|=Subject: NYT on Militia Violence
Date: Sat, 08 May 1999 09:29:52 -0400
From: email@example.com (Chuck Albertson)
New York Times May 6, 1999
DILI JOURNAL In East Timor, Terror Inhabits Even the Hospitals By SETH MYDANS
DILI, Indonesia -- After a recent surge of violence here in East Timor, Julio Vicento limped into the Motael Clinic with a bullet buried in his ankle. He had fled the military hospital, he said, afraid that he might be killed there.
Now he was trying to decide which was worse, the pain in his leg or the possibility that soldiers might find him at the clinic and seize him while he was being treated.
Only six patients were in the ward of the private clinic, all of them with severe gunshot or stab wounds. Those who could had fled this clinic, too, and the chief doctor here, Dan Murphy, said he could not blame them.
The previous weekend "was horrible here," said Murphy, an American from Iowa. "None of us felt secure. There were hand grenades and gunshots going off. And then at night we had militia outside yelling and screaming: 'Why are you taking care of those people? We're coming in to get them."'
"It makes you feel very vulnerable," he said. "You just have to focus on your work. If they come in shooting, what can you do? Nothing."
Many victims of a brutal military-backed group here, known as the Red and White Militia, are too frightened to seek medical care. Scores of people have been killed since January and untold numbers wounded, some in remote areas with little access to medical care.
For three days recently, the volunteer militia rampaged through this drab, tiny seaside capital, firing guns and hacking at their victims with knives and cutlasses. Their targets were separatist guerrillas and their supporters -- people who have been fighting against the military since Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1976.
The victims, like Vicento, faced what seemed a difficult choice.
The only hospital here is run by the military and for years unconfirmed tales have circulated about men who have been killed and women who have been involuntarily sterilized by military doctors.
Other health care workers, most of them from outside East Timor, are now fleeing the small province of 800,000 people, terrified by the threats and killings. Not only the violence of the long-running war, but also epidemics of malaria and tuberculosis are sweeping through East Timor untreated, Murphy said.
Since last November, Murphy, who has also worked in Mozambique, has built the Motael Clinic into a haven for those who fear the military and for other poor people here. The clinic has attracted several other visiting foreign doctors, including Dr. Kevin Baker, an Australian who is now the only surgeon in East Timor.
For the doctors here, the challenge is more than purely medical. It is a test of their personal fortitude, and their ingenuity.
Baker, for example, is more than a surgeon. He is also a handyman, jury-rigging equipment that is not available here.
When Salustian Martinez, 21, was carried into the clinic with a gunshot wound in his leg, the doctor went to the hardware store for a six-inch nail to insert as a pin. While there, he bought a hacksaw too, just in case Martinez's leg needed to be amputated. It didn't.
"Suddenly they attacked," Martinez said in a whisper, describing his injury as he waited for his operation. "We ran and I was shot from behind. Suddenly they came. They shouted, 'Attack!' and I ran. I was shot and I hid in a pigsty."
On a bed beside him lay Alfredo dos Santos, 20, who had been stabbed in the chest. A rosary lay around his neck, and a tube drained fluid from his right lung. "I was just sitting there and suddenly people attacked," he said. "I was stabbed. It was the Red and White Militia. They didn't say anything."
Now Vicento was trying to decide whether to have an operation to remove the bullet from his ankle. He curled and uncurled his X-ray nervously as he talked, with its telltale bright white dot lodged between the gray bones.
"I was shot from a truck," he said. "The day before, we had had a village meeting and the military had promised there would be no more attacks. So villagers who had been hiding in the forest came back. Then they attacked us."
Vicento, 32, made no secret of his separatist sympathies. It was a family legacy, he said. His father, a guerrilla, had been killed at the very start of the war, when Vicento was 7. His mother had died soon afterward, of grief, he said. Vicento, still a child, had carried on the fight.
"We want freedom even if we have to die for it," he said. "All of my family is in the hills now. If they want to kill me, go ahead. I can defend myself."
He sounded much less resolute as he talked about his operation.
"I'm afraid that when I'm lying there empty-handed, someone from the militia will come and get me," he said. "I'll have stitches in my leg and I won't be able to run or walk fast."
Someone asked him how fast he could run with a bullet in his ankle. The question seemed to make sense to him.
Shortly afterward he limped down the clinic's narrow corridor toward the operating room, Baker by his side and a rosary clutched tightly in his fist, to have the bullet removed.