Nine years ago. On the eighth and ninth days of the ninth month. 1999.
The police station massacre in Maliana, East Timor. Please take a moment to remember those who courageously risked their lives to vote, were deceived, corralled in the police station and ruthlessly butchered to death. Those who escaped were hunted down and eliminated and disposed of by Timorese militia, Indonesian police and military.
The photo above by Rusty Stewart is from a ceremony conducted in 2001 at the beach in Batugade, where the bodies were disposed of. The lack of burial for those killed continues as an open wound for Maliana.
One of the Indonesian military officials indicted by the Serious Crimes Tribunal in relation to the Maliana massacre, then Lt Col. Siagian, was recently relieved of duty in West Papua. But as ETAN says, “Indonesia should take the next steps and suspend him from any command and then hand him over for trial for the crimes he committed in East Timor.”
In the hours before the attack, on September 8, dozens of militiamen gathered at the Koramil. There they were divided into four groups and briefed on their mission by TNI and SGI officers. Two of the groups were tasked with forming a security perimeter around the Police station. The other two were assigned to seek out and kill the pro-independence leaders sheltering in the Police station compound. Before departing for the Police station, some of the militias had their faces painted black by SGI soldiers.
The attack began at about 5:30 p.m. Two trucks pulled up in front of the Police station, and three others stopped on a road running along side the compound. The vehicles were filled with soldiers and militiamen, armed with machetes, knives, and swords.
Many of the militiamen were dressed in black and wearing ‘Ninja’ type hoods or Indonesian flags to cover their faces. The TNI soldiers, most of them wearing combat trousers and black t-shirts, were carrying automatic weapons and side arms. When the vehicles stopped, the soldiers and militiamen jumped down, and took up positions in and around the compound. Some TNI soldiers sealed off the main road running in front of the Police station, while others formed a perimeter around the compound.
Meanwhile, dozens of militiamen and TNI soldiers entered the compound from the side entrance and ran into the area where the refugees were gathered. One witness described the initial moments of the attack:
“I saw the militias running in all directions, chasing men and boys to kill them …The refugees were screaming in fear but they could not escape as militias and TNI were all around guarding the place.”
In panic, many refugees ran to the security post at the front entrance of the compound, but Brimob soldiers there told them to return to their tents. Not all did so, but those who did then witnessed the attack unfold.
Among the first victims was a 13-year-old boy, José Barros Soares, who was hacked to death by militiamen while his younger sister looked on. But the violence was not as random as that scene suggested. The attackers were clearly singling out well-known pro-independence figures for execution. The victims included a number of CNRT leaders, as well as a Sub-District Head, two Village Heads, and several civil servants with pro-independence sympathies.
The militias also targeted the families of such figures. According to one report, for example, the militias who killed the young boy, José Barros Soares, told his sister that they were killing him because they could not find his father, a known independence figure. Also singled out were members of the TNI and Police who were considered to be independence sympathizers.
In some instances, the attackers asked for their intended victims by name. In other cases, they appear to have known exactly where in the compound to find them. One witness said that the attackers had a list of names to which they referred as they made their way through the compound.
“I was cooking and suddenly the militias came in cars and people started running from one side to the other. Then when people calmed down they divided into sections and entered the tents seeking people on lists to kill
Among those targeted in this way was the prominent Maliana pro-independence figure Manuel Barros, who had taken refuge at the Police station with his family on September 2. At least four people witnessed his killing, including one man who was just a few feet away when it happened.
According to the testimony of that man, shortly after the attack on the compound began, three militiamen walked straight up to Manuel Barros and began to speak to him in an aggressive manner. First they ordered him to stand, then to sit, and then to extend his hand. As he extended his hand, one of the three militiamen lunged forward and stabbed him in the chest with a knife. Manuel Barros immediately fell to the ground and died soon thereafter. His body was then dragged away by the three militiamen.
Many witnesses have said that they saw the Police Chief, Major Budi Susilo, inside the compound as the killings took place, and several witnesses have testified that they saw Lt. Sutrisno on a motorbike near the Koramil on the evening of September 8. At least one witness claims to have seen both Lt. Col. Siagian and Lt. Sutrisno in the immediate vicinity of the Police station: “When I walked out of the compound” the witness told a journalist “I saw the chief of the Kodim [Siagian] there, with the Intel chief, Lt. Sutrisno. They were waiting for something near the Kijang pick-ups.”
The attack continued until about 9:00 p.m. and the disposal of the bodies began shortly thereafter. As in other cases of mass killing in 1999, the process of disposal was methodical, and supervised by TNI officers, indicating that it had been planned in advance by the authorities. It was also clearly intended to conceal the evidence of a crime.
The electricity to the area was cut, and the corpses were loaded onto two or more trucks under the cover of darkness. According to a man who was ordered to assist in loading the bodies onto the trucks, a TNI officer kept track of the identities and the number of dead.
The trucks were then driven out of town to Batugade, a pro-autonomy stronghold near the Indonesian border. The TNI had made arrangements with local militia leaders Ruben Tavares (João Tavares’ nephew) and Ruben Gonçalves to receive the corpses and dispose of them. According to prosecutors, the militiamen filled large rice sacks with sand and attached them to the bodies. Weighted down by the sand-filled sacks, the bodies were then taken out to sea on fishing boats, and dumped overboard.
The systematic and planned character of the crime at the Maliana Police station is also suggested by further killings of a similar nature that took place in the two days immediately afterward. At least 13 people who managed to flee the attack on the Police station were hunted down and killed with knives and machetes on September 9, at the Mulau lagoon outside Maliana town. One day later, on September 10, two Timorese policemen were killed in a similar fashion, for their suspected pro-independence leanings.
Like the victims at the Maliana Police station, those killed on September 9 and 10 included prominent leaders and alleged supporters of independence. And like them, their bodies were disposed of in an apparent attempt to hide the crime. The remains of two of those killed at Mulau were later found on the beach at Batugade, some 50 kilometers from the scene of their murder.