Indonesian troops invade church

November 6, 1991

At least two, and possibly four, Timorese were killed in a church in Dili when Indonesian troops attacked it early in the morning of October 28.

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, identified the known victims as Sebastiao Ranel, 18 years, of Wai Mari, a resident in Vila Verde, Dili, and Afonso Hendrique, 30 years, from Laga, Baucau. The two men were not armed.

The incident occurred in Motael Church, which has been used for more than a year as a refuge by young Timorese who believe they are at risk of arrest by army troops occupying East Timor.

The incident began at 1 a.m. when intelligence agents came to the church. At first, the troops tried to compel the priest to hand over about 20 youths who were taking refuge in the church. The priest refused so do so, and the troops, infuriated, left.

Fifteen minutes later they returned, shouting, "Catch thief! Catch thief!" The youths inside came out to see what was happening. Then the firing started. Two young men got separated from the rest; the others started ringing the church bells. Hearing this, the people living in the neighbourhood came out to defend their church.

The Australian Council for Overseas Aid reports that three Australian tourists who were in Dili, on returning to Darwin, said that on Sunday, October 27, they attended mass at the church. They were struck by the extremely intense atmosphere and the strength of the sermon (in Tetum). Believing themselves to be in danger, they left the church before the end of the service.

They were accommodated one block from the Motael Church. They were awakened about 2.30 a.m. on Monday morning when a gong or bell starting tolling in the church. When they looked into the street, hundreds of local people could be seen running silently towards the church.

The local people were followed to the church by many taxis and other vehicles which the witnesses believed were carrying security personnel.

Then about six shots were fired. They are absolutely sure about the shots being fired because everything was silent. The shots were of two kinds, probably from a rifle and a pistol.

The incident at the church occurred 24 hours after Lisbon announced the suspension of a Portuguese parliamentary visit to East Timor, following a decision by the Indonesian government to veto Australian journalist, Jill Jolliffe, as a member of the press corps accompanying the mission. Jolliffe was scheduled to report on the mission for the Melbourne Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

Sources in East Timor say that news of the suspension or cancellation of the visit has greatly increased tensions in Dili, with fears that the occupying troops may provoke more incidents. Amnesty International has issued an alert on behalf of four other Timorese believed to have been arrested: Aleixo Ximenes of Baucau, Manuelo Constantino Cornelio de Piedade of Mantuto, Domingos Barreto and his brother Deolindo Barreto.

"The whereabouts of the four men are unknown", Amnesty said, " but they are believed to be in military custody. Also reported missing is Didi Boavida, 26, of Bairro Formosa, who was arrested in mid-August 1991. Most of Didi Boavida's relatives were killed in the 1970s, but one remaining family member did report the arrest to civilian and church authorities in Dili."
[From reports on Pegasus.]

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