|Page 2 of 2 <|
For Survivors of E. Timor Massacres, Justice Still Elusive
At 1 p.m., a shot rang out. Hundreds of militiamen, soldiers and police officers surrounded the compound. Police fired tear gas. Bullets flew.
"People started running every which way," said Helio Domingos da Costa, Pereira's oldest son, now 22. "The militia started to attack, swinging machetes. . . . I was running wildly when suddenly a militiaman came up." He made a swooping motion with his right arm. "I moved. He missed. Then he yelled, 'Now go inside and die with your father!' "
Pereira and several other resistance members were hiding in the priest's bedroom and adjoining bathroom. Several teenagers hid in the crawl space between the ceiling and the zinc roof. Troops climbed on the roof and fired down.
Dos Santos, the priest, was escorted to the district military command by a nephew, who was an Indonesian soldier. As the priest was leaving, Pereira's brother recalled, "I saw many people inside the house try to grab Father Rafael's robes, touching them and shouting, 'We are dying! We are dying!' "
Pereira's wife could hear the gunfire from a brother-in-law's house, where she had fled with her three youngest children. The militiamen burned her house. That afternoon, an Indonesian soldier's wife told her that the men who had hidden in the priest's home had been killed. "I felt like I wanted to cry," she said, "but no tears came."
About 5 p.m., the priest returned to the church. He found no bodies, but blood was on the bathroom and bedroom floor, along with part of a brain. A few days later, the military had mopped up the blood, repaired the roof and patched the bullet-pocked plaster in an apparent attempt to cover up the massacre, said the priest, who showed a reporter a scarred memento: a white robe bearing singed holes from bullets that penetrated his closet.
Authorities initially said five people were killed. Liquica police later told the priest that 113 had been killed. The U.N. indictment stated that more than 50 civilians had been murdered.
So far, only one person has been tried and convicted in connection with the massacre. Pereira's murder case is still open; no one has been indicted, according to U.N. records.
Three times in the last six years, Anita dos Santos, who is Pereira's widow, and her neighbors have searched for their relatives' bodies. Using shovels and buckets, they have dug in Liquica, in a neighboring town and in a village by the sea. "People would come to say, 'This is the site. Dig here,' " she said. "So we tried. Many times, we tried. We found nothing."
She nodded toward a family graveyard 120 yards away, nestled amid coconut and tamarind trees. She dreams, she said, of being able to bury her husband's remains there, in a row of stone tombs.
Lower-level militia members who burned and looted homes now live in Liquica, said Eliza da Silva dos Santos, the widow of a resistance member who was "disappeared" with Pereira. "Sometimes I see them on the street, driving a car, working in a government office," she said bitterly. "When I see them, it pains me." She must repress an urge, she said, to attack them.
The survivors' frustration is deepened by a sense of betrayal by their own government and the United Nations. For years, Eliza dos Santos and Anita dos Santos helped the underground resistance, passing supplies to rebels. They, like their husbands, revered Gusmao, the prisoner turned president. Now, they charge, he and Ramos-Horta, the foreign minister, have forgotten "the little people." The women also criticize the United Nations for closing its special prosecution unit in May, leaving pending more than 600 cases linked to the 1999 crimes.
Over 4 1/2 years, the U.N.-funded unit convicted only 84 people, all low- to mid-level Timorese militia members. The higher-ranking personnel, including Indonesian military and police officers, are beyond reach in Indonesia, which has no extradition treaty with East Timor.
Topping the impunity list is Gen. Wiranto, the retired Indonesian military commander, indicted by a Dili prosecutor. For political reasons, the warrant was never forwarded to Interpol, the international police agency.
Two months ago, Ramos-Horta said, he warned Wiranto that the truth commission was "their last chance to clean Indonesia's image." Wiranto, he said, promised cooperation.
The survivors of the struggle for independence also criticize the impunity of those among the Indonesian security forces who committed abuses. An estimated 150,000 to 175,000 Timorese -- up to one-fourth of the population -- were killed during Indonesia's occupation of East Timor.
Aniceto Guterres, a truth commission member and human rights lawyer who was an early proponent of an international tribunal, has deep misgivings about the panel's lack of a prosecution option. But "if I had to choose between truth and justice," he said, "I would opt for truth."