili, many other people joined, they came from schools
and offices and huts along the road. Sometimes young boys would break into a jog and older
men would reign them in shouting "Disciplina!' "Disciplina!' People were
chanting and giving the "V' sign and talking among themselves.(1) By
the time it reached the cemetery the crowd had grown quite large. There were perhaps three
thousand to five thousand people. Some filed in toward Sebastiao's grave, and many others
remained outside, hemmed in on the street by cemetery walls. People were, at that point,
standing around, talking excitedly among themselves, when, suddenly, someone noticed that
one of the exit routes had been sealed off by an Indonesian troop truck.
Soldiers without end
Then, looking to our right we saw, coming down the road, a long, slowly marching column of
uniformed troops. They were dressed in dark brown, moving in disciplined formation, and
they held M-16s before them as they marched. As the column kept advancing, seemingly
without end, people gasped and began to shuffle back. I went with Amy Goodman of WBAI /
Pacifica radio and stood on the corner between the soldiers and the Timorese. We thought
that if the Indonesian force saw that foreigners were there, they would hold back and not
attack the crowd.
But as we stood there watching as the soldiers marched into our face, the inconceivable
thing began to happen. The soldiers rounded the corner, never breaking stride, raised
their rifles and fired in unison into the crowd. Timorese were backpedaling, gasping,
trying to flee, but in seconds they were cut down by the hail of fire. People fell,
stunned and shivering, bleeding in the road, and the Indonesian soldiers kept on shooting.
I saw the soldiers aiming and shooting people in the back, leaping bodies to hunt down
those who were still standing. They executed schoolgirls, young men, old Timorese, the
street was wet with blood and the bodies were everywhere.
As the soldiers were doing this they were beating me and Amy; they took our cameras and
our tape recorders and grabbed Amy by the hair and punched and kicked her in the face and
in the stomach. When I put my body over her, they focused on my head.
They fractured my skull with the butts of their M-16s.
The soldiers put us on the pavement and trained the rifles at our heads'. They were
shouting "Politik! Politik!" We were shouting back, "America! America!,'
and I think that may have been the thing that saved us. They had taken my passport earlier
but Amy showed them hers, and the soldiers seemed impressed when they realized that we
were indeed from the States. We were, after all, citizens of the country that supplied
them with Mol6s. For whatever reason, the soldiers chose to let us live. We hopped a
passing truck and got away. The soldiers were still firing as we left the scene, some five
to ten minutes after the massacre began.
This was, purely and simply, a deliberate mass murder, a massacre of unarmed,
defenseless people. There was no provocation, no stones were thrown, the crowd was quiet
and shrinking back as the shooting began. There was no confrontation, no hothead who got
out of hand. This was not an ambiguous situation that somehow spiraled out of control. The
soldiers simply marched up in a disciplined, controlled way and began to fire massively on
It was quite evident from the way the soldiers behaved that they had marched up with
orders to commit a massacre. They never issued a warning, they did not even pause or break
their stride: they marched up and opened fire in unison. This action was not the result of
their interaction with the crowd: the Timorese were just standing there or trying to get
away. The soldiers opened fire as soon as their column turned the corner and got within a
dozen yards of the Timorese.
After the Timorese had been gunned down the army sealed off the area. They turned away
religious people who came to administer first aid. They let the Timorese bleed to death on
(1) Indonesia later said that, during the course of the march, a
soldier was stabbed by a Timorese in front of the military district command base. I saw,
from about a hundred feet away, a brief scuffle near the base, but it did not look to me
at the time as if anyone had been stabbed. After most of the marchers had already passed
and the last Timorese were passing by, a few soldiers came out and began to beat some
marchers with sticks. I saw other marchers then come to their defense, throwing some
stones at the soldiers and at nearby government buildings. The scuffle broke up very
quickly- within about 45 seconds -- and the marchers continued on their way. Likewise,
although there were many soldiers and police who watched the encounter as I did, they did
not join in or react in any way. Neither did the soldiers or the police who lined the
remainder of the parade route. The march continued to the cemetery without incident, and
the massacre happened more than a half hour later. After the massacre, Chris Wenher, the
video cameraman who was inside the cemetery, was imprisoned by the police and held for
more than six hours, during which time he talked frequently with his captors. He says he
asked them repeatedly why the army had staged the massacre, but that at no point did they
say that any stabbing had taken place.
The entirety of the Senate Testimony
of Allan Nairn on the Santa Cruz massacre is available from ETAN in the form of a