Subject: SMH: Evidence of more brutality haunts the house of death

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, December 16, 1999

Evidence of more brutality haunts the house of death

Balibo: The centuries-old fort in this hilltop village dominating East Timor's north-western land border is crammed with Australian soldiers, and villagers are starting to trickle back and squat in the burnt-out houses.

But one house is empty.

It was here, soldiers point out, that five Australian-based TV newsmen were killed and their bodies burnt when the Indonesian special forces, now known as Kopassus, attacked Balibo on October 16, 1975.

The house has an even more grim reputation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Mick Slater, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, took the visiting Defence Forces chief, Admiral Chris Barrie, on a tour last Saturday afternoon.

The three-room cement house seemed to have been used as an interrogation and torture centre.

"We found bloodstains on the walls consistent with the way Kopassus does things," Colonel Slater said. "They would rape the women, then smash their faces into the wall."

As local people began returning to Balibo after pro-Indonesian militias were driven out by the arrival of 2RAR on October 22, they found bodies in the surrounding fields.

"They brought them in here to mourn," Colonel Slater said. "So it means something to them."

Mr Adam da Purifikasam, secretary of the pro-independence Council of Timorese National Resistance in Balibo, confirms this. "It is where we brought the victims of the militias," he said.

For most of the time, Australian soldiers now interact in a friendly way with Indonesian soldiers when they meet on border duty - swapping magazines and cans of soft drink - but it is not hard to bring out the deep disgust many feel at the militia's violence and destruction.

Many soldiers say they're itching for some "contact" with the militias. "It's what we are all about," said one private.

So far, the militias have stayed well back on the Indonesian side of the border, and their most senior leader, Joao Tavares, this week called on them to disband, so such retribution seems unlikely.

But misgivings about the Indonesian backers of the militias - especially the Kopassus, who until recently were the focus of Australian military training with Indonesia - seem likely to remain among the Australian forces, even though senior officers say the two militaries will have to keep working together for the sake of regional security.

Hamish McDonald


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