Saturday, November 23, 2013

Honouring the Matebian massacre victims in East Timor

Student candles for the victims of the Matebian massacre in Timor-Leste.
Photo: Belo Dutay
By Celestino Gusmão for Café Pacific 

University students from Timor-Leste's eastern Baucau district gathered this week to commemorate the 1979 Matebian cave massacre in a month of events focused on protest against the impunity over atrocities during the illegal Indonesian occupation.

At the place at Foho Matebian on the slopes of the mountain of that name where the students lit candles, Indonesian forces used bombs to seal off the inhabitants of an entire village inside a cave with a rockfall.

Even if people had survived the rocks, they would have died of starvation trapped in the cave.
Until now, their remains are buried behind the rocks.

It is in this area during 1978/9 when the majority of the Timor-Leste population abandoned the struggle against Indonesian forces and instead took up a guerrilla struggle.

The Fretilin leadership was disorganised but took up armed struggle in the hills until Indonesia reluctantly agreed to a referendum on independence in 1999.


The Matebian massacre and other human rights violations by the Indonesian military were similar to "animal hunting".

Civilians did not have access to clean water because the Indonesian military poisoned water sources; they also did not have food because their farms were destroyed.

Today the memory of this massacre is beginning to fade, but these students - a new generation affected by the past crimes - have never forgotten.

This historical tragedy deserves being remembered by everybody.

The military aircraft used by the Indonesian military at the time almost all were supplied by the United States, Britain and other nations interested in Timor-Leste's oil resources and worried about the Timorese communist movement.

Until now the criminals accused over human rights atrocities remain free in Indonesia and some are even candidates in the Indonesian presidency - such as Prabowo, Wiranto and others.

The major nations that supported and benefited from the 24-year Indonesian occupation have not yet apologised to the Timorese people through any formal judicial process.

Activists and survivors continue to ask for justice for the Timorese people and prosecution of the criminals.

Timorese political leaders are not ready to make this issue a policy priority.

They keep on saying to those asking for justice that it is still too early to raise the issue of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Indonesian occupation.

They say it is the responsibility of the international community, not just Indonesia and Timor-Leste alone.

Celestino Gusmão is a civil society advocate working with the Timor-Leste development monitoring agency La'o Hamutuk and the human rights umbrella group ANTI.

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