Every day a group of women meet at the shop called Nove Nove (Nine Nine) in bustling Maliana market. They share a chilling legacy. In the ninth month of the 99th year they all lost their husbands during a frenzy of army and militia killings that followed the referendum for self-determination.
Almost two years after the slaughter, memories of September 1999 have not dimmed - for most of the women the passage of time has only sharpened their desire for justice or revenge.
“I honestly want to beat them up. I lost my two children and my husband. I want to see those men and beat them with my own hands,” said Rosarina Muniz.
After the announcement of the landslide vote to end 24 years of Indonesian rule Maliana descended into anarchy. Armed militia gangs spearheaded by Dadurus Merah Putih (Red and White Typhoon) and directed by Indonesian Kopassus special forces and army intelligence sought retribution against pro-independence supporters.
Ms Muniz’s husband, Duarte Gouvia, was arrested as he tried to escape the violence, and her sister, Maria Gomes, witnessed his killing. Duarte was first beaten then stabbed and left to bleed to death. The militia then shot Ms Muniz’s two children, Renato Goncalves, 12, and Victorino Lopes, 11.
The Nove Nove women reject any suggestion of pardons for the militia leaders and the killers who rampaged through Maliana.
“We want the militia brought to justice,” said Filomena Fereira da Silva, whose husband was one of 47 murdered during the Maliana police station massacre on September 8 and 9.
“We want the militia tried and punished. Reconciliation means justice and a trial.”
Ms da Silva, a United Nations electoral worker, was a prominent militia target. So was her husband, a pro-independence leader. By September 3, the day after UN international staff were evacuated, Maliana was under the control of the militia and the Indonesian army. As the violence escalated, many people took refuge in the grounds of the police station, the one place they considered safe.
But on September 6 the commander-in-chief of all of East Timor’s militia groups, Joao Tavares, met the three most senior Indonesian security officials in Maliana, Lieutenant-Colonel Burhanuddin Siagian, his intelligence chief, Lieutenant Try Sutrisno, and the police chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Budi Susilo, and demanded a list of names of all the people inside the police compound. On September 8 the militia attacked.
“A 10-year old boy was killed right in front of me. His name was Francisco Barreto,” Ms da Silva said. “My husband was dragged into another room. He was stabbed and managed to walk as far as the Junior High School and collapsed there and died from his wounds,” she said.
The exact number of people killed in Maliana in 1999 may never be known, but it is thought that 47 people were murdered inside the police compound on September 8 and 9. Survivors say another 13 people who escaped the initial bloodbath were caught the next day and executed by a lake on the outskirts of town. Many more were killed as they tried to flee into the mountains.
UN Serious Crimes Unit investigators believe the death toll may be more than 200.
War crimes charges arrest warrants are pending against the four key organisers but, as all the suspects live in Indonesia, it is unlikely they will be brought to justice.
BD: East Timorese Women's Issues - A collection of recent information, petitions, articles and news
BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news