Subject: IHT: A Family in East Timor Grieves for a Daughter

International Herald Tribune Friday, December 22, 2000

Opinion & Editorial

A Family in East Timor Grieves for a Daughter

Mark Dodd

DILI, East Timor Somewhere in Indonesian West Timor, in a camp controlled by some of the most notorious militia thugs who fled from East Timor after its people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in August 1999, there is a 16-year-old girl called Juliana dos Santos. She has just delivered a baby and may be pregnant again. United Nations human rights officials desperately want to hear from her. So do her frantic East Timorese parents. 

These are the facts in one of the most horrifying accounts to emerge from the mayhem that followed East Timor's vote for independence last year: Juliana dos Santos was kidnapped as a "war prize" by Igidio Mnanek, the deputy leader of the notorious Laksaur militia.

Juliana was one of several hundred people sheltering in the grounds of Ave Maria Roman Catholic church in Suai when it was attacked by Indonesian security forces and their Laksaur militia proxies in an unprovoked assault on Sept. 6, 1999, that left as many as 200 people dead, including three priests. Juliana's younger brother Carlos was among those killed. There are unconfirmed reports that she may have witnessed his murder.

The Indonesian government's human rights watchdog, Komnas HAM, in a report published Jan. 31, described what happened at the Suai church as indiscriminate killing, with the victims including men, women and children, aged between 5 and 40. In the chaos that followed the worst recorded atrocity after the UN-organized self-determination plebiscite in East Timor, Juliana was separated from her mother and taken to the district military headquarters. 

It was there that the Laksaur militia deputy leader, Igidio Mnanek, seized the young girl and proclaimed her as his "war prize." He had achieved earlier notoriety by stamping on the body of one of the priests murdered in the Suai church. Within days, Juliana was taken across the border, along with tens of thousands of other East Timorese, many of them against their will. She was next heard of at Raihanek refugee camp in Betun, West Timor. 

Juliana's mother and her aunt were among the East Timorese herded like cattle across the border in September 1999. Learning of her daughter's whereabouts, the distraught mother tried to arrange a meeting. But Mr. Mnanek insisted on being present. "Igidio Mnanek was there with four of his goons. Juliana didn't say anything but was in tears," said Galuh Wandita, a senior UN human rights official closely involved with the case. 

By April, Mrs. dos Santos had returned to East Timor. She tried again for a meeting with Juliana at the Motaain border checkpoint during a series of UN-sponsored family reunions. Letters were exchanged but despite a promised meeting Mrs. dos Santos failed to see her daughter. In June events took an ominous turn. In a letter received by the family, Juliana referred to Mr. Mnanek as "her husband" despite his acquisition of at least "three wives." 

"Obviously this is traumatic for her," Ms. Wandita said. "She has borne him one child and may even be pregnant again. Perhaps she has forged a psychological dependency on Mnanek. She could also have written the letter under duress - we just don't know." 

Fate has not been kind to the dos Santos family. They have now lost all three children. The first son died from illness at a young age, the second was brutally murdered in the Suai church massacre - and now their only daughter has been kidnapped, raped and is living as a wife of one of the leaders of a militia gang responsible for the killing of her brother. 

The most recent news is that Mr. Mnanek has disappeared. He was last seen more than a month ago boarding a plane in Kupang, West Timor, bound for Jakarta. He had been summoned for questioning by Attorney General Marzuki Darusman in relation to war crimes committed in East Timor - a move strongly opposed by the Indonesian military. Grave fears are now held for Juliana's safety, because she knows so much. 

The writer, a journalist based in East Timor, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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