Massacres in Timor Leste: Liquica 12 Years On




April 8, 2011


By Fidelis Leite Magalhães[1]


April 6 was the commemoration of the 12th anniversary of Liquica massacre. Pro-Indonesian militias together with the Indonesian police and army stormed into the compound of the local church and massacred 60 people who sought refuge there. Several of the survivors of the Liquica church would subsequently be massacred in the house of the late Manuel Carrascalão two weeks later on April 17, 1999. The youngest son of Mr. Carrascalão, Manuelito, was also among the dead.


Those killed in Liquica came from Liquica and Maubara sub-districts. They fled from their homes and sought protection at the local church after pro-Indonesian militias, Besi Merah Putih (BMP), and the Indonesian army (TNI) began widespread campaign of terror in the district. Reacting to the event, the then spokesperson of the pro-Indonesian faction Gil Alves claimed that the militias only responded to shootings originated from inside the compound. In a plain language, Mr. Alves justified the massacre as an act of self defense on the part of the militias, the police and the army. This was the first comment made by the pro-Indonesian side. Mr. Alves is the current minister for trade and commerce of an independent Timor Leste.


The commemoration in Liquica was sad but also cathartic. The community got together, memorialized to momentarily relive the experience. Relatives of the heroes have to deal with the biggest pain—the struggle to remember and not to forget.  Many no longer have photos of their loved ones. Their remains have not been recovered. On top of that the Timorese state exerts its political power to advocate forgiveness without truth. Forget justice!

Amidst the commemoration, Mr. Mario Reis, Secretary of State for Veteran Affairs, said that the government plans to build many more statues in the districts to honor the fallen heroes. This is another way to simply create construction schemes. While it is necessary that people remember the past and honor the fallen heroes, it is ironic when the Timorese government is yet to openly request Indonesia to identify the whereabouts of the “heroes”. The future sites for remembrance will be built with little valorization.


Until now Timor Leste has not even managed to request Indonesia to locate the whereabouts of Nicolau Lobato, the country’s first prime minister who was killed on December 31, 1978 and after whom every public insfrastructure is named. The Timorese state, runs by his comrades, does not have the courage to include identification of burial sites as part of a set of conditions presented to Indonesia in the process of normalizing relations. The normalization was conducted with no conditions attached. Timor Leste gave in too easily. Now it is obvious that it has lost the moral high ground and has in fact appeared to be the key apologist of Indonesia’s rights violations. The Timorese government goes as to behave like a PR firm for Indonesia. Not only did we try to exculpate Indonesia from its roles in our country we also actively advocate for the lifting of foreign military sanctions against Indonesia due to its rights records.

There is the need to rethink our foreign policy strategy. We need to have a more frank diplomatic engagement. Foreign policy makers should be held responsible by the national electorates. It cannot be crafted only by a few political elites. Truth seeking should be brought back on to the table. Indonesia should be able to swallow this demand. This is the most reasonable Timor Leste can do. In fact, there is more Indonesian interest in Timor Leste that any deterioration of relations between both countries is not in their best interests. Telling the whereabouts of the remains of the fallen heroes and the veracity surrounding past events should be in Indonesia’s interests as well. This is important if it wants to sustain the argument that Indonesia of today is far different from the” pre-reformasi” Indonesia.   


In 2009 Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Former Vice-Chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee and Norway´s Special Envoy to Timor Leste, and I worked together to establish the National Consensus Dialogue on Truth, Justice and Reconciliation. The goal of the Consensus Dialogue was to produce national consensus on matters of key national interests rather than simply according to party politics. The inaugural dialogue received a lively participation of all state institutions and political parties. Another goal of the event was to facilitate dialogue between civil society and state institutions. The three day meeting was a closed door event. Many issues, inter alia, justice, post-CAVR institutional follow up and memoralization were discussed. At the moment, I was told, two proposed laws are sitting in the parliament awaiting further debates. Not much has been achieved.  


So I begin to doubt whether following the consensus approach is the best way forward. I think the best way is to take advantage of the upcoming elections in 2012. For the truth to be known and for the remains to be recovered we've got to have a new government that is willing to openly ask Indonesia to provide information. As such, in the next election all the organizations and individuals interested in the identification of burial sites should pressure political parties to put the issue on their list of priorities. Timorese foreign policy should acquire a different character. Even if that means that a different approach should be adopted in dealing with Indonesia. We cannot go on living in amnesia. This is the least we could do for our heroes if we think they deserve to be honored at all. Now is the time! People should vote only for political parties that promise that they can identify the remains of our fallen heroes.



[1] Former Head of the National Consensus Dialogue and Presidential Adviser.  He currently studies in Lisbon

publicado por Eskalabis às 11:18
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