Saturday, November 30, 2013

Remembering East Timor's Kraras massacre 30 years on

Police, military perimeter guards and the public watch
the 38th independence anniversary parade at the
"widows village" of Kraras. Mobile photo: David Robie/PMC

ON 28 November 1975, Timor-Leste made its fateful unilateral declaration of independence. A week later, a paranoid Indonesian military, fearful of an upstart "leftwing" neighbouring government, staged its brutal invasion and 24 years of repression and massacres followed.

On 17 September 1983, the infamous massacre of at least 300 civilians (probably a far higher number) took place at the village of Kraras and Wetuka River near Viqueque.

This heralded the end of the so-called ceasefire between Indonesian and Falintil forces and led to the long guerrilla struggle against Jakarta's harsh rule.

This week, the people of Kraras - the "village of widows" - proudly hosted the 38th anniversary of Timor-Leste independence; the real date, not the "rewritten" post-UN date. They also honoured the 30th anniversary of the Kraras massacre.

The massacre has been graphically portrayed in Timor-Leste's first feature film, Beatriz's War, and it was fitting that this movie should be screened to thousands of Timorese in an open-air arena at the independence festival this week.

Film maker Max Stahl (right) and Beatriz's War actor Gaspar Sarmento
(centre) share a joke with Christina and Freddie
of Stahl's Audiovisual Centre of East Timor (CAMSTL)
. Photo: David Robie/PMC
Film role
Popular actor Gaspar Sarmento who played the role of a cruel Indonesian commander in the film spoke at the screening.

Also screened were a documentary about Falintil by film maker and video historian Max Stahl, whose images of the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991 became a global record and contributed to the eventual independence vote eight years later, and the feature film Balibo about the killing of six Australian-based journalists.

Stahl interviewed a real-life "Beatriz" at the three-day festival in his quest to make oral histories along survivors of Timor-Leste's turbulent past.

Theresa dos Anjos was the real daughter of guerrilla leader Celestino in the film Beatriz's War, but in real life it was Celestino's son Virgilio who was a resistance hero.

Controversy still surrounds the exact details of the Kraras massacre and some background is highlighted on the Timor Archives website.

Far worse
But the massacre was certainly far worse than at Santa Cruz, yet the latter was better known internationally because of the presence of Western journalists.

Other massacres included:
  • Dili Invasion Day massacre on 7 December 1975
  • Oedaberek-Manufahi massacre in 1975
  • Marabia-Dili massacre in 1980
  • Santa Cruz massacre in 1991
  • Maliana in August 1999 (during the "scorched earth" devastation by Indonesian troops and their orchestrated militia)
  • Tumin-Oecusse massacre in August 1999
A major question remains about Kraras: What has become of legal investigations into the massacre and to identify and mark the killing sites and memorialise those who died?

There is now a "Garden of Heroes" on the Kraras hill beside the military parade ground where the formal anniversary ceremony took place this Thursday, but no list of names of those who died or any markers at the actual massacre sites.

An NGO devoted to seeking justice for "enforced disappearances" held a media conference at Kraras and issued a statement calling for more international pressure on Indonesia to provide information on the remains of captured and "disappeared" Timorese resistance leaders.

"We ask the US, UK, French, Australian and other governments who supported the [Indonesian] occupation to help the Timorese government to put pressure on Indonesia to return the remains of [President] Nicolau Lobato, and to show the whereabouts of Falintil commander 'Daitula', Mahudu, Alex, Sabalae, and other enforced disappearances," said the statement signed by Francelino Antonio Ximenes.
On parade at Timor-Leste's 38th indepedence anniversary celebrations at Kraras
this week. Mobile photo: David Robie/PMC
National leaders, ambassadors and other VIPs watch the parade at the 38th independence
anniversary celebrations at Kraras. Mobile photo: David Robie/PMC

East Timor diary postscript: A murder investigation was under way today in the Beto Timur neigbourhood on a street that the Café Pacific publisher walks daily on his Timor-Leste mission.

“We’re investigating a homicide," said a detective placing yellow number cards on the killing scene in response to Café Pacific questions about the presence of some six police cars and 30 policemen.

But she declined to give other information. Other police officers said the killing was apparently part of a fight over money.

Police at the murder scene today in Dili's Beto Timur near the Comoro River.
Photo: David Robie/PMC

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