Timor marks bitter anniversary of Indon invasion
East Timor marks bitter anniversary of Indonesian invasion
DILI, East Timor, Dec 5 (AFP) - The bodies began to wash ashore about a week after Indonesia invaded East Timor 24 years ago.
"I buried one man over there on the beach," said Joao Pereira, 56, who was a waiter at the seafront hotel Turismo when Indonesian troops landed on December 7, 1975.
Pereira, who still works at the hotel, said the legs of the East Timorese victim had been bound.
The waiter turned and motioned further along the water's edge.
"I buried one old man who died over there, and I buried one little boy."
They were among the first of what Amnesty International has estimated were up to 200,000 East Timorese who died from armed conflict, bombardment, execution, famine and disease after the invasion.
The dead accounted for about one third of East Timor's pre-invasion population, Amnesty said.
Year after year of brutality followed until the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly on August 30 this year to move towards independence, a move that sparked a final Indonesian spasm of murder, rape, arson, forced relocation and looting.
This Tuesday will be the first time in 24 years that Indonesian troops have been gone from East Timor on December 7.
"There will be no party. It is just a day that we have conquered our peace back," said Taur Matan Ruak, deputy commander of the small band of Falintil pro-independence guerrillas who never gave up their fight against thousands of Indonesian troops.
"It's just mind-boggling the way the world has turned around in the last 24 years," said Jose Ramos-Horta. who spent all of those years abroad, trying to make the international community take notice of East Timor's plight.
Both the American and Australian governments were aware of Indonesia's invasion plans, writes James Dunn in his book "Timor: A People Betrayed".
Ramos-Horta said he is not a religious person, but he said the only way this small former Portuguese colony could have survived, "must be an act of God".
"God made us strong to survive these 24 years, so on December 7, I will thank God."
The Indonesians first came from the heavens.
Pereira remembers standing in the Turismo's garden courtyard about 4:00 a.m. that morning and watching the Indonesian paratroopers come down.
Indonesian naval gunfire had awakened him about 90 minutes earlier.
"They were already shooting from the sea to the hills," he said.
The night before Pereira had served dinner to the hotel's last guest, the Australian journalist Roger East.
"He ate fish and fried potatoes and then I heard the telephone," said Pereira.
The phone call came from Francisco Xavier do Amaral, who had been president of East Timor for 10 days after the Fretilin political party declared unilateral independence as Indonesian forces advanced overland into the territory from West Timor.
"See you later. I'm going to president Amaral's house," Pereira remembered the journalist saying. He never saw him again.
A witness quoted in Dunn's book said East was executed on the Dili wharf. His body fell into the sea. Many other unarmed civilians met a similar fate at the wharf, according to Amnesty.
Against armed opposition, the Indonesians did not have as much initial success.
"It seems that because of the Falintil's determined resistance to the invading troops in the first few months Fretilin was able to intimidate the Indonesian units into conducting a very cautious campaign," Dunn wrote.
By September 1977 the Indonesians had intensified operations with air and naval bombardment. The campaign decimated Falintil, but by 1979 Xanana Gusmao, its current commander, had set up communications between the surviving guerrillas to keep on the struggle, Ramos-Horta said.
He said he never doubted that independence would come.
"For me, what was important was the dream, or it was this inner voice or power saying, 'no you must not give up'," Ramos-Horta said.
"The only thing that mattered was justice for a people. And justice prevailed."
For Ruak, too, victory was assured.
"I never, never had any doubts that this day would come and always that we will win. And now we have won," said the Falintil soldier.
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