Subject: Liliana: the dark side of E Timor's struggle for freedom

The Australian 19 Dec 99

Liliana: the dark side of freedom

Specialist treatment is the only hope to give a little Dili girl a happy future, reports Walkley Award winner JAN MAYMAN

LILIANA is a child of East Timor, the world's newest nation for the new millennium.

Eight years old, she is just one victim of the military savagery that devastated her land after its people voted for freedom from Indonesia.

Photographer John Kenneth and I found her after a long search in the chaos of Dili.

We had a letter to her father from his refugee brother in Britain.

Through a mutual friend, he had pleaded with us to find Liliana and somehow get her to Australia for medical help.

We learnt that her right eye had been destroyed by shrapnel when Indonesian soldiers and militia gunmen fired on 3000 Catholics sheltering in their church grounds.

They took refuge with their spiritual leader, Nobel Laureate Bishop Carlos Belo, when the Indonesians launched a campaign of terror and mass destruction against the East Timorese after they voted for independence last August.

Scores of men, women and children were killed or wounded in the September 6 church bloodbath, described by an official Indonesian human- rights report as a site of mass murder.

Liliana was just one of the casualties.

Some were killed in the bishop's private chapel ­ now roofless, empty and abandoned.

There are bullet marks and sinister stains on its walls and bullets still lying on the floor.

A bullet-scarred Madonna statue is faceless and stained with gunpowder.

Nearby is a sign saying that the chapel was dedicated to Mary, Queen of Peace.

"They slaughtered us like animals," said Liliana's father, Macario Trinidade, his eyes dull with anguish.

"We were unarmed and helpless. When they shot Liliana, I hugged her to me as she screamed and fainted.

"It was all I could do, I thought we would all die, my wife, Luisa Maria, and our baby Erena, aged three. Liliana was bleeding from her eye and from wounds in her head."

After the first round of killings, the Trinidades saw their beloved Bishop Belo confronted by Indonesian army officers.

"They told him he had to leave us," Mr Trinidade said. "He pleaded to stay but they made him go. Our bishop insisted on praying with us before he went. He told us to remain quiet and not to move. Then the militia took him away in a car.

"We feared he would be killed, that we would be shot, too. After he left, we gave up our lives to God and prepared to die.

"We had already seen a man we knew killed right in front of us. We saw Green Berets (Indonesian commandos) shooting people as they tried to escape. Blood was everywhere."

Mr Trinidade, 30, a former clerk, was anxious to have it recorded that he saw Indonesian army officers trying to halt the frenzied violence.

"I could see them trying to restrain the soldiers," he said.

"I heard one officer, Colonel Caitano, say 'The shooting must stop'. I was in panic, but I remember hearing him say this."

He added: "One of the militia was a good man ­ he tried to protect us. Eventually, the commanding officers managed to regain control."

As the dead and dying lay around them, the terrified congregation watched for hours as TNI and militia troops burned the bishop's residence and chapel, then removed evidence of their barbarity.

"We saw many of our friends dragged off, some dead, some still alive," said Mr Trinidade.

"We have heard that others were chained together and thrown in the sea to drown.

"We know many were taken off to prison camps in West Timor.

"We do not know what has happened to them."

Tens of thousands of East Timorese are still missing today.

After the massacre in the bishop's compound it was a whole day before Liliana's parents could get medical help for her, and have her empty eye socket stitched up.

Although she still smiles often, she is nervous and restless and complains of odd feelings in her head.

Her parents fear that life-threatening pieces of shrapnel may be lodged in her skull.

"We want to take her to Australia for treatment so she can have an artificial eye, but we have no money," Mr Trinidade said.

With his family, he exists now on rice handouts from international aid agencies, like most of the East Timorese population.

He shares a small, two-bedroom house with 11 other people and is grateful that, unlike most houses in Dili, it still has a roof.

There is no electricity, gas, plumbing, phone system, television or radio.

Cooking is done on an open wood fire. Like most other East Timorese, the Trinidades have to walk everywhere in 40C heat with up to 80 per cent humidity.

The scale of destruction in Dili is mind-numbing. It is a city of ruined and mainly roofless buildings, where East Timorese clear rubble with their bare hands in the blazing heat because they have no tools, let alone bulldozers.

Clean water is scarce and expensive, so they are forced to drink from polluted wells. Children are dying every day from gastric and respiratory diseases.

Tuberculosis is rife and medical clinics are overwhelmed with patients.

Hospitals, offices, shops, libraries, banks and vehicles ­ everything was destroyed or looted by the retreating Indonesian army in what Indonesia's own government human rights investigators called an "orchestrated scorched-earth policy" supervised by senior army officers.

Tension is mounting now in Indonesia, where army leaders are calling for their accusers to be punished, and warning of more military violence if they are forced to stand trial for war crimes.

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