Jani thought he was safe on the ferry. After three days of terror in East Timor, the boat would take him and two college friends to safety, he thought.
Then the militiamen boarded. No young men may leave East Timor, they announced as the boat prepared to depart. Jani, 27, tried to hide; the militiamen caught his friends. "Are there any others?" they demanded, Jani recalls. "No, no other young men," his friends replied in a last gift of kindness.
They marched Armando Gomez, 29, and Armando DiSilva, 30, to the front of the boat and killed them as 200 refugees watched. Gomez's body was dumped into the sea, DiSilva's on the ground by the dock.
Jani raced through the boat. "Please help me," he whispered to the other refugees. A woman motioned to him to hide between her and her children. The searching militiamen walked by.
The account of Jani, now a fearful refugee in western Timor, adds to the mounting evidence that victims of the murderous rampage by militia gangs in East Timor following the territory's overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia were systematically culled from the population at large.
Young men, political opponents of the Jakarta government, Roman Catholic clergy and anyone else suspected of favoring the independence opposed by the militias were targeted, in a chilling echo of the techniques of systematic killing seen in Kosovo.
In Jakarta today, the top U.N. official for human rights said she had gathered consistent and credible evidence that members of the Indonesian armed forces and police had engaged along with the militias in a "well-planned and systematic policy of killings, displacement, destruction of property and intimidation" that could lead to prosecutions before an international tribunal.
Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said President B.J. Habibie agreed in a meeting today on the need for an international commission of inquiry, the first step toward establishing a full-fledged criminal tribunal, similar to the war crimes panels set up after the genocide in Rwanda and the massacres in the former Yugoslav republics.
She said it was urgent for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed quickly to begin amassing evidence, because "there has been some burning of bodies and dumping of bodies into the sea," as the perpetrators of massacres in East Timor attempted to "cover up tracks."
But she said the scale of the abuses was so massive and the witnesses so numerous that a committee of experts should easily be able to find enough evidence for prosecutions and that members of the armed forces would likely be implicated.
"I don't know how far up the scale that can be traced," Robinson said, "but certainly there will be accountability on a significant number wearing army uniforms or in a position of local authority."
Beside the killings and the expulsion of people from East Timor's cities, Robinson said she also had heard from relief agencies about some "very worrying allegations of rapes of women" in refugee camps in western Timor, which is part of a separate Indonesian province. She said those accounts need to be verified.
The move to begin an international inquiry into the Indonesian military's conduct in East Timor is a delicate one for Habibie, given his precarious relationship with the armed forces and his need to secure military backing if he is to have any chance of retaining his office next month when the People's Consultative Assembly, one of two Indonesian parliaments, convenes to choose the country's next president. No member of the armed forces attended Habibie's meeting today with Robinson at the presidential palace.
Marzuki Darusman, chairman of Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission, attended the session and said the initial inquiry commission will likely involve Indonesian investigators but that it also would have international experts. The panel, he said, could be given "a certain status or recognition by the U.N."
Here in Kupang, in western Timor, the militias "had names of all of the [pro-independence] party members, and they were killing them one by one," a refugee said.
"The militias had names, pictures, addresses. They had lists," Jani said. "They went to the houses and to the port and to the police headquarters, and they took people who were pro-independence."
"At night, the militias would come to the houses" in Dili, the capital of East Timor, a third refugee said. "They were looking for young men. The militias knew that most of the young people there were for independence. If they found us, they would kill us."
The refugees spoke in secret with a reporter, and all pleaded that their full names not be used. The militias that terrorized them in East Timor reign over the refugee camps here in western Timor and move freely around the town of Kupang. Accounts from the camps say the militias are searching for opponents.
The fear is pervasive, even though western Timor was supposed to be a place of safety. Refugees here shun foreigners, and several stopped talking in mid-interview because they said they were scared. Foreigners and local journalists are not allowed inside the camps. Foreign aid workers do not enter; Indonesian officials who make tours of the camps insist that no foreign reporters accompany them.
But in clandestine conversations, refugees described the campaign of terror that followed the announcement of East Timor's vote on independence: 98 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, 78.5 percent of them for independence from Indonesia.
The fires that soon engulfed so many homes in Dili were not set randomly, but were used to drive people from their homes, a 23-year-old student said. "They threatened us with guns and machetes, and we heard all the men were going to be killed and the houses burned. They came at night to our house, but I ran out and hid in an empty Red Cross house," he said. The next night, his home was burned. His family fled, and he does not know where they are.
The refugees said also that Indonesian soldiers encouraged the militias and sometimes participated in the violence. Jani said he heard soldiers at the port order militiamen onto the boat before it left. "The military told the militias to go ahead and get the pro-independence people on the boat. They said if you don't do it, we will," he said.
The accounts also include acts of bravery. A 24-year-old Catholic seminarian named Mario fled to a church in Dili after his home was torched and his family scattered. In the days after the vote result was announced, the militiamen prowled past the church and used any pretense for violence, Mario said. "I saw them kill a man with hedge clippers," he said. "They put the blades around his neck and squeezed them together."
More than 100 refugees were gathered at the church, Mario said, when a militiaman aimed his weapon at them. Mario said he stepped in front of the man. "The gunman grabbed my collar, yanked me toward him and held a pistol to my head," said Mario. "Do you want to live or die?" the militiaman asked, Mario said. "I told him, `As you wish.' I think he was surprised by my answer, and he let me go. He said, `Some day you will be a priest.' I told him, `Then we can live in peace.' "
Struck reported from Kupang, Richburg from Jakarta.