Subject: Blood on their hands (Liquica massacre)
Blood on their hands
April 3, 2009
A decade after a massacre intended to blunt East Timor's demands for independence, Lindsay Murdoch finds that the appetite for justice continues unabated.
We confronted the mass murderer as his men hosed blood from his balcony; Leoneto Martins angrily denied the massacre in the East Timorese town where he was Indonesia's appointed mayor.
Before suggesting it was unsafe for myself and three other journalists to remain in Liquica, a seaside town of 55,000 people 30 kilometres west of the capital Dili, Martins dismissed our questions by claiming clashes between rival groups had resulted in five deaths. We suspected he was lying.
Shops and markets were closed and the usually busy streets were largely deserted, except for menacing groups of men wearing bandanas and ribbons in the red and white of Indonesia's flag. Wide-eyed terror in the faces of women searching for family members confirmed the presence of something terrible.
But on that stifling April 6 early morning 10 years ago the extent and brutality of what the world would come to know as the Liquica Massacre - the slaughter of between 30 and 100, probably 86, innocent East Timorese in the quaint Sao Joao de Brito church - was not immediately evident. Liquica was the first of many attacks across East Timor that left about 1500 people dead and thousands more raped, maimed or wounded.
While Catholics across Australia will be asked this weekend to observe a minute's silence, Eurico Guterres, an organiser of the Liquica massacre, will spend the anniversary campaigning in Indonesian West Timor for election to the national parliament. And former general Wiranto, the Indonesian in charge of the military-inspired reign of terror across East Timor that year, will be campaigning to become the nation's next president.
In East Timor events have not so neatly moved on. "When I speak with the victims, the one thing they ask me is 'when will there be justice?'," says Christina Carrascalao, a local who has begun her own crusade to improve the lives of survivors, many of them poor and illiterate farmers. "I tell them I can't answer that."
Rafael dos Santos was the Liquica church priest that terrible day. He tells how police shot tear gas into the church and how riot police, the Brimob, fired shots into the air and at people inside the church. That facilitated the entry to church grounds of the Besi Merah Putih pro-Indonesian militia, who began the massacre with arrows and spears.
"The people hit by the tear gas ran outside with their eyes closed," says Dos Santos. "Then the BMP hacked them. The name of this is murder."
The priest was bustled away at gunpoint by an Indonesian soldier as people inside his house tried to grab his robes, touching them and shouting "we are dying, we are dying".
Attackers shot dead people cowering in the priest's bedroom and troops climbed on the roof and shot several teenagers hiding between the ceiling and roof.
Only low to mid-level militia have been convicted over any of the 1999 atrocities, Liquica included. Indonesian military and police officers are beyond reach in Indonesia. Martins was among 19 accused of crimes against humanity at a Jakarta trial derided as a sham by human rights groups; all were acquitted. Guterres served two years of a 10-year sentence for crimes against humanity before being acquitted on appeal last year.
East Timor leaders - the President, Jose Ramos Horta, a 1996 Nobel laureate, and the former president Xanana Gusmao, a former freedom fighter who is now the Prime Minister - oppose calls for an international war crimes tribunal, saying reconciliation is more important than new trials. They warn of a possible backlash within the Indonesian military and destabilisation of their country's fledgling democracy.
Ramos Horta and Gusmao are scheduled to attend the Liquica church this weekend to mark the anniversary, but there will be none of the hero's welcome the latter received in 1999 on return from six years in a Jakarta jail.
Clinton Fernandes, a former Australian intelligence officer who was reporting in East Timor on 1999, says East Timorese cannot see why they should be punished for petty crimes, such as stealing a chicken, when people responsible for mass murder go unpunished. "The rule of law today cannot succeed amid a culture of impunity for horrific crimes," says Fernandes, a University of NSW lecturer.
He says the Liquica massacre shocked the world because of the clear involvement of Indonesian military in escalating violence against pro-independence supporters. The massacre also violated the sanctity of the church, where an estimated 2000 people had fled to escape violence.
"There is no statute of limitations for serious crimes such as murder, torture and sexual slavery," Fernandes says. "With time and pressure, there will be an international tribunal. It is … the only way ahead."
Carrascalao says survivors see their leaders as having opted for reconciliation over justice. "They understand the need for reconciliation but at the same time they believe there must be justice if what happened is not to happen again," she says.
Many victims have severe psychological problems and lapse into deep depression, while those bearing wound marks find it difficult to integrate in society. "Many of them [are] drunk and they cannot hold down jobs or feed their families."
Carrascalao says only five bodies were returned to families after the massacre. "Most of the families of survivors don't know where their loved ones are buried," she says.
Witnesses say that the bodies were taken from Liquica on trucks almost immediately after the massacre. When Father Rafael returned to the church after four hours, he found no bodies. A few days later, as news of the massacre reverberated around the world, the military arrived at the church unannounced, mopped up the blood and patched the bullet holes in an apparent cover-up.
Carrascalao, too, knows suffering.
Eleven days after the Liquica massacre, Guterres stood in front of a crowd of pro-Indonesian militia in Dili and called members of her family "traitors" and enemies and urged attacks on them.
Soon after, Carrascalao, then 20, and her father Manuel - a pro-independence leader from an influential Dili family - received a call from her brother Manelito, 18, who told them Guterres had stormed the family house with other militia and, with a gun to Manelito's head, was demanding their whereabouts.
"Don't come home, he will kill you," Manelito warned
The Indonesian military ignored their pleas for help. Before they reached the family home - where 100 independence supporters, half of them survivors of the Liquica massacre, had sought refuge - they were blocked by armed Indonesian police. Minutes later, Guterres led an attack on the house, killing Manelito and at least 11 others.
The United Nations says militia and Indonesian soldiers took part. A campaign of terror against independence ran for months, but the perpetrators underrated the bravery of the East Timorese, who defied the intimidation and voted overwhelmingly in a United Nations referendum in August that year to break from Jakarta's rule.
"Ten years later we want to get on with our lives but it's difficult when there hasn't been justice for what happened," Carrascalao says.
Source: <http://www.smh.com.au> The Sydney Morning Herald
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