Subject: SCMP feature: Chinese legacy of fear in Dili
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 23:31:53 EDT

South China Morning Post Monday, August 30, 1999

Main Feature

Chinese legacy of fear in Dili


Today in Dili not only will Timorese and Indonesians vote in the ballot on East Timor's future. Chinese will do so too.

Around the corner from Dili's New Recende Hotel is a compound marked out by a high, clean wall, over the top of which some distinctly Chinese eaves are visible. Through the large open gate is a haven of colourful peace - Dili's fully functioning Chinese temple.

A couple of local Chinese are lighting incense and placing coins in time-honoured fashion while in the room next door sits an aged Chan Chao. Originally from Macau, the frail Mr Chan says he came to East Timor in 1950, when it was still under Portuguese rule, and that he has worked at this temple for six years.

"Before," says Mr Chan, meaning before the Indonesians came, "there were many Chinese here, about 20,000. Now there are much less - they are afraid.

"When there is no problem, they will come back."

They've gone to Surabaya, Java's second city, to Bali and Jakarta. Many more have migrated to Australia, Taiwan or Portugal. Some only left this year while others are on business trips, collecting supplies for more sales in Dili.

"There is no problem between the Chinese and Timorese," says Mr Chan. "It's no problem."

The problem, he implies, is between Timorese and the Indonesians, and the Chinese are regarded by Timorese as allies until proven otherwise.

"Toko Lay - 1959" is the inscription on one of the more elegant four-storey, Portuguese-era, Chinese-owned shops in Dili, East Timor. Its clean stone facade and high ceilings are now home to plumbing parts, plugs and pipes for sale.

But this shop has been both refuge and a place of massacre in East Timor's violent occupation by Indonesia - demonstrating the unique place of ethnic Chinese in the Timorese community.

"We like the Chinese here," said a young, educated ethnic-Timorese driver. "We like anyone who's not from Java, but the Chinese are our friends."

The attitude toward Chinese here is indeed different to that mixture of resentment over riches and outright racism that dogs ethnic Chinese communities across other parts of Indonesia.

One local in Dili suggested that might be because Chinese are prepared to do the business that Timorese are less interested in, namely supplying goods for sale, and with the stakes in this economy so small, competition has yet to appear.

However, a glance at what happened at Toko Lay (Toko means shop, and Lay is the family name), also shows that Chinese and Timorese have long shared the pain of Indonesian occupation, forging close bonds in the process.

In August 1975, when Portugal abdicated responsibility for its colony, politicking began on the ground between local leaders, some advocating immediate self-rule and others arguing for association with Indonesia. Indonesia already was involved well before its December 7, 1975 invasion, and has long described that August-December period as the "civil war" which it felt obliged to help end.

Through the instability, many people left their homes and gathered in the few large buildings of Dili, such as Toko Lay and the Assistencia building. Refugees came from regional towns such as Liquica, Suai and Same. Families sent their daughters to the Bishop's palace for fear of rape by the Indonesians.

Toko Lay was owned then by Lay Tin Hsiong, who had gone abroad a few months earlier. His brother-in-law, Chico Lay, gave permission for the Chinese community to use the building.

A Chinese trader from Dili, Chong Kui Yan, had moved his family into Toko Lay in August, and they were still there on December 8, 1975, the day after Indonesia's invasion. This is what he later told Amnesty International:

"There were more than one hundred people staying at the Toko Lay. The Indonesians first attacked at about 6.30am. In the Toko Lay we heard a lot of shooting and the sound of machine guns. At about 10 that morning they started bombarding and shooting at the house.

"People started screaming, saying they were civilians, not political. One person, Tsam I Tin, who had come to Dili from Same, came out of the house next to the Toko Lay to surrender and was shot dead. His son came out also and was also shot but not fatally. He pretended to be dead and survived.

"The Indonesians then broke into the building and told everyone to come out. They took us down to the beach by the Sporting Club. There were more than 10 of them. All of us were taken, including my wife who was pregnant, and my child. When we were in front of the Sporting Club, we were made to sit in line. The Indonesians made as though they were going to shoot at us but did not fire.

"When people cried out, the Indonesians ordered us to walk on for about 50 metres down towards the harbour. We were told to stop again and to face the sea. The taller ones were told to stand in front, the shorter ones behind. Again they cocked their rifles and made as if to fire. Then they made us walk toward the harbour gate. Again they cocked their rifles and the people were scared again.

"Then the Indonesians told the women and children to go to the Chinese school. They started gesturing because we couldn't understand their language. We thought from their gestures that they wanted us to go and clean up somewhere . . ."

Mr Chong was made part of a burial detail for the next few days - digging graves, burying Indonesian and East Timorese victims, some of whom he knew.

"After we had thrown all the bodies in the sea, about 20 people were brought in, made to face the sea and shot dead," he reported. "They were Chinese people who lived in Colmera" - the part of Dili where Toko Lay is located. They were killed by Indonesian troops who shot them in the head with M-16 rifles.

"In the first group were about 20 people. More came later including the 10 of our group who had stayed outside in the garden," Mr Chong recalled.

"After the killing stopped, we spent another one or two hours tying the people as before [to poles weighted with bricks] and throwing them in the sea . . . Eventually we were allowed to go."

A list compiled of the 24 Chinese names of people thought killed in those first days of Indonesian rule includes 11 people called Lay, and a range of people aged from 16 to 60. Some were traders, one a carpenter, another a cook and several students. In many cases, it took relatives months to find out what had happened.

Also in December 1975, a group of 50 Chinese males were reported to have been killed in the town of Maubara - just one of many random massacres carried out by the Indonesian invasion force.

That force was masterminded by the future (now retired) armed forces chief, Benny Murdani. One of his closest informal colleagues was a Chinese trader. This may be why local guides in Dili today make careful distinctions between "Orang Cina Timur", and "Orang Cina Jawa" - that is, between Chinese-Timorese and Chinese-Indonesians.

Indonesia's invasion allowed for the military and its Chinese friends to take over local industries such as coffee production, for more than two lucrative decades. It wrought other changes too: the crumbling elegance of the former Taiwanese consul and Chamber of Commerce, down by the waterfront, is now home to a detachment from the Indonesian air force.

Today in Dili, the architecture is hardly changed. Toko Lay is still owned by members of the Lay family. The current boss is Lay Chung Eng, son of the founder, who was away this month in Kupang, capital of the western, Indonesian-ruled part of Timor, getting new light fittings and cans of paint for sale. The store is slumbering in the pre-siesta heat, showing few signs of the days when hand grenades were rolled through the door by the invaders.

Aquick drive around the couple of wide, dusty streets that make up Dili's commercial district shows that all basic trades - household goods, foodstuffs, motorcycle spare parts, electronics, domestic fuel supply - are in Chinese hands.

The popular local bakery, Toko Aru, is owned by a family which is half-Chinese and half-Irian, from the other disputed Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. The Hotel Turismo is owned by Chinese Alex Samara, currently in Surabaya, and his niece confirms that there is no Chinese Chamber of Commerce or similar group, "but lots of friends".

The one exception among big businesses is the biggest of the lot, namely the grocery shop, Batara Indah. "That's owned by people from Jakarta, selling things from Singapore," said a neighbouring store-owner.

Locals are happy to point out precisely where each Chinese is deemed to come from. Most Chinese are all right, the consensus seemed to be, but local Chinese are best. No doubt that's why 32-year- old Claricia Lay Ming Chu has chosen to stay in Dili, where she owns and runs the main supermarket, Jacinta.

On a typical day - around the four-hour closure for siesta in the afternoon - customers include blue-bereted United Nations personnel and journalists alongside local householders.

Ms Lay traces her roots to Guangdong. Her grandfather on her mother's side was born just inland from Hong Kong, but he migrated to then-Portuguese East Timor and married a Timorese from the East Timorese region of Viqueque - the place Ms Lay now calls home.

Most of her family has now migrated to Australia but Ms Lay has married a Chinese from the capital of Sulawesi, Ujung Pandang, and business is good in Dili.

"Because I like Timor," says Ms Lay, when asked why she stays. "It's different in Australia where I know it's very developed, but I like it here."

She has two daughters at school in Australia, Melissa, 11, and Stephanie, nine, but keeps two-year-old Karen by her side. One of her aunts lives in Kowloon and Ms Lay has visited her.

"My [late] mother was Catholic but my father is Buddhist, and on all the important good days, I still go to the temple," she says. "But every week, I go to church."

In the large room through the door at the back of the supermarket, Ms Lay's home is decorated with Chinese scrolls and urns, Catholic icons, a large television, a Buddha and the Pope, alongside framed photographs of her far-flung family.

As we spoke, most of her 18 staff dropped in, smiling, to punch their time-cards in the clock. Ten of the staff are of Ms Lay's family, six of them living with her, and she describes all 18 as Timorese.

All the Lays in East Timor probably originated in Guangdong, but Ms Lay says she is of a different family to that which owns Toko Lay. "But [East] Timor is very small, and everyone is a little bit family - it's a good family," she said.

Ms Lay remembers when there was a Chinese school in Dili, but it has closed down now. "Before 1975, I went there in the mornings and to the Portuguese school in the afternoons. After Indonesia came, everything was different," she says, adding she can speak Putonghua, English and Portuguese, some Indonesian and Tetum (the local language), and understands Cantonese a little bit.

Now with the UN in town too, business is booming. "I already ordered many things from Surabaya. Everything the UN likes, I try to order - milk, cheese, ice cream, chocolates . . .

"I don't have my own security [forces]. All the security here is done by Indonesians, and since the UN came, it's even better."

Timorese residents like Ms Lay have seen enough in their lifetimes to know to keep their heads down, whoever is in charge. The back of her shop is guarded by high concrete walls with broken glass on top, and sturdy gates.

As with people around the world, her primary desire is for peace and stability.

"But I'm very scared. We could have 1975 again," she fears. "I don't sleep well at night. My friends don't either."

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