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also Read Excerpts from East Timor 1999 Crimes against Humanity A Report Commissioned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) By Geoffrey Robinson

Mass Killing In Liquiça: Testimony given at a U.S. House of Representatives, Human Rights Caucus and Progressive Caucus Briefing on Paramilitary violence in East Timor (May 4, 1999)  

Excerpts from Timor-Leste's CAVR Report on the Liquica Massacre

From 7.2 Unlawful Killings and Enforced Disappearances

The coordinated surge of violence in April 1999: killings in Liquiça, Cailaco and Dili

773. The Commission has received evidence showing coordinated violence throughout Timor-Leste taking place in April 1999, in the month before the 5 May Agreements. In April 1999, three incidents involving major violations of human rights occurred in Liquiça, Bobonaro and Dili.

774. The first massacre in 1999 took place at the Liquiça Church on 6 April. This incident, during which as many as 60 people seeking refuge at the church were killed,876 is illustrative of the organised nature of TNI/militia violence. Before this incident, in early April, TNI and Besi Merah Putih (BMP) militia intensified their campaign of violence against pro-independence activists and the civilian population of Liquiça. On 5 April, in three separate incidents, three supporters of independence—Herminio dos Santos, Ilidio dos Santos and Laurindo da Costa Gonçalves—were abducted by members of BMP.877

775. In response to this deterioration of security, people from sub-districts of Liquiça and Maubara began to seek refuge at the Catholic church in Liquiça town (Liquiça, Liquiça). Approximately 2,000 people, including women and children, had gathered at the church compound by 6 April. Early on the morning of 6 April, BMP militia along with TNI troops, including ones from the District Military Command in Liquiça, the Sub-district Command in Maubara, members of the Special Forces Command and Battalion 143, as well as Mobile Police (Brimob) from Dili and local police, arrived at the church. Two police officers demanded that Father Rafael dos Santos hand over Jacinto da Costa Pereira, the village chief of Dato (Liquiça, Liquiça), along with another man, as both were identified as pro-independence leaders.


This incident, during which as many as 60 people seeking refuge at the church were killed, is illustrative of the organised nature of TNI/militia violence.

776. The Commission received a large number of statements about the massacre at the Liquiça Church.878 According to a witness, between 12.00 noon and 1.00pm, Brimob members fired shots into the air and then militia members entered the compound.879 Tear gas was thrown into the priest’s residence forcing many people to flee. As they fled, they were brutally attacked by TNI and militia members waiting for them outside. According to Father Rafael’s account the assailants killed the men but allowed the women and the children to leave the area.880 Then they entered the priest’s house and executed any persons they found inside. The BMP commander, M61, was seen inside the church compound with his men. When most of the refugees had left the church and the parish house, BMP members, police, and soldiers, including Sergeant M62 [East Timorese], came in looking for stragglers. Those they found were killed.881 Some people fled to the house of the district administrator, Leoneto Martins, where pursuing militia and soldiers killed or severely injured them.

777. It is difficult to estimate the exact number of victims because the bodies of the dead were taken away.882 While the official provincial police ( polda) report said that only five people died in the attack and its aftermath, other estimates put the number between 30 and more than 100.883 After the massacre at the Liquiça Church many people fled to Dili and sought refuge at the house of Manuel Carrascalão where they were attacked again by BMP and Aitarak militia on 17 April.

778. Killings of real or perceived supporters of independence in Liquiça continued after the Liquiça Church massacre.884 On 7 April Fernando da Costa was allegedly stabbed to death at the Koramil in Liquiça by militia members.885 On 9 April on the orders of M65 [East Timorese], a BMP commander for Bazartete and Liquiça, a man known as Carlos was allegedly arrested, taken to the beach in Pala near the Indonesian military cemetery and killed. He had documents concerning CNRT activities in his pocket. On 14 April, Henrique Borges, Carlos dos Santos da Costa and Leo Lakon were killed at the beach in Pilila, Leohata (Liquiça, Liquiça) by an Indonesian TNI member, M302886 On 21 April Felix Barreto was killed by BMP militia members in Ulmera (Bazartete, Liquiça).887 On or about 27 April Tobias Alves Coreia and Elias Ataidi were killed by militia in Tutuge, Loidahar (Liquiça, Liquiça) because they were identified as pro-independence supporters. It is alleged that their names were on a list drawn up by TNI officer Sergeant M62 [East Timorese] and others.888 On 26 April in Maubara, a man named Abel was arrested and taken to the lake to be executed. Abel has not been seen since.889

p. 250-251

A survivor of the Liquiça Church Massacre 890

On the morning of 5 April, 1999 I was walking from the Social-Political Affairs office in Liquiça to my house when I met my friend Lukas, from Flores, Indonesia. He encouraged me to go home quickly, saying, “I’ve heard that the Besi Merah militia are at the border of Liquiça and Maubara.” But I decided not to go home. I went instead to a meeting about the Easter youth commemoration in Manatuto. I met with my friends Jacinta, Suzi, and Ermelita. We weren’t sure whether it would be a good idea to participate in the commemoration so we went to ask Father Rafael’s opinion. While we were meeting with Father Rafael, the village head, Jacinto da Costa came and told us that a youth had been killed and others wounded in an attack by the militia and military.

We left Father Rafael’s house early in the afternoon. When I got home I went to see Aquilina to get some more information. Aquelina lives close to the Welcome sign in Liquiça. As soon as I got to her house I heard more shooting, coming from the direction of Pukalaran. I went straight home and found that my family had already fled to the church in Liquiça. I joined them there. There were many people hiding in the church including people from the villages of Dotasi, Guilu, Leopa and Upper and Lower Caimeo. In the afternoon the militia and the military looted and burnt down the houses of the Sub-district administrator, João Bosco, and Agustinho. For the two days that we were in the church we did not do anything else but pray. At night we couldn’t sleep, and outside the church the militia were harrassing us with threats and foul language.

At 9.00am on 6 April Eurico Guterres, the Aitarak milita commander, and his men came to the church office in Liquiça to talk with Father Rafael and Father José. We heard that during that meeting Eurico Guterres said he was going to make a request of the district administrator, Leoneto Martins. Eurico said that if Leoneto met the militia’s demands the militia would let the people go home safely. But Eurico’s meeting with Leoneto did not produce that guarantee. Initially Mobile Brigade police came to the church as if to rescue the people. In fact, Brimob were the ones who started the shooting. Around 1.00pm, the Besi Merah militia along with the police and the military attacked the church. They fired shots into the air to give the signal to the militia to enter the church, and then they started shooting the people. Wearing masks that covered their faces the militia and the military then attacked with axes, swords, knives, bombs and guns. The police shot my older brother, Felix, and the militia slashed up my cousins, Domingos, Emilio, and an eight-month old baby.

Because Brimob and the military were slaughtering people who had been hiding in the priest’s office, everyone started running out of the church trying to find places to hide and to save themselves. I left with Emilio’s wife and we went to the Convent. As we left I saw Miguel was still alive, but Loidahar and someone else from Maubara were lying dead near the church bell. The militia, police and military had prepared a truck to carry people to the district administrator’s house. When we arrived the militia continued their actions and continued beating and stabbing civilians. Several people died at the district administrator’s house. Luckily there was a nurse there who attended to the wounded. After about three hours Agustinho, a civil servant in Maubara, made an announcement to the people, saying, “Go home and raise the Indonesian flag. And tie it to your right hand to show that we are all people who are prepared to die for this flag.”

One week after the massacre a TNI soldier from the eastern sector, called Pedro, told me that the military from Kodim were also involved. I heard that the bodies of those who died were taken in a truck, but I don’t know where they were taken.

p. 252

876 Report commissioned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), July 2003, Submission to CAVR, April 2004, referred to hereafter as Robinson, OHCHR submission to CAVR, April 2004, p. 192.

877 General Prosecutor of the UNTAET, Indictment against Leoneto Martins, et al., Case No. 21/2001, paragraphs 85-95.

878 HRVD Statements 0082; 1823; 1963; 4644; 4669; 5876; 9191; 0276; 2326; 4614; 5860; 5944; 0196.

879 Herminia Mendes, testimony to the CAVR National Public Hearing on Massacres, 19-21 November 2003.

880 Deposition of Father Rafael dos Santos, recorded and compiled in Sydney, Australia on 27-28 October, 1999, p. 8, quoted in OHCHR submission to CAVR, April 2004, p. 194.

881 Robinson, East Timor 1999, OHCHR submission to CAVR, April 2004, pp. 192-196.

882 HRVD Statement 0082.

883 Robinson, East Timor 1999, OHCHR submission to CAVR, April 2004, p. 195.

884 On the following three killings, General Prosecutor of the UNTAET, Indictment against Leoneto Martins, et al., Case No. 2001/21, paragraphs 80-84, 126, 129-132.

885 HRVD Statement 0196.

886 HRVD Statement 2983.

887 HRVD Statement 1001.

888 General Prosecutor of the UNTAET, Indictment against Leoneto Martins, et al., Case No. 2001/21, paragraphs 133-136.

889 HRVD Statement 4701.

890 Herminia Mendes, testimony to the CAVR National Public Hearing on Massacres, CAVR Offices in Dili, 19-21 November 2003.


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Excerpts from East Timor 1999 Crimes against Humanity


By Geoffrey Robinson
University of California Los Angeles
July 2003

9.9 Liquica (Kodim 1638)

Major Human Rights Events

Serious acts of violence – including beating, house burning, and murder – began in Liquica as early as January 1999, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes. Villages deemed to be sympathetic to Falintil bore the brunt of these attacks. The village of Guico in Maubara Sub-District, for example, was attacked on four separate occasions in January and February. The perpetrators of those attacks included BMP militiamen and soldiers of Battalions 143 and 144 based in nearby Kaikassa and Vatuboro.


Although the attack was carried out mainly by BMP militiamen, eyewitnesses have testified that TNI (including Kopassus) and Brimob troops backed up the miltias and fired their weapons during the attack.

The violence escalated further in early April, as a result of which thousands more fled to the mountains or to the Catholic church in Liquica town. By some estimates there were now as many as 6,000 internally displaced people in the district, in a total population of only 50,000. A large number of IDPs gathered in the vicinity of Loes, in Maubara Sub-District, an area with a strong Falintil presence, and therefore considered relatively safe. Nevertheless, the people there remained vulnerable to attack, and lacked access to sufficient food, housing, and medical care.

Against this background, BMP militias and TNI soldiers began a concerted campaign of violence against the IDPs. The campaign, which reached its peak in early April 1999, revealed the intimate links between the BMP and both military and civilian authorities.

One of the victims of this wave of violence, Ilidio dos Santos, was killed by militiamen near the Liquica Sub-District Military Command on April 5.† Dos Santos had sought refuge there but rather than finding protection, he was confronted by six militiamen who announced their intention to kill him. He attempted to flee but was soon captured, and killed with a machete. TNI and SGI officers at the Koramil post reportedly made no attempt to stop his assailants.

Another victim, Fernando da Costa, was arrested on April 5, and killed in TNI custody two days later.* Da Costa, a CNRT supporter, was detained in Liquica town by a group of TNI, BMP militiamen and Police who had been moving house to house in search of known CNRT leaders. Outside his house, he was badly beaten by TNI soldiers. He was then taken to the Liquica District Police Station, where he was detained for two days, during which time he reportedly suffered further beatings by a TNI soldier. On April 7, he was taken from his cell to the Liquica Sub-District Military Command (Koramil) by TNI soldiers. From there he was transported to the Maubara Sub-District Military Command, accompanied by Sgt. Tome Diego and BMP leader, Zacharia Alves. Shortly after arriving there, he was stabbed repeatedly and killed.

The violent events of early April culminated in the massacre of as many as 60 people in Liquica church on April 6, 1999. Those killed had taken refuge in the church in the face of the escalating militia violence. Although the attack was carried out mainly by BMP militiamen, eyewitnesses have testified that TNI (including Kopassus) and Brimob troops backed up the miltias and fired their weapons during the attack. Those involved were said to include soldiers from Kopassus ‘Satgas Tribuana;’ Battalion 143; the Liquica District Military Command (Kodim); the Maubara Sub-District Military Command (Koramil); and the Police Mobile Brigades (Brimob).

Several eyewitnesses have testified that senior TNI officers and civilian officials were in the immediate vicinity at the time of the attack. They included: the Dandim, Lt. Col. Asep Kuswadi; the Commander of the Kopassus unit Satgas Tribuana, Lt. Col. Yayat Sudrajat; the Bupati, Leoneto Martins; and the Chief of Police, Lt. Col. (Pol.) Adios Salova. Those authorities took no effective measures to prevent the attack, to stop it once it had begun, to investigate the incident, or to bring the suspected perpetrators to justice. Indeed, there was circumstantial evidence that these authorities had prior knowledge of, and may even have planned, the attack (See Case Study: Liquica Church Massacre).

In the days and weeks after the massacre, the attacks on independence supporters spread throughout Liquica. At least six more people were killed in different parts of the district in April, and houses were burned and looted. In the face of the mounting violence, thousands more residents fled to the forest around Loes, Hatuquesi, and Dare. Some also went to Dili, and environs, bringing the total estimated number of people dislocated from their homes in the district to more than 10,000. In Dili, some 150 IDPs took refuge in the home of the respected pro-independence figure Manuel Carrascalão. Less than two weeks later, on April 17, the IDPs in that house were also attacked by militias and TNI, and at least 12 were killed (See Case Study: Carrascalão House Massacre).

Overt violence diminished somewhat with the deployment of UNAMET to the district in late June, but systematic intimidation continued and BMP militias, often bearing arms, continued to roam freely about the district. The main difference was that the targets of militia and TNI intimidation now included UNAMET staff and humanitarian workers. Local UNAMET staff in particular were repeatedly threatened, and on occasion assaulted, by BMP militiamen. There were also several incidents in which militiamen pointed weapons at UN vehicles and personnel as they drove by in trucks and minibuses. No action was taken against the perpetrators, indicating that their behavior was officially condoned.

The complicity of TNI and Police officials in the pattern of intimidation and violence was highlighted by an attack on a humanitarian convoy on July 4. The convoy, which was accompanied by UNAMET’s Humanitarian Affairs Officer and escorted by UNAMET MLOs, had stopped in Liquica town after delivering food and medicine to IDPs in the vicinity of Loes. Shortly after the convoy stopped, it was attacked by about a dozen BMP militiamen, swinging machetes and firing home-made guns. One person was seriously injured in the attack and the vehicles were badly damaged. Indonesian Police and TNI in the immediate vicinity did nothing to stop the attack. Their inaction contributed to UNAMET’s decision to conduct an emergency evacuation of all personnel later the same day. Suspicions of official complicity were confirmed by later events, most notably by the wholly inadequate Police investigation of the incident (See Case Study: Attack on Humanitarian Convoy).

† See UNTAET, General Prosecutor, Indictment against Leoneto Martins,, paragraphs 94-95.

* See UNTAET, General Prosecutor, Indictment against Leoneto Martins,, paragraphs 80-84.

Case Studies

10.1 Liquica Church Massacre (April 6, 1999)

One of the earliest and most shocking incidents of violence in 1999 was the massacre of as many as 60 refugees at the Catholic church in the town of Liquica on April 6.1 The attack also provides some of the most powerful evidence of the intimate links between militias and military and civilian authorities.

The Liquica church massacre occurred against the backdrop of escalating militia violence in the district. In the days before the massacre, members of the BMP, together with TNI soldiers and Police had assaulted and arrested a number of known CNRT leaders in the Sub-Districts of Liquica and Maubara, where the BMP was based. In the course of those attacks, on April 4 and 5, dozens of houses were burned and several civilians were killed.

Terrified by the mounting violence, residents of Liquica and Maubara began to seek refuge in places they considered safe, including the Catholic church compound. The sound of automatic weapons fire for about an hour in the afternoon of April 5, followed by the arrival of hundreds of BMP militiamen, added urgency to their flight. By late afternoon, an estimated 2,000 people, many of them women and small children, had taken refuge in the church compound. Some were in the church itself while others were in the residence of the local priest, Pastor Rafael dos Santos, adjacent to the church.

Outside, BMP militiamen and TNI soldiers roamed the streets of Liquica, in search of pro-independence leaders and youths. Some militiamen and soldiers gathered outside the church and fired their weapons menacingly in the air. Terrified to return to their homes, the refugees stayed in the church overnight.

Early the following morning, April 6, BMP militiamen, armed with machetes, knives, spears, and an assortment of firearms gathered outside the church. Also present at the scene were TNI troops from the Liquica Kodim, the Maubara Koramil, the Kopasssus ‘Satgas Tribuana,’ and Battalion 143. Throughout the morning the BMP militiamen, and some soldiers, taunted and threatened the IDPs, calling on them to ‘surrender.’ According to the parish priest, Pastor Rafael, BMP members threatened the IDPs that two more militia groups (Mahidi and Halilintar) would be joining them at 10:00 a.m., at which point they would all attack the church. In addition to such threats, some militiamen hurled rocks, causing injury and damaging vehicles in the yard. Some also fired their home-made guns in the air. The TNI troops did not intervene in any way.

Roughly 15 Police officers from Polres Liquica and one platoon of Mobile Brigades (Brimob) from Dili were also deployed to the scene, ostensibly to protect the IDPs. However, in the hours before the attack the Police were seen chatting amicably with the armed militia members, who now numbered in the hundreds. Like the TNI, the Police and Brimob troops made no effort to detain or disarm the militiamen, or to prevent them from threatening those inside the church.

Rather than seeking to disband the militias, Police officers at the scene requested that Pastor Rafael surrender two pro-independence leaders – the Village Head of Dato, Jacinto da Costa Pereira*, and one other man. Pastor Rafael explained that one of the men was not there, and he refused to hand Jacinto da Costa Pereira to the Police because he feared that he would be killed. He also denied suggestions, made by the Brimob officers and the militias, that Jacinto da Costa Pereira had brought a weapon with him into the church.

Inaction by the Police and the TNI in the face of mounting militia violence was hardly surprising. A substantial body of evidence points to the conclusion that the massing of the militias in Liquica, and the attack on the refugees, were part of a well-organized plan, set in motion by high-ranking civilian and military officials. As events unfolded, the Dandim, Lt. Col. Asep Kuswadi and the Bupati, Leoneto Martins, met frequently with key TNI, Kopassus, Police, and BMP commanders.

At one such briefing, led by the Dandim on the morning of April 6, TNI soldiers were reportedly forewarned of an imminent militia attack on the IDPs, but were given no orders to prevent it, or to protect those in the compound. In another meeting on the same day, the Bupati and the BMP Commander, Manuel de Sousa, reportedly told militia leaders that they must prepare to attack the church and be ready to kill any IDPs who tried to escape.

A final meeting at the Liquica Kodim, held just before the attack, was attended by the most important civilian and military leaders in the District and the Province. They included: the Deputy Danrem for East Timor, Col. Mudjiono; the Commander of the Kopassus Satgas Tribuana VIII, Lt. Col. Yayat Sudrajat; the Liquica Dandim, Lt. Col. Asep Kuswadi; the Bupati, Leoneto Martins; and the District Chief of Police, Lt. Col. Adios Salova.

Shortly after that meeting ended, between 12 noon and 1:00 p.m., a shot rang out in the vicinity of the church.† Brimob troops and BMP militias started to fire their weapons in the direction of the compound, and the attack began. The militias took the lead, but TNI and Brimob forces were close behind.‡ Most eyewitnesses concur that some TNI and Brimob troops stood by and allowed the militias to attack, while others actively joined in. The indictment issued in this case by the UNTAET General Prosecutor states that “TNI members went on shooting into the crowd indiscriminately killing several people.”* Pastor Rafael dos Santos, the Liquica parish priest, gave this account of the opening moments of the massacre:

“...I heard shooting by the Besih Merah Putih (BMP) and Brimob group in front of the Parish house. They were firing into the air. After this the Besih Merah Putih and Kodim members entered and surrounded the community in the Church complex. They started to shoot everyone. Men whom they found outside the Parish house were hacked down. The militia members were accompanied by Kodim troops and the Brimob elements. They entered the residence of the church and they started to kill people with machetes and shoot people in the house. At the time there were still women, children and men in the complex. They started to kill the men first because they were closer to the door. The men had pushed the women and children to the back.”†

Brimob troops assisted in the attack by throwing tear gas into the parish house, forcing the refugees to come out. As they ran from the church, they were hacked with machetes and knives, or shot. Pastor Rafael’s account continues:

“I saw the Brimob members break the parish house window and throw tear gas repeatedly into the Parish house until those who were sheltering inside ran out because they could not stand their eyes hurting. As the
community ran out of the Parish house the Militia started to kill the men, but they did not kill the women and children. The children and women were allowed to leave the complex, whereas the men were hacked down.”‡

When most of the refugees had left the church and the parish house, BMP members, Police, and TNI soldiers, including TNI Sgt. Tome Diogo, came in looking for stragglers. Those they found were killed. Pastor Rafael described the scene:

“After we came out of the Parish house the Besi Merah Putih and Polres members and the Kodim members went from room to room in the Parish house destroying things, seeking and killing people. A number of young community leaders of the Liquica pro-independents [sic] had tried to hide in the roof of the house. The militia pulled down the roof of the Parish house. They pulled the young people down and executed them.”§

Pastor Rafael’s account, and specifically his claim that soldiers and police joined in the attack, has been confirmed by other witnesses. Testifying in the Jakarta trial of Lt. Col. Asep Kuswadi, Lt. Col. (Pol.) Adios Salova, and Leoneto Martins, in July 2002, a survivor of the massacre said he had seen uniformed soldiers and Police fire shots into the church compound:

“The shots were all directed towards the church,” he said, and those firing were “not only police but also soldiers.”*

The official Police report on the Liquica Church massacre claimed that only five people were killed in the attack.† Independent investigations suggest that the true figure is at least 30, and possibly as many 60 killed.‡ The exact number of victims is not known,
however, because the bodies of the dead were taken away and disposed of shortly after the massacre. In statements to investigators, witnesses have indicated that dozens of bodies were taken in trucks by TNI soldiers and militiamen and dumped or buried in various locations.

One witness has testified, for example, that he and six other men received an order from the Danramil and the Sub-District Head of Maubara (Sgt. Maj. Carlos Amaral and José Afat respectively) to assist in burying five of the bodies.§ According to his statement, the bodies were brought to Maubara in a truck by officers of Kodim Liquica on the evening of April 6, and buried later the same night, near the home of a member of Koramil Maubara.|| That account is consistent with a separate report that a truck containing five bodies was driven from Koramil Maubara to a BMP post on the road between Liquica and Maubara, and that militiamen at the post were then ordered to dig graves about 200 meters away and bury the corpses.#

Another witness, a former BMP militia member, told Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission that he had been ordered by a TNI officer to bring a military truck to transport 15 corpses from Liquica to Masin Lake, a marshy body of water just off the road between Liquica and Maubara. After dumping the bodies, the witness said, he was ordered to return with the truck to Koramil Maubara.** Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission also found that some corpses had been thrown into the sea in the Sub-District of Maubara, using as many as seven trucks and four jeeps.*

The systematic disposal of corpses described in these testimonies is markedly similar to the pattern of corpse disposal that followed the massacres at Suai Church on September 6, and at the Maliana Police Station massacre on September 8. Together with the substantial evidence of TNI and Police involvement in the massacre itself, the presence of key officials at the scene of the crime, and the responsibility of those officials for creating and coordinating the BMP, this evidence makes it a virtual certainty that the
Liquica church massacre was planned by high-ranking TNI and civilian authorities.

1 Unless otherwise noted, this account is based on the following sources: KPP-HAM, “Report of the Indonesian Commission on Human Rights Violations in East Timor,” (internal), Jakarta, January, 2000; Deposition of Pastor Rafael dos Santos, recorded and compiled in Sydney, Australia on October 27-28, 1999; UNTAET, General Prosecutor, Indictment against Leoneto Martins,, Dili, [n.d.]; and Polda Timor Timur, Direktorat Reserse, “Laporan Penanganan Kasus Liquisa,” (No. R/355/IV/1999/Ditserse) Dili, April 15, 1999.

see original for other footnotes

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