Subject: Report from Suai: Refugees return to scenes of devastation

Irish Times [Dublin] Saturday, October 9, 1999

Refugees return to scenes of devastation

>From Kurt Schork, in Suai

INDONESIA/EAST TIMOR: An air of desolation hung over the former pro-Jakarta militia stronghold of Suai in East Timor yesterday as refugees began trickling back to their homes, encouraged by the arrival of Australian-led multinational troops.

"We arrived here this morning at about 8 o'clock and found everything destroyed," said Mr Ermengildo da Costa (38), who made the trek with his wife and two small children.

Mr da Costa said the people they had left behind in the hills needed food and medical assistance urgently.

"There are thousands living in the hills, so many you cannot count them," said Mr Albert Montz.

"Many people are sick and everyone is hungry. We need help as quickly as possible."

Mr Montz (22), said he had worked as a translator for the UN mission in East Timor during the August 30th referendum. Like many in East Timor, he said he had been separated from his family, who were forced to cross the border into West Timor by militia groups.

Village after village has been burned out and looted on the road from nearby Zumalai into Suai. The way is littered with makeshift roadblocks made of broken glass, roofing nails, tree limbs, boulders, bamboo barricades, and barriers of school desks and tyres.

Suai, once a town of about 36,000 people, is comprehensively destroyed, like virtually every other settlement in East Timor.

Ave Maria Suai, the Catholic church on the top of the hill overlooking the town, was not spared the militia torch.

Several thousand refugees were camped around the church and its school buildings on September 4th when the referendum results were announced and violence began in earnest. Locals say that shortly after Sunday mass on September 5th, a group of militiamen and Indonesian army personnel, with an Indonesian policeman, drove up and opened fire on a crowd which was standing in the open outside the church. They said two priests and an unknown number of worshippers were killed.

There were no signs of bodies on the church grounds, but a huge smear of dried blood covered the corner of one classroom in the church school. Outside the door to that classroom lay the upper half of a human jaw with the teeth intact.

Like the rest of the compound, the refugee camp to which people fled on September 5th was burned to the ground. The half-built cathedral rising on the site looked little different from the other buildings in the compound except that it had not been burned.

However, the upper storeys of the cathedral tower, where refugees had been sheltering, showed many pools of dried blood and the latticework bamboo scaffolding also had bloodstains on it, suggesting there had been violence there, too. - (Reuters)


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