Subject: E. Timor's difficult questions of reconciliation (2 artilces)

also:JP: A way of healing people in E. Timor

The Jakarta Post February 14, 2001


The following two articles by The Jakarta Post journalist Ati Nurbaiti deal with reconciliation in East Timor, written after an invitation to Dili to attend the first congress of the Association of Journalists of Timor Lorosae in January.

JAKARTA (JP): In the face of accumulated, unsettled crimes, a commission of truth and reconciliation has been set up in East Timor. Related questions are similar to that regarding Indonesia's similar commission: How is reconciliation to be achieved without accountability on the part of those guilty?

Those who issued orders to kill in Liquica in 1999 reportedly promised a sum of Rp 75,000 "per head". Reconciliation in East Timor is not simply closing the divide of "us" versus "them". One Liquica man is still distraught after killing his own wife, an activist helping victims said.

Cases under investigation and those to be tried are limited to those occurring since 1999. Meanwhile, pro-Indonesian Timorese have said that the victims on their side, reaching tens of thousands in the 1970s, have never been mentioned given "the bias of the West" toward the independence movement.

Aitarak militia leader Eurico Guterres, on trial for illegal possession of weapons in Jakarta, has said that reconciliation in East Timor would only mean pro-Indonesian Timorese "bowing down to (East Timorese leader) Xanana".

Picking priorities would mean glossing over accounts of many past massacres, tortures and rapes reported from various regions, the mysterious deaths of babies at the Dili hospital -- suspected to be related to their parents' association to the independence movement -- and many other unresolved atrocities.

Horror stories compiled by writers and researchers match accounts of genocide from Cambodia, regarding systematic, methodical "warfare".

The killing of babies, pregnant women and their fetus in attacks on villagers is referred to by an Indonesian officer, as quoted by sociologist George J. Aditjondro from an Indonesian magazine, as the killing of "little and big snakes", seemingly to avoid a potential new generation of revengeful enemies.

Defining reconciliation will take some time as indicated by differences among Timor figures, notably among leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao and Dili Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo.

While Belo advocates that justice be done, Xanana has said legal proceedings against suspected criminals could deter thousands of Timorese on the border from returning home.

Xanana has said that customary ways of "reconciliation" are preferred -- meaning encouraging militiamen to speak of their wrongdoings before the bereaved; then have them do community work as a means of redemption.

Community ways of reconciling victims and crime perpetrators have already begun in East Timor's Oecussi enclave in East Nusa Tenggara. "The man who killed his own uncle came to our family to confess," said Oecussi native Francis Suni.

A number of other militiamen have traveled to Oecussi to convey similar stories, pointing to places where the bodies were dumped, he said. Then they quietly returned to "self-exile" despite offers to return. "We told the man, who has a degree in agriculture, that his skills were needed to rebuild Oecussi," Francis said.

He explained such revelations are made possible by customs regarding crimes in the community, which dictate that perpetrators are accepted back once they confess.

"I pity militiamen," said Francis, who was held at gunpoint by his adopted brother. "One said he and several others were forced by soldiers to consume pills -- some were brown and white -- they couldn't have acted on their own."

If pro-Indonesia militiamen went to Oecussi, to check on their land and remaining cattle, "no one would harm them, we would just let them be," Francis said.

This seems to be a rare case, with villagers elsewhere saying members of a militia would be accepted back into the community but with one condition -- "we'd hand them over first to the (UN) civil police".

In Balibo near the Indonesian border, townspeople say they would not harm militiamen "unless they resist" being taken to the civil police.

In Liquica, site of massacres in April and September 1999, the local priest says the thirst for revenge is ebbing.

"People no longer rush to see returning refugees" to check if any militia is among them, Father Yosef Daslan said.

Belo has been quoted as saying that reconciliation is not possible if justice is not served, citing the scores of women who have watched their husbands killed and those who cannot rest until the bodies are found.

Some widows have said they are willing to testify -- but when it comes to courts in Jakarta, some have expressed distrust.

"They know what will happen, the guilty will get away," says Laura Abarrantes of Fokupers women's organization.

More victims speaking up is crucial for the courts trying serious crimes -- including murder, rape, forced removal, torture and disappearance.

Judges say expectations for justice face the obstacle of many women still to speak up despite many testimonies already, as confided to the church, researchers or activists.

The lack of women investigators into crimes against humanity is one problem, says UN expert for crimes against humanity, James Dunn.

The most urgent need, says Dunn, "is Indonesian officers breaking ranks" with those who must protect themselves and their careers by keeping silent, even though some may have not agreed to orders and actions affecting civilians.

In the discourse of reconciliation, there are women who are even more silent.

With a smile, Theresa in Dili says that she and husband are going their separate ways, indefinitely.

"He cannot come home, let him stay there," says Theresa of her husband, a native of Kupang now residing in Atambua, a border town.

"He's a member of Aitarak," the Dili-based militia, she said.

The Jakarta Post February 14, 2001


A way of healing people in E. Timor

DILI, East Timor (JP): How do you cheer up whole villages hit twice by armed gangs killing and burning everything in sight?

"With competitions -- sports, boat races, cooking, singing," says Father Yosef Daslan of the Liquica parish in East Timor's western region.

Months after the September 1999 violence that drove Timorese into hiding following their vote for independence, the priest returned from his hometown in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, to find members of his congregation sitting around glumly on the streets.

They needed cheering up and the contests worked so well that an international organization is donating bicycles for races in the next contest.

"We decided to hold it every year," Daslan told The Jakarta Post. He was speaking in his office which is also the priest's official residence -- and now also a monument to the massacre of April 6, 1999.

The priest, who replaces Father Raphael dos Santos who survived the attack, displays the new tiles, window panes and a dark spot of dry blood missed in the cover-up of crucial evidence only three days after the April killings.

The church, he says, now must help people recover their courage to speak up. But it turned out that the first urgent need was "to be merry".

The assault by pro-Indonesia militias is now among cases investigated by Indonesia's Attorney General's Office. The attack was part of the tension ahead of the Aug. 30 referendum and in September, the violence was repeated. Once again, Liquica residents fled to the hills.

Figures of both the April and September attacks for Liquica alone have not yet been formally released -- but there are some 100 widows and scores of orphans in Liquica and nearby Maubara -- among them witnesses of both tragedies.

The mourning here is for both the deaths and the absence of knowing where bodies lie for many of them. Adding to the pain, as in all areas ravaged by violence in East Timor, is that close relatives are among the attackers.

Witnesses of family losses are easily found -- the young journalists who witnessed parents being shot dead when attempting to escape in the late 1970s; a witness of a massacre in Los Palos in the 1980s.

"I was about 10, I was sitting on a boulder at a distance," a native of Los Palos said. "I saw a line of men in fatigues giving orders to the second line in front of them, or killing those who hesitated."

The second layer was ordered to kill some 30 men and women, the source recalls, and he later learned that similar killings occurred in three other villages.

Similar to women in Liquica, in Maliana's Balibo area, Inazu Colo cannot yet discuss reconciliation. She would like to know where her husband is buried -- as she is sure that he is dead along with seven other men abducted in September 1999.

Inazu works in the very house where she and other women took food to their men every day, until one day she was told by a neighbor: "Go home, he is no longer here."

The house, which initially belonged to a militia leader, is now the local headquarters of Xanana's organization, the National Council for East Timor Resistance (CNRT). It is right across from the remains of a building occupied by five journalists from Australia, Britain and New Zealand before they were killed in 1975.

The building, an abandoned shop, has been continuously used by residents as a shrine to pray for all those whose remains are found in the area.

Similar to Father Daslan, a women's group, Fokupers, has also tried to help victims recover. Far from the reconciliation plans to accept back "those who robbed my husband", in the words of one Liquica widow, and far from the courts, the healing rituals aim for the first step in healing victims -- finding their voice.

On the surface, Laura says, Timorese "have grown used to gang fights; we've become hardened". But once the women began to talk, "they cried and cried".

One healing ritual took place in the Kararas village in Viqueque district, the site of a 1983 massacre of some 1,000 villagers, which witnesses say was conducted by the Indonesian military. Laura said the women talked of their children fathered by soldiers who raped them.

Abortion was out of the question in the Catholic community, and the illegitimate youngsters had grown up without school, rejected for inexplicit, yet clear, reasons.

There are reportedly scores of such children, who pose yet another challenge for those working in healing and reconciliation. (anr) 

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 is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from