Web Comment & Analysis:
Traumatized East Timorese women
By Victoria Brittain @ Dili
Juliana dos Santos, a teenage survivor of a church massacre in Suai in East Timor two years ago, will not be home to see a constitutional assembly voted into power next month. Juliana is still in West Timor, in one of the refugee camps controlled by militias, created by the Indonesian army, which fought a brutal last-ditch resistance to the East Timorese vote for independence in the referendum of August 1999.
On September 6, two years ago, 200 East Timorese, including priests and nuns, lost their lives in Suai, as the Laksaur militia exacted retribution for the vote. Juliana’s younger brother Carlos was among those killed, and Juliana, then 15, was kidnapped minutes later by the militia leader, Igidio Manek, who took her as a war prize.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of East Timorese women were forced across the border by the Indonesian military and their militia allies in those hectic days of rage after the vote. They became sex slaves of the militias, which still control the refugee camps, and even those who managed to get away are profoundly traumatised. After the murders of three UNHCR officials in West Timor nearly a year ago, the UN withdrew from the camps, and they became a no-go area for outsiders.
Juliana, who now has a son, Hercules Carlos Amaral, nearly eight months old, has become a cause celebre in East Timor. She is a symbol both of the terrible price women paid for 24 years of Indonesian occupation, and of the culture of Indonesian impunity that scars the new nation on the eve of its independence.
Other women, including Kirsty Gusmao, the wife of East Timor’s historic leader, Xanana Gusmao, have campaigned vigorously for Juliana and succeeded last month in getting a meeting arranged with her parents just over the West Timor border. But, surrounded by Indonesian police and militia, Juliana chose not to go home to Suai. For her parents - who lost one child two years ago and then managed at last to be reunited with their only surviving daughter, only to find she could not relate to them - it was devastating.
Kirsty Gusmao wonders whether Juliana is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, identifying with her captor, which would not be surprising. She is an inexperienced young girl, and her kidnapper is one of the most powerful militia leaders. It is equally likely that she was just intimidated. “She probably didn’t even know that she was so close to the border, nor how easy it would have been to jump into the UNHCR car,” she says.
Earlier this month, Igidio Manek was arrested, with 22 other militia fighters, by the Indonesian military. However, it was not for his kidnapping and rape of a minor, nor because he is sought by UN prosecutors for his role in the Suai massacre in 1999, but because an Indonesian soldier was killed during rioting by his Laksaur militiamen in the border town of Atambua. And his arrest is unlikely to alter Juliana’s case, which is also of interest to the Indonesian military. Juliana may know, or they may think she knows, who killed the UNHCR officials.
The UNHCR estimates that there are 85,000 refugees still in West Timor, “in a hostage-like situation, with women and children tightly controlled by extremist elements”. On the basis of interviews with those who have come home, the UN refugee office’s Bernard Kerblat believes “the great majority” want to return. In the past two years, 181,000 have come back.
Kerblatsays that “systematic violence continues in the camps and there is no chance of the refugees expressing freely what they want”. The new military-backed government of Indonesia, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri and welcomed by western governments, is unlikely to be sympatheic to Juliana or the other East Timorese victims of the Indonesian military and their allies. The new president has pointedly refused to meet Xanana Gusmao since he was released from prison in Indonesia.
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