Baucau: another front in East Timor war &amp&amp


By John Martinkus and Daniel Pedersen

EAST TIMOR — When five shots penetrated the body of the commandant of subdistrict Vermasse as he was on his way to work on July 27, it triggered — by afternoon — a violent and repressive response from Indonesian Battalion 745 (Baucau). By early afternoon two young East Timorese brothers were dead, eight M16 bullets embedded in each body and crucifixes forced into the corpses' rectums. East Timor's dirty war continued. After the 9am shooting of the police officer, Indonesian military protocol was followed to the letter. A town meeting of Vermasse — 31 km west of Baucau — was called. Soldiers then methodically searched house to house to ensure all inhabitants attended. According to a highly placed government source, during this search a movement was heard in a dwelling.

With no response at the front door, the soldiers moved to the rear and encountered two youths attempting to flee. A volley of automatic shots rang out, heard by the boys' father, Cosme da Costa Freitas, the head of Vermasse village. He found the mutilated bodies of his two sons dead on the dry ground.

The same source said that within the next 24 hours, 18 youths were arrested and placed in Baucau jail. It is common knowledge among residents that several of the prisoners have been shot in the arms and legs and denied medical attention. None have yet been released.

Baucau — 132 km east of Dili — the second largest city in the territory, was once the tourist hub of the former Portuguese colony. In the early 1970s TAA flew a Fokker Friendship three times weekly from Darwin to Baucau.

Tourists, mostly Australian, found a picturesque town perched on a mountainside 500 metres above sea level, dominated by the imposing Portuguese colonial architecture of the marketplace. In the late '60s an Olympic size swimming pool surrounded by sunbaking decks, water slides and diving boards had been constructed along with the international standard Hotel Flamboyan.

Such was the perceived tourism potential that in 1973 an Australian company, Thiess Holdings, unveiled plans for a joint venture for the construction of a four wing hotel, villas, a marina, golf course and a 175 sq kilometre zoo. The Australian tourists' guitar playing, singing and drinking until the early hours of the morning are still remembered by older residents of Baucau.

The pool is now empty, Hotel Flamboyan has been renamed Hotel Baucau and seized from its former owner by the Indonesian military. It was used in the late 1970s as a military interrogation and torture centre.

The markets are charred and deserted, the result of four days of violent demonstrations, beginning on January 1, against Indonesian presence in the town. Cock fights most afternoons bring nothing of the bustle which once made the markets the cultural and business centre of the town.

Tension between the local Timorese population and Sulawesi immigrants — who now dominate local business — exploded after the death of an East Timorese youth at the hands of a Sulawesi trader on January 1, according to Amnesty International and Baucau residents. For four days up to 5000 East Timorese marched around the town and gathered in the square outside the Catholic church, chanting anti-Indonesian slogans and defying orders to disperse.

Fires lit by young Timorese ripped through the markets and adjacent shops owned by Sulawesi immigrants. The military had lost control.

An Australian tourist visiting Baucau at the time described crowds of East Timorese standing defiantly at the centre of town watching silently as Indonesian troops circled them in squads of six or seven, their M-16s levelled at the crowd. Trucks laden with infantry streamed into the town — he counted seven in 10 minutes — whilst more troops combed the side streets, weapons at the ready.

Two M-60 heavy machine gun-emplacements were established, one below the markets, another at the side. Soldiers sprayed arcs of cross-fire into the crowd gathered in the square outside the church. Government sources in Baucau this month put the number killed at 25 with many more injured, a figure that dwarfs official Indonesian reports.

Some of the wounded managed to drag themselves to church buildings, about 100 metres away, where they hid in an attic. The Australian tourist reported seeing their still wet blood running down the walls and a portion of ceiling missing which had been smashed away by Indonesian troops as they searched and apprehended the wounded. A trail of blood had revealed their location.

Amnesty International spokesperson Tony O'Connor confirmed details of the July 27 killings at Vermasse. Of the January incident, he said information from the territory was so restricted by the Indonesians that exact details were impossible for Amnesty to gather.

O'Connor said a source had confirmed that wounded people who had taken refuge in the church buildings had been taken away by the military.

On July 20, word hit the streets of Baucau that another young East Timorese had been murdered by a Sulawesi shopkeeper. This again sparked four days of demonstrations against the Indonesian presence.

A highly placed government source in Baucau has suggested there was no murder. No body was ever found. Rather, said the source, East Timorese residents working for Indonesian military intelligence were spreading rumours in an attempt to cause demonstrations. Since 1984 this tactic has been used to draw out Fretilin and anti-Indonesian activists for identification, to be used for later arrests.

More than 60 people were jailed as a result of the July demonstrations. Some were held for three or four days, another eight until August 1, and five remain imprisoned.

At night in Baucau the streets are deserted. The only movement comes from a tightly knit band of police outside their sandbagged post. For Timorese youth to move in the streets after dark is extremely dangerous. If detected, the result is likely arrest, torture and, for some, death.

Fresh memories of "Ninja" death squads — groups of hooded men who roamed the streets of both Dili and Baucau after dark, invading homes and beating East Timorese with suspected pro-independence leanings — ensure the unofficial curfew is broken only by the military and guerrillas of Falintil, the armed wing of the independence movement.

Since the January "incident" all night buses, the principal form of transport, have been cancelled. Visitors to the town are required to report all details of their movements to the police. Reports of increased fighting in the mountains around the town have come hard and fast since the January riots. In the past month Falintil guerillas were engaged in heavy fighting with Indonesian troops.
[A shorter version of this article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.]