Subject: SCMP: E. Timorese woman fighter bears scars of long struggle
Date: Sat, 20 Mar 1999 09:16:39 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

South China Morning Post Monday March 15 1999

East Timor woman fighter bears scars of long struggle

JENNY GRANT in Soibade

Bi Lou Mali is not your average guerilla. Wearing a floral orange sarong, jacket and woollen cap, she stirs a large pot of fresh goat and potato casserole.

In the remote mountain camp, far from her two children, the 35-year-old carries the physical and mental scars of the long war in East Timor.

Bi Lou has a bullet lodged in her right shoulder from being shot by Indonesian troops during an ambush in 1986 at a guerilla base in Aitana.

She had her baby in her arms when they opened fire.

"When I returned to find my baby after the ambush, he was gone," said the only full-time female guerilla in this area in the past 10 years.

The only medical treatment she received for the bullet wound was juice she extracted from a tree.

Both Bi Lou's parents were killed during Indonesian military operations which swept through the countryside in the 1970s searching out members of the resistance.

"I can forgive the Indonesians if they really want to end the war, but personally I can never forget what has happened to my family," she said, looking down at her mud-covered rubber boots.

Some of Bi Lou's guerilla girlfriends in the neighbouring Romelau Mountain region were captured by Indonesian military patrols and raped while in custody.

She says children resulting from these rapes are often handed over to orphanages run by various religious orders.

Dominican sisters in the nearby village of Soibade are raising a two-year-old boy as their own because both his parents are fighting with the rebels.

"His parents are both fighting in the bush," said Sister Manuela.

"It's very hard because he no longer recognises his real mother and we are too afraid to tell the people in case he is rejected."

Perched on a rocky hilltop in an old Portuguese seminary, the nuns say they do not have enough rice to feed the 100 pupils who board with them.

"We have to plant bananas and corn just to survive now. Rice is so expensive and hard to find. We only have 10 kilos left," said Sister Manuela at her kitchen table, motioning at the remaining sacks of rice.

Soibade is inaccessible after heavy rains because there is no bridge across the swirling river.

With heavy afternoon rains, the nuns say they might not be able to get to Dili to buy more rice for another week.

Village women here brew tuak alcohol from rice and fruit to send to the guerillas through a clandestine network known as the Line.

They open their homes to clandestine visitors bringing supplies for the camp where Bi Lou is based, two hours' climb up the mountainside.

Bi Lou says she looks forward to the time when the conflict is over.

She has not seen her two remaining children for three years after handing them over to friends to raise.

"One thing I will do is reunite my family. I know I have lost a lot over these years, but for the time being I'm happy to help out," she says, moving a semi- automatic rifle away from the camp fire.

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