|Subject: SBS: New Future, Hidden Past (on
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May 29, 2002 - East Timor - New Future, Hidden Past
In the 2.5 years of UN administration in East Timor, the UN has been criticised for failing to pursue those responsible for the atrocities of 1999. With new president Xanana Gusmao`s commitment to reconciliation with Indonesia and its former militia, there are fears that justice will be equally elusive in an independent East Timor. Dateline`s Mark Davis reports.
REPORTER: Mark Davis
The survivors of Maubare are celebrating their first week of independence. Just west of Dili, this was one of the birthplaces of the militia movement. It was neighbours who killed, raped and tortured here throughout 1999 at the bidding of the Indonesian Army. The task of reconciliation in a now independent East Timor will be most sorely tested here. Florindo de Jesus Brites played dead when he was attacked by militiamen. His back is so severely hacked that he's too embarrassed to show it to the camera. His right arm is crippled. Florindo's brother was killed in front of him. A particularly painful memory for the whole Brites family this week as ex-militiamen are being deliver into town for the independence celebrations. If all goes to plan, they will soon be resettled here.
ANSELMO (Translation): Excuse me. If there is no law, no government and we have to deal with this ourselves. We could do it today. Get them all.
The number of people killed throughout Indonesia's secretive occupation may never be known. Justice is unlikely to be delivered for them. But the slaughter of 1999 is a different case. International investigators have had full access to the crime scenes for 2.5 years. Evidence and testimony abounds of Indonesian atrocities, but little has come of it. The full extent of the numbers killed is still concealed. Some believe deliberately downplayed, and Indonesia's role is being washed away by the day.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA, EAST TIMORESE FOREIGN MINISTER: His Excellency, president-elect Xanana Gusmao soon will walk in with President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia.
Xanana Gusmao's almost single-minded desire for reconciliation has effectively ended any international interest in the pursuit of justice here. Gusmao may have the finest of reasons for placating a dangerous neighbour. But the goal of diplomacy and politics internationally or in Timor is rarely to reveal the truth. As the UN ends its mission here, primary responsibility for prosecuting Indonesian atrocities in East Timor belongs to the Indonesian justice system. An optimistic arrangement to say the least, when the criminals weren't just in the army, but in the government itself. For this group, the prospect that Indonesia will prosecute any of its own is a farce. Many now suspect that the new government will push no harder than the UN did to reveal the truth about what happened here. An accusation that Ramos Horta is getting increasingly prickly about.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: Some people enjoy the feeling that they have exclusive truth on what is right and what is wrong. They have a monopoly on virtues. They would like us, the only statement that will satisfy them, if we make very loud statements about the War Crimes Tribunal, for instance. We have said time and again that justice has to be delivered. But, if the Indonesian side itself carries out justice and is seen to be fair, then justice is served.
The Indonesian system is no more likely to serve the interests of justice today than it was in 1999. Then, the priority of its government and army was to destroy evidence and the principal evidence being bodies. Journalist John Martinkus saw the same pattern emerge after the referendum that he'd witnessed throughout the previous year.
JOHN MARTINKUS, JOURNALIST: At the time when the evidence was most widely available, like say down in Suai, you went down there, there was blood on the ground, human hair everywhere, there's bits of clothing, there's personal possessions covered in blood scattered everywhere, it's obvious that something very bad has happened here and as the witnesses said themselves, the Indonesian military came and drove them away in trucks.
REPORTER: As a clean-up operation?
JOHN MARTINKUS: And the same thing happened in Maliana, and the same thing was happening in Dili even as INTERFET arrived. Bear in mind for the first couple of days the INTERFET only had the airport and that little area around the trees around the port. And in my mind, that was one of the reasons why the Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes was killed for straying up to Becora. He was kill by the Indonesian military, and that's been thoroughly established. Because they didn't want journalists running around, they didn't want people finding out the extent of what had happened before they had finished tidying it up.
When Australian-led INTERFET troops arrived in September 1999, they developed a policy of only commenting on bodies found. No comments were ever made about evidence of body disposal. Nor any comment about the involvement of Indonesian forces in the killings, despite ample first-hand accounts.
JOHN MARTINKUS: It really was too give Indonesia the diplomatic sidestep they needed to avoid responsibility for their actions, which is why they formed the militias in the first place. That falsehood and that devolution of responsibility is still happening today. That's why the justice issue has been shunted to the side, because nobody really wants to go after the perpetrators because it would lead right to the top of Indonesian society and the East Timorese leadership either believe that in order to have a national - a small nation alongside powerful Indonesia, that's what they have to do, they have to lie on their behalf.
During five months of INTERFET control, the official death toll slowly crept up to about 250, where it remained for the rest of the year, when the UN authority took control and maintained the policy of commenting only on retrieved bodies.
UN OFFICIAL: Well I know probably how many graves there are in Liquica, but I'm afraid...under the UN sanction, I'm not allowed to tell you that.
While the world was making judgments about whether to pursue Indonesian officials and soldiers for their crimes, those judgments were being based on ludicrously low numbers that stretched from 100 to 250 dead. No mention was made of those dumped at sea or dragged across the border. Joaquim Fonseca is a director of Yayasan Hak, the most prominent legal aid and human rights group in East Timor. He represents families of the missing and the dead. Joaquim has virtually stopped bothering passing over any files to UN investigators and has little confidence that things will change with an independent government.
REPORTER: It's now an independent nation, but who amongst the politicians have any interest in this?
JOAQUIM FONSECA, YAYASAN HAK: No. That is why our message is clear to the family of victims and survivors. Under the current circumstances, under the current setting, the law is touching no-one. Basically the position of the family of victims is to let them know this is the reality. Let's not be romantic about the situation.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: The Security Council has said time and again, the Secretary-General has said time and again that we must give a chance to the Indonesians to bring...
REPORTER: Jose, do you believe the Indonesians are going to do it?
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: It is not a question of me believing, you know. I just don't think that it is proper for anyone when a court has taken place that we still pass judgment on the judges, on the prosecutors and so on. I'm not an activist. Maybe it's easy for an activist, for a journalist to do that. A court is a court.
The people of Maubare have shown extraordinary faith in the promises that have been made to them for the past 2.5 years - that reconciliation and justice would be delivered together. At this safe house just behind the main street, three militiamen are reintegrating into Maubare during the independence celebrations. The last time they were here they were burning to it the ground.
MAN (Translation): When we came to Maubare, we wore ninja masks on our heads. We destroyed the houses because we were following orders from the leaders of the group.
This man was a commander of a militia unit and admits that men in his unit killed people in this area. He's prepared to talk about it in exchange for his safety and freedom.
MAN (Translation): Laurindo and Silvestre did the shooting. This is what I saw. They shot the couple in front of the chapel.
The few prosecutions that have occurred are of Timorese militiamen in Timorese courts. But those cases are rare and are likely to remain so while Xanana continues to try to entice militias and their families to return from Indonesia. The two younger men claim to have never seen a single killing or even assault in their right months with the militias. They haven't returned to give evidence. They returned when they heard the message of amnesty and forgiveness. A policy that will enable them to return to their home village soon.
REPORTER: And what is that process? How does that happen and when do you find that out?
YOUNG MAN (Translation): We will go home after this party and then we will see.
At the other end of this small town, the Brites family are dealing with the return of the militias. When the militia movement began here at the beginning of '99, Florindo and his brother fled to Dili, along with hundreds of others from Maubare. They took refuge here at the house of Manuel Carrascalao. Hundreds of victims of beatings, rape and torture were sheltering here when the militias came to Dili. It was a massacre at the hand of some of their own neighbours.
FLORINDO (Translation): They used a car to break the gate down. Then the militia and Indonesian army went in. We were scattered everywhere, some ran inside the house, some jumped over the fence. They went in and killed those inside the house.
REPORTER: So you went to Manuel Carrascalao's house?
YOUNG MAN (Translation): Yes, I went.
MAN NO 1 (Translation): I saw them stabbing Mr Manuel's son. I was by the car.
FLORINDO (Translation): Three of us ran and jumped onto the fence wall. They had already killed some of my friends Eduardo, Joao and Natalino. When they came out of the house they saw the three of us on the wall.
YOUNG MAN (Translation): We were standing next to the car.
REPORTER: And you watched as the people were killed?
YOUNG MAN (Translation): I didn't see, I didn't go into the house.
FLORINDO (Translation): They shot at us and my friend Alfred Sanches fell to the ground and they killed him. Eduardo and I remained in the tree and they kept shooting, shooting, shooting and Eduardo died in the tree, then fell to the ground. They waited for me, I spoke to them before they began chopping me with their machetes.
REPORTER: And were there dead people at this point or were there people jumping the fence?
YOUNG MAN (Translation): They came out and said there are dead people inside.
13 bodies were retrieved from the house and grounds. Most of them from Maubare. But at least another 40 people are still missing, and no body means no chance of justice.
FLORINDO (Translation): We feel deeply hurt inside, we are all in pain, but we cannot do harm to them because our nation has something called law.
The death toll quoted in the first 12 months after the carnage was so low that officials and journalists more recently began referring to a thousand dead. But even this may be a fraction of the truth. Xanana Gusmao has never disputed these widely quoted figures, nor to the best of my knowledge has Ramos Horta since INTERFET and the UN began their investigations.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: The figure I have heard and I have used ranges from - and because I cannot say a precise figure - ranges from 1,000 to 10,000. That's my personal belief.
REPORTER: Look, I might be misinformed, but this is news to me to hear you saying that it's up to 10,000. I mean this has been a critical issue in the international media - it's been a critical issue.
JOSE RAMOS HORTA: I say it could be as high as 10,000. I said it before. I don't remember when and I remember it had been quoted, but it is, you know, an absolutely wild guess.
If the Indonesian Army learnt anything in East Timor, it was a lesson in how to escape the judgment of either the law or history - leave no bodies behind. An accusing finger points from this grave. But proper graves are rare in East Timor. (Reads from gravestone): He was assassinated barbarically by monstrous militias.
RUI: They cut his neck and take out his tongue.
The story of the rest of the dead may never emerge. What monsoonal rains haven't destroyed, 2.5 years of disinformation and silence probably has.
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