Subject: Irish Times: The Abuse of East Timorese Women
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:33:15 -0400
From: "East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign" <>

Source; IT Fashion Magazine Date: 30th July 1999

The following article was accompanied by six photographs taken in occupied East Timor.




THE ELDERLY WOMAN HAS waited a quarter of a century to break. Crowded into a duty bamboo hut somewhere in East Timor's Viqueque district, she appears before us glassy-eyed trembling in the oil lamp's glow.

I am travelling through the forested hills with two Australians and a party of Timorese; a rendezvous has been arranged with 'Falintil', the armed wing of the resistance movement.

It is a gruelling night-time trek, wading through rivers and dense vegetation. The stop-off at the house for tea and food brings us into contact with a woman who has not met foreigners since before the 1975 Indonesian invasion. She whispers in her Tetum dialect how she was once a contact for Xanana Gusmao, the jailed rebel leader.

Witgh a shell-shocked look, she relates her secret: how she was arrested in 1975 by the hated military, stripped and tortured with cigarette butts. She does not mention rape but we wonder.

Our three days spent with Falintil rebels in the hills leave us i no doubt that terrible things have happened here.

We learn how the Indonesians managed to kill 60,000 people in the first ten weeks they were here. How by 1977, having conquered just the capital, Dili, and a few clumps of territory, the Indonesians commenced Operation Encirclement and Annihilation using Americal-supplied 'Bronco' bombers.

Tens of thousands of people who had fled to these mountains were forced doown under a ferocious aerial onslaught. Falintil fighters tell me most of the population was relocated in what were virtually concentration camps after they surrendered.

"We were bombed twelve times a day at different times during 1978-80," says Commander Sabica, one of only ten Falintil fighters still alive since 1975 and leader of Region 2. "I don't know how many were killed then."

Violence against women has been fundamental to the 24-year effort to 'Indonesianise' the island.

Located in the non-volcanic Sunda island chain, 300 miles off Australia's Northern Territories, East Timor was a Portuguese colony for 400 years, the island's western half being part of the Dutch East Indies.

In April 1974, after the 'Carnation Revolution' in Lisbon ended 48 years' of facist dictatorship, Portugal began relinquishing its colonies. From the begining, two main political parties emerged in Dili: the more conservative UDT (Timorese Democratic Union) and the socialist Fretlin (from the Portuguese acronym of Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor).

Indonesia, which had coveted the island since the 1940's argued that Fretelin would create 'Cuba in the Pacific', and began gearing up for invasion persuading UDT elements, with a combination of bribes and blackmail, tgo stage a coup in Dili in August 1975, as the Portuguese withdrew.

A brief civil war erupted where Fretelin emerged as a defacto administration, winning local elections and on November 28th 1975, declaring the Democratic Republic of East Timor.

The following week, US President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State paid a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, a visit later described as the 'big wink'; as Airforce One left for the States, a massive air and sea invasion began in Dili.

People tell me repeatedly over my seven weeks in East Timor about the December 1975 invasion.

There was just one western eyewitness, the lederly waiter at Dili's Turismo Hotel says; Australian freelance reporter Roger East, shot in the head by Indonesian troops and dumped off Dili's wharf. The waiter rememebers him well.

A single, desperate radio signal, almost buried in static, was picked up in Darwin, Australia: "The soldiers are firing indiscriminately...." it said.

"Women and children are being shot in the streets.... We are all going to be killed.... This is an appeal for internation help. This is an SOS. We appeal to the Australian people. Please help us..."

No action from Canberra. Sixty thousand Timorese had died in World War Two, helping the Australians stall the Imperial Japanese. In 1974-5, they earnestly hoped the radical reformer, Labour prime minister, Edward Gough Whitlam would be their champion.

But Whitlam had met the Indonesian dictator, General Suharto, in September 1974 to rubber-stgamp the 'integration' of Indonesia's 27th province.

Washington had said Fretelin was red and besides, the Timor sea is rich in oil and gas.

"The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs" dead hand has influenced all the prime ministers and foreign ministers over 23 years to say Suharto was someone we must support, because by doing so, we would diminish the threat Indonesia posed to Australia and this cut our defence budget in half...." says Rob Wesley Smith, and Australian activist.

Fretelin put up a fierce resistance, backed by most of the population, but armed to the teeth with Western-supplied weapons, the Indonesian Army devastated the island.

Since 1975, 200,000 peple, one third of the population, have died in East Timor. The island was closed to all foreign visitors until 1989, the scale of the Timorese holocaust only becoming clear to the world in November 1991, when a brave British cameraman, Max Stahl (a psuedonym) filmed scores of Timorese protesters against Indonesian rule being gunned down by the military at Dili's Santa Cruz Cemetery.

"There was a huge silence.... it was a vacuum from the late seventies. People in towns never knew what was going on in the countryside. We knew nothing about Xanana. The fear was so stuck in, people were afrqaid to talk," says Maria Soares who left East timor in 1985.

Timorese women since 1975 have been brutalised, through rape, torture and murder, confirming to the overall pattern of enslavement and extermination.

But they have also been subject to state-sponsored population-control programmes. Forcibly regulating their fertility, restricting birth rates and forcing institutionalised 'concubines' or 'comfort women' to service Indonesian soldiers is part of 'Indonesianisation'

So is resettling large numbers of Muslim 'transmigrants' from Java in the predominantly catholic island to dilute the local population.

I travel to Fokupers (derived from Indonesian acronym of communication Forum for East Timor Women) to meet Maria Lourdes da Costa (not real name). She describ es a women Fokupers she has worked with as; a girl who was forced to work as a 'concubine' at an Indonesian Army Base.

"We meet many women who were raped. One example is 'Lucai',. She had five children by different men... Indonesian military, the oldest daughter is about 17 now.

"She and her family were suspected of supplying logistics to Falintil. She was unmarried, young... After they raped her, she was put in camp,. Every day she had to cook for them, get water from the sewers, get wood. At night....they had sexual relations with her... they forced her to change partners".

"When she opened up, she told us: 'if I didn't follow orders... they give me the gin.'

"She cried and cried, she said: "My personality is under my feet. I am not a human being any more/."

Singora Abrantes says that a woman like 'Lucai' will ostracised, called a whore/ and her children shunned. She does not know how many 'comfort women' are now being held by the military.

Counselling and rehabilitation facilities for rape victims are almost non-existent in East Timor Fokupers has also worked with survivors form the notorious "Widow's village'. Says Signora da Costa;

"In 1983, lots of men aged 13 or 14 up to about 50 were killed in front of wives, daughters and sisters in Kraras. We have four target groups; widows, political prisioners' wives, female political prisioners' and rape victims." She adds "The main problem is the war... but also our culture marginalises women... they are subordinate to men. When the Portuguese were here, it was all hierarchy... our culture is patriarchal".

Fundamental to a process of gradually eradicating the East Timorese race is the notorious KB program (Program Keluarga Berencana).

Birth control and reproductive rights will, of course, be contenious social issues in a deeply Catholic and patriarchal society when independence is achieved. But as the poorest of Indonesia's provinces, almost two thirds of women here and half of men have never attended any kind of school; 52.7% illiteracy rates in people over 10 are twice those in West Papua, the next worst province.

The coercive of forced methods of implementing the KB program thus breach Article 2(d) of the Convention on the Prevention of Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, prohibiting the deliberate limitation of births within minority groups.

The right to free, informed and consenting methods of birth control are also enshrined in Chapter 7 of the 1994 Cairo Declaration and the 1985 Beijing Declaration.

I travel to Ermera, in the island's at the town's uplands every month at the town's hospital, Indonesian doctors arrived and administer the KB program.

Says Rose Tilman (Not real name) of the resistane-affiliated OMT (Orgaizacao Mulhern Timor) or Timorese Women's Organisation;

"East Timorese are told they only need two children...some of the people who accept this, hide it from the Church who forbid it. Every month the Indonesian doctors come, with Timorese nurses...every district. At the clinic they show women how to use coils or inject them with hormones..."

The KB program was introduced here in 1980, once most of Fretelin had been killed. Documents from Fokupers say that East timor's TFR (Total Fertility Rate) is now 3.3 births per woman, a population density in 1980-90 of 37 people per square kilometre having risen to 50 people in that time, halfo the average in other Indonesian provinces.

The KB program is mainly implemented through the National Fami8ly Planning Co-ordination Board (BKKBN) who have offices in each administrative district.

There were reportedly 92 KB clinics in East timor in 1993. They liaise with The Department of Health (Department Kesehatan) and the hated Armed Forces (ABRI) in its 'dual function'.

She says that women who decline the 'advice'and coaxing of the government-run Women's Brigade, the Dharma Wanita, to attend KB clinics, ris ABRI harassment, at the very least, if they bear more children than the two they are "allowed", these have no State entitlements.

Women who suffer side effects (sometimes fatal) are not entitled to compensation or specialised care.

The twin methods of the KB program hormonal injections of the IUD coils, have caused many problems, including etopic pregnancies, cancer, weight-loss and menstrual difficulties.

OMT workers tell me there are two injected drugs used; Net-En given monthly and Depo-Provera, given every three months.

My trip to Ermera includes a visit to refugees, displaced by a bloody massacre the previous day in a church in Liquica, a combined "Besir Merah Putih" (Red and White Iron) and ABRI job.

Several people are killed by the BMP here on a bus two days later. BMP and other groups e.g. 'Mahidi' and 'Rati' are "prointegration" paramilitaries, armed and trained by the military, locally recruited mercenaries and enforcers have long been an element of the occupation.

I am told "Maybe the government realises there is no point in holding East Timor... there is nothing in it. They can't live with defeat. The Indonesian military has other ideas. They are trying to make things impossible saying; 'if we have to go, we'll just wrect the whole place'."

Despite a period of so-called 'reformasi' following May 1998 when after 32 years of despotic rule General Suharto was forced to step down, things are grim.

His successor, the millionaire techocrat BJ Habibie, has inherited a deeply undemocratic and corrupt state.

Most of the nearly 200 million Indonesian population live in densely populated Java, but most of the national revenue is generated in the 'outer islands' from oil and gas and where, as in East Timor, Javanese domination is resented.

A free East Timor might give other people ideas in an archipelago of 13,300 islands with four religions and countless ethnic groups.

Amid talk of 'referenda' on independence, ABRI is trying to contrive 'civil war' here to abort any UN presence or peaceful transition to independence. Despite this, many young Timorese women, exiled to Australia as children, or born there after 1975, hope they can return.

"I don't know, I'm hoping to go back this year. I'm not ready to get my hopes up and have the rug pulled from under me as has happened before..." says Laca Bernardino, who fled to Darwin as a 14-year oold.

Sandra Dos Santos, who was an infant when the invasion came about, says she hopes she and the other exiles will be able o return to a free East Timor.

"I really hope it will be soon... I don't know if it will be to live, but I will go there on and off...I'v now seen a lot of young people involved in Timor, that I hadn't seen before. A lot of them said they want to go back, but until the time comes..."

One day these women will be reunited with the women in East Timor. All of them hope it will be under their flag, not Indonesia's.

All of them hope it will be sooner not later. East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign Suite 16, Dame House 24-26 Dame Street Dublin 2 Telephone 00 353 1 671 9207/ 677 0253 /623 3148 Mobile 087 286 0122 Fax 00 353 1 671 9207 Timorese Community in Ireland 00 353 1 453 1462 web Offices in: Dublin Belfast Laois Galway Claremorris

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