Subject: JP: 'I was ordered to bury 25 victims of attack on East Timor church'

The Jakarta Post April 24, 2002

'I was ordered to bury 25 victims of attack on East Timor church'

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A witness testified before the ongoing Human Rights Court on Tuesday that he was ordered by his superior to bury at least 25 bodies, including three Catholic priests, after a massacre at St. Ave Maria Church in Suai town, Covalima regency, East Timor on Sept. 6, 1999.

Second Sgt. Sony Iskandar explained that some military and police officers, along with about 10 East Timorese, buried the bodies in three mass graves which were excavated at a nearby beach.

"I just followed my superior's order by digging the holes..., there were three holes... one for the male corpses, another one for women and the remaining hole for the three priests," said Sony, the driver for the former Suai military command's chief of staff Capt. Achmad Syamsuddin -- one of the five defendants accused of committing gross human rights violations.

Sony said the bodies were transported from the church by military truck for burial in a "new cemetery near the beach". He also said that he noticed that almost all of the bodies had been wounded by sharp weapons.

Tuesday's hearing was part of the ongoing trial of four mid-level military officers and one policeman accused of rights violations in the massacre at the church, where at least 27 people were killed in the attack, including Catholic priests Tarsisius Dewanto, Hilario Madeira and Francisco Soares.

Achmad Syamsuddin, along with four other defendants, former Covalima regent Col. Herman Sedyono, former Suai military commander Lt. Col. Liliek Koeshadianto, his successor Lt. Col. Sugito and former Suai Police precinct chief Lt. Col. Gatot Subiaktoro are charged with violating Articles 7, 9, 37 and 42 of Law No. 26/2000 on human rights violations.

The crimes carry sentences ranging from 10 years to the death penalty.

Sony is also a suspect for a similar case, as he, along with several soldiers and the Suai-based pro-Jakarta militia group Laksaur, stand accused of carrying out the attack.

Asked if he had any knowledge of why he was ordered to bury the corpses, Sony replied, "For humanitarian reasons, I guess".

Another witness, First Sgt. I Wayan Suka Antara -- also a suspect for the other case -- told the court that the situation turned ugly, following the announcement by the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) declaring victory for the pro-independence voters on Sept. 4, 1999.

Antara said that hundreds of people from the pro-Jakarta group immediately attacked the church as they knew that "it had been used as a safe haven for the pro-independence group and some UNAMET staffers."

"There wasn't any security officer guarding the church during the attack. How could we guard it, anyway, if these people...I mean, the pro-independence group, banned us from getting closer?" Antara told the court.

During the trial, both Sony and Antara asked the panel of judges to nullify their dossiers because they were coerced under physical pressure by military police investigators to admit to all the charges during the interrogation process.

They also said that the investigators threatened to discharge them from the military if they refused to sign the dossiers.

Judge Cicut dismissed their request, and adjourned the trial until April, 30 to hear other witnesses, including at least one who is currently residing in East Timor.

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