Subject: CT: Tour of Terror, Australian Police Officer Talks

The Canberra Times January 30, 2000


"I ONLY knew Atanasio Moniz aged 23 for the last few minutes of his life." This was how one Australian Federal Police officer began a letter from East Timor to his friends and relatives in Australia.

In many ways Constable Wayne Sievers's painful recollections capture the sheer brutality, fear and personal sacrifices that were to engulf all the police stranded and alone in what soon became dangerous territory. Houses were set afire, local people were being butchered and menaced and bullets were flying. No-one was safe.

Many police were from Canberra, taking the opportunity for overseas service, a red-letter day for their careers and a chance to do their bit for Australia.

They left with broad smiles and a sense of pride. But they came home desolate, psychologically damaged by their experiences and their health impaired by malaria, dengue fever or the other myriad tropical diseases.

No-one could have predicted the decline into savagery that followed the vote for independence. No-one has told this story yet. About 50 Australian police were there as part of a United Nations force. Eventually, a couple of dozen were holding out in the UN compound. They gave their food to about 2000 East Timorese sheltering there, behind rolls of razor wire. They slept on concrete floors or in UN vehicles. The sanitation system simply collapsed and the threat of disease became palpable.

Sievers contracted malaria and dengue fever and he suffers from post- traumatic-stress syndrome, like many others. He was thrust into a war zone unarmed and unprotected. All he and his companions had to fight the rampaging militia were persuasion, bluff and boldness.

No-one will know how many times our men and women came under fire.

This essentially is Sievers's story, told through his memories, diary notes and letters. But it is not about Sievers at all. It is about Australia, and one more bloody shrine at which we may one day lay flowers as we do for Gallipoli.

" I had heard on the UN radio net today that a person with a gunshot wound to the head had been brought into our regional office in Dili," he wrote on August 26. " I went to see if I could help." Atanasio had a small entry wound to the back of his neck and a large exit wound above his left eye. Blood was running from his nose and ears. An Irish UN policewoman and a number of UN staff were admin- istering first aid. Frightened East Timorese looked on. They could be next.

Sievers applied a shell dressing and got ready with a resuscitation mask. But the pulse weakened and stopped. For an instant, Sievers felt godlike. Should he attempt to bring the dying man back? " Today is the Thursday before next Monday's independence vote," he writes. " I was diagnosed this morning with malaria, the second time in three weeks. The usual symptoms of nausea, headache and Painful bones fever were amplified this time by strange new symptoms that included pain from deep within my bones. The doctor told me that the parasite was now affecting my bone marrow. I was given a powerful cocktail of drugs." Already, guerrilla bands of militia 1000 strong were reported to be on the way to Dili.

Gunfire had broken out all over the city. Houses were ablaze. The first killings of the day had occurred. The militia were swaggering around displaying their weapons. The In donesian police were losing control of the streets.

" We went to check out the burning houses and halted a discreet distance from the scene. We were considering the best way to approach for a closer look when suddenly automatic-weapons fire broke out a short distance away. Dozens of people ran past our position. I threw the car into reverse and nearly collided with a taxi. We were not to know it then but we were probably hearing Atanasio being shot about 100m away." He said the Indonesian Army and police joined the militia in an attack with pistols and assault rifles.

Later Indonesian police insisted on removing Atanasio's body. " Their main interest was in taking away the body as if to hide the truth," he said.

In another instance, a crowded truck from a convoy rolled off the road and down a hill and many people were injured or trapped. One of the bodies, a woman, had a baby strangling in a cloth carrier around her neck. The truck was unstable and threatened to roll down the hill, killing and injuring more people. The Indonesian police escort did nothing. UN police took great risks to rescue the injured and recover the bodies. The baby died.

" Atanasio was certainly not the first to die. I fear he will not be the last." Perhaps the issue that moved Sievers closest to tears was when the UN compound had become a final safe haven for the remaining East Timorese. Al ready, he had seen women attempt to throw their babies over the razor wire to escape the militia's bullets. Forty had been lacerated.

The remaining journalists and police made a pact that night. If the militia broke into the compound, then they would form a human ring around the East Timorese and would stand together to the last.

Later, as he flew back to Australia and was over the central Australian desert, Sievers wrote again of his personal hell.

" I have looked into that dark place within the human soul, a place that is terrifying and impossible to describe to those who have never been there," he wrote. " You will have to rely on my inadequate words instead. Pray you never go there yourself." He referred to the " murder of innocents" , decent men and women killed or tortured, starved, raped or made homeless.

" Their only desire was to be in control of their own future, something we obscenely take for granted in Australia. Lives, homes and a country destroyed in an effort to obliterate hope." Sievers said that over the past 12 weeks he had been shot at, chased by militia, threatened and had his Dili home burnt down. He had been under siege, with dwindling food and water supplies. Meaningful words Sievers says that some things are not negotiable: freedom, democracy, decency, justice, fairness, human rights and ethical conduct.

" I have news for people . . . they should visit places like East Timor. The words actually do mean something when you have nothing." Not all Sievers's memories are painful. " I cannot help but think of my wonderful East Timor family who looked after us in Dili and in whose house we lived. I also think of my other friends such as Abilio, Mario, Carmen and Cornelius. They would appreciate me saying something like "may God protect them'. I certainly hope God does that." Sievers is not alone. The leaders of the three Australian detachments so far, Tony Curtis, Allan Castle and Fred Donavan - all Canberra police officers - have endured similar hardships.

But not all can express as movingly as Sievers does the harrowing legacy of their mission of hope to East Timor.

Back to January Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from