photo by Simon Davies

The massive turnout for the referendum 10 years ago today was a testament to the courage of ordinary people. Today is a day to celebrate.

This photo, taken in Beaçu on August 30, 1999, I borrow from the UNAMET archive site. Credit belongs to Simon Davies.

The site is well worth checking out today.

Also, I recommend a Youtube viewing of the Australian series “Answered by Fire” which many have told me does justice to the events preceding and following the referendum.


Will fear get everything?

Ah o medo vai ter tudo
(Penso no que o medo vai ter
e tenho medo
que é justamente
o que o medo quer)

– Alexandre O’Neill,
do “Poema Pouco Original do Medo”

Why is it that, according to Amnesty, there is only one person still in prison of the 84 convicted of crimes against humanity in 1999?

It has been called “forgetting from above” in other countries – but in the case of East Timor, it is also “forgiving from above.” Last year, the President released nine militiamen, whose crimes included: chopping people to pieces in front of their families, torture, the premeditated murder of priests and nuns, and mass execution.

(I wrote about the pardon of Joni Marques and Tim Alfa, but three members of Oecusse’s Sakunar militia and two members of Laksaur militia also walked free last year.)

They were tried at great financial expense, and psychological cost to witnesses and family members. (And they were released, because as the current Prime Minister says, we are all “saints and sinners”.)

Why is that the Parliament has yet to discuss the Truth Commission report, or the Truth and Friendship Commission report? Why is it the major figures of Timor’s political elite favor a blanket amnesty for EVERYTHING that happened since 1975?

What do they have to fear?

Will “fear get everything”?

Quoting Alexandre O’Neill: “I think of how much fear will get / and I am fearful / and that’s exactly / what fear wants.”

The UN dead


One thing I feel has been sorely overlooked since about late 1999 is the number of Timorese staff who worked for UNAMET who were killed.

UNTAET claimed in 2000 that only 6 UNAMET workers were killed.

Geoffrey Robinson’s definitive report names 14 killed.

I found this slide show commemorating the 60th anniversary of peacekeeping in Timor, by UNMIT (caution: large PDF file) and they mix the deaths of the butchered UNAMET staff, some of whom were tortured, raped and killed before their families, with those who died in car accidents in subsequent UN missions.

For the record, I’ve tried to create a list of those killed before, during and after the referendum, most of whom were targeted because they worked for the UN. If you have more information about any of the people listed here and/or convictions for their murders, please comment or send to my email.

I hope the UN is planning on finally commemorating them 10 years on.

And I am curious: what kind of compensation have their families received?

1. Abreu DA COSTA, (Shot attempting to flee in Bulle in Laga subdistrict by Battalion 745?)

2. Mariano DA COSTA (tortured and killed by militia in Liquiça before the Referendum)

3. Hilario Boavida DA SILVA (Last seen out front Dili Diocese)

4. Silva Leonel DE OLIVEIRA (Last seen out front Dili Diocese)

5. Manuel DE OLIVEIRA (beaten and stabbed to death in Atsabe – conviction)

6. Orlando GOMES (beaten and stabbed to death on day of the ballot in Atsabe)

7. Paulos KELO (executed by Sakunar militia in Oecusse)

8. Ana da Conceição LEMOS (raped, tortured and murdered in Gleno)

9. João LOPES (stabbed to death while carrying a ballot box in Atsabe)

10. Carlos MAIA (Maliana, killed in Police Station massacre)

11. José Ernesto de Jesus MAIA (AKA José Ernesto Mariano? – no specific info available on the internet)

12. Domingos PEREIRA (shot in Bobanaro by TNI – [correction: partial] conviction)

13. Ruben Barros SOARES (beaten, stabbed and attacked with rocks in Bobanaro by militia – conviction)

14. Francisco TAEK (executed by Sakunar militia in Oecusse)

Life under the flip-flop

The night before I left, grass fires lined the hills, like bleeding gums.

I had been asking myself over and over again, toying with in my head, how Dili could be this calm, this “ok” only three years after the violence. The calm, at times almost giddy, sense of prosperity.

In 2006, people were pulled out of mikrolets and forced to prove they could count to ten without the wrong accent. Those who failed to effortlessly say “h-at” for four were beaten, or worse dragged away. People lived wracked with fear of their neighbors. Of strangers. They lived in fear of themselves. There was no longer a jackboot, it was a terrifying Timorese shinelo.

All that remains on the city landscape of 2006 is the memorial for the police killed in Caicoli.

But what happened to the dead civilians?

More importantly, the roadblockers? The mask-wearing rock throwers? The rama-ambon makers? The house burners? The civilians who FDTL distributed arms to?

During tours of the city limits of Dili — through Becora, down through Bidau Santana, then out to Cristo Rei, and back out up the back of Delta Comoro, back down through Fatumeta, then up Taibesse’s up and around China Rate and back down Lahane – I wonder how much is stored up there — how is stress and anger contained. Where does it go? Is it swallowed? Is it buried? Is it literally stored away like an unused rama ambon?

I met some young people who have made a conscious decision to leave Dili, to go to Indonesia, to go to England. Dili is too small to contain all of their stress and anger.

It is hard to transmit how it felt in 2006, so it is hard to capture the strange dissonance with today’s Dili.

The mad construction keeps the city busy, and Prime Minister’s spokesman gloats over 12% growth in GDP.

Heaps of carpenters buzzing away making window and door frames with deslokadu money; the massive $400,000+ Civil Society Fund renovation of Motael Church, and the bigger and more expensive work on the Cathedral; the new wooden crocodile heads around the Monument to the Discoveries in front of the Palace of Government (a symbolic encircling of the colonial object); the traditional houses going up like lightening around the new Presidential palace, and in time for the big party in August.

While most people display a dangerous level of distrust in their political leaders, Dili seems perfectly lanu and mosu at the moment.

Have people begun to tell 2006? How can it ever be told?