Sun, 06 Feb 2000

Liliana, one of the victims of savagery that devastated E. Timor

Text by Jan Mayman, photos by John Kenneth

DILI, East Timor (JP): This is Liliana, a child of East Timor, the world's newest nation for the new millennium.

Eight years old, she is just one victim of the savagery that devastated her land after its people voted for independence from Indonesia .

We found her in the chaos of East Timor's capital Dili, after mutual friends begged us to look for Liliana and help her family. Liliana's right eye was destroyed by shrapnel when Indonesian soldiers and militia gunmen fired on 3,000 Catholics seeking sanctuary in the grounds of their local church.

"They slaughtered us like animals," said Liliana's father, Macario Trinidade, his eyes dull with anguish." We were unarmed and helpless."

"If we could have fought them with bare hands, man to man, we would have beaten them."

Liliana was among scores of men, women and children killed or wounded in the Sept. 6 church bloodbath -- described by an official Indonesian human rights report as a "a site of mass murder".

"When Liliana was shot, I hugged her to me as she screamed and fainted. It was all I could do, I thought we would all die, my wife Luisa Maria and our baby Erena, aged three. Liliana was bleeding from her eye and wounds in her head."

After the first round of killings, the Trinidades saw their beloved Bishop Belo confronted by Indonesian Army officers.

"They told him he had to leave us; he pleaded to stay. But they made him go.

"Our Bishop insisted on praying with us before he went. He told us to remain quiet, and not to move. Then the militia took him away in a car.

"We feared he would be killed, that we would be shot too.

"After he left, we gave up our lives to God, and prepared to die.

"We had already seen a man we knew killed right in front of us. We saw Green Berets (Army Strategic Reserves Command, Kostrad) shooting people as they tried to escape. Blood was everywhere."

Yet amid the killing frenzy, Macario saw Indonesian Army officers trying to halt the frenzied violence. He was anxious to tell of this, "I could see them trying restrain the soldiers."

"I heard one officer, Colonel Caitano say 'The shooting must stop.'

"I was in panic but I remember hearing him say this." Eventually, after several hours of terror, the Trinidades managed to escape, holding their children: "One of the militia was a good man -- he tried to protect us".

As the dead and dying lay around them, the terrified congregation watched for hours as the Indonesian Military (TNI) and militia troops burned the Bishop's residence and chapel.

The first Molotov cocktail was flung through the window of the bishop's library, the finest in East Timor.

Some were murdered in Bishop Belo's private chapel -- now roofless, empty and abandoned. We saw bullet marks and sinister marks on its walls, and unspent rounds still lying on the floor.

A bullet-marked Madonna statue was faceless and stained with gunpowder. Nearby is an elegant old wrought iron sign. It says that the chapel was originally dedicated to "Mary, Queen of Peace".

Later, the killers removed evidence of their barbarity.

"We saw many of our friends dragged off, some dead, some still alive," said Macario, 30, a former clerk.

"We have heard others were chained together, their hands cut off before they were thrown in the sea to drown.

"We know many were taken off to prison camps in West Timor. We do not know what has happened to them."

Tens of thousands of East Timorese are still missing.

In the chaos and confusion, it was many hours before Liliana's parents could get medical help for her, and have her empty eye socket stitched up.

Though she still smiles often, she is nervous and restless and complains of odd feelings in her head.

Her parents fear that life-threatening pieces of shrapnel may be lodged in her skull.

"We want to take to Australia for treatment so she can have an artificial eye, but we have no money at all."

With his family, Macario is now existing on rice handouts from international aid agencies, like most of the East Timorese people.

He shares a small two-bedroom house with 11 other people, and is grateful that it still has a roof, unlike most houses in Dili. There is no electricity, gas, plumbing, phone system, TV or radio. They cook on an open wood fire. Like most other East Timorese they have to walk everywhere in 40 degree heat with up to 80 percent humidity.

The scale of destruction in Dili is mind-numbing. It is a city of ruined and mainly roofless buildings, where East Timorese clear rubble with their bare hands because they have no tools, let alone bulldozers.

Clean water is scarce and expensive, so they are forced to drink from polluted wells. Children are dying every day from gastro and respiratory disease. TB is rife and medical clinics are overwhelmed with patients.

Hospitals, offices, shops, libraries banks and vehicles -- literally everything was destroyed or looted by the retreating Indonesian army and pro-Indonesia militia, in what Indonesia's own government human rights investigators called an "orchestrated scorched earth policy" supervised by senior army officers.

The Timorese Catholics took refuge with their spiritual leader, Nobel Laureate Bishop Carlos Belo, when the pro- Indonesian militia launched a campaign of terror and mass destruction against the East Timorese, following their massive vote for independence last August.

Happy Ending footnote:

After we handed his brother Valerio's letter to Liliana's father Macario, he was able to borrow a satellite phone to call him in the UK with the joyous news that his mother had survived the mass killings in Timor.

A public appeal in Perth Western Australia has already raised over A$5,000 to bring Liliana in from East Timor to have medical treatment.

The writer is an Australian journalist -- winner of the Gold Walkley, Australia's premier journalism award. She recently traveled to East Timor with photographer John Kenneth to look at the ravaged territory and talk to the victims of the violence.