Timor women seized from church and raped, witness testifies

A Timorese woman has testified before an Indonesian-East Timor truth commission in Jakarta that pro-Indonesian forces who stormed a local church in 1999 seized 45 young women who were later beaten and raped by militiamen.

The China Post reports that Esmeralda dos Santos sobbed as she told the commission on Thursday how she was dragged from a church and repeatedly raped by a pro-Indonesian militiaman during a frenzy of violence following East Timor's vote for independence.

Her shocking testimony about mass sexual abuse and beatings came during a week of hearings in Jakarta by the Commission of Truth and Friendship, a 10-member bilateral panel seeking to reconcile the countries' troubled past.

Dos Santos was among 18 people to give testimony in the Indonesian capital, including former political and military leaders.

On 6 September 1999, Indonesian forces and their proxy militias separated younger women from the elderly and took them to makeshift detention centres, dos Santos said.

She was held captive with about 45 other women at a school where scores were raped and assaulted for a week before being transferred to a squalid refugee camp along the border.

They were seized when troops and militia stormed the Suai Catholic Church, about 80 kilometres south of the capital, Dili, two days after the announcement that East Timor voted to break from Indonesia in a UN referendum.

At least 31 people - including three Catholic priests - perished in the attack, among the bloodiest during months of violence which investigators say left as many as 1,500 people dead.

"I had been raped many times by the same militiaman both right after the attack and at the refugee camp," dos Santos said, weeping. The same man raped other women, including three of her relatives, while their family members were forced to watch, she said.

"If we refused they said they would shoot us to death," she said. "I know the guy who raped me."

A separate East Timorese commission has found that rape and sexual slavery by pro-Indonesian groups was "widespread and systematic" during 24 years of occupation. Only one Indonesian perpetrator, militia leader Eurico Guterres, has been punished for the violence that followed the vote. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Witness tells truth commission of rape, beatings by a pro-Indonesian militia in East Timor (China Post, 29/3/07)

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30 Mar 2007