Timorese exploited by president's daughter

Wednesday, October 2, 1991

By Mikael Hidayat

JAKARTA — Sana, 19, and a group of fellow Timorese workers first came here in hope of a life better than that to be found in Timor. Their expectations had been raised by the promise of jobs in a Jakarta hotel.

The promise had been made by government officials in Timor and by Siti Rukmana — Suharto's daughter and a giant in the Indonesian timber industry. In return for domestic duties in the hotel, they were to receive wages of 10,000Rp (A$6.75) a day and free accommodation. Instead they found deception.

Sana and the others workers were forced to work in Rukmana's timber industry. Their wages were 2100Rp ($1.40) a day. Their housing lacked running water and toilets.

Outraged by their situation and the manner in which they had been deceived, they decided, on July 15, to strike in protest.

They took their complaints to the Balai Latihan Kerja (Work Training Body). After negotiation, it was agreed that the workers should return to their old jobs in North Jakarta until the BLK came and assessed their situation.

The BLK did come, and promised to move them to better conditions. However, when by August 3 nothing had changed, the workers decided to lodge their protest once more. This time Sana and his friends were asked to return again on August 9 to hear the BLK's decision.

Late on the night of August 8, army special command troops burst into the houses of the Timorese and abducted three of them. They were taken to Kopassus, an army post in East Jakarta. Here they were interrogated about why they were protesting.

It became clear the army saw a political motive behind their protest.

The following day, the remaining Timorese were brought to Kopassus. All 13 were then escorted to the BLK. They were instructed they would not be allowed to return to their houses in North Jakarta. They must remain at a BLK house until August 12, when a decision would be made.

The army returned on August 12. They beat and tortured Sana and his friends. Sana described being pushed to the ground and repeatedly kicked in the limbs and torso. The soldiers threatened electric shocks and death by hanging or shooting.

All 13 were then released and taken back to their jobs at Rukmana's timber industry.

Enraged, Sana and the others took their protest to Parliament. They were told to return at a later date. All are now in hiding, for fear of another beating — or worse — from the army, which is known to be looking for them.

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