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Massacre in walled churchyard

Liquica, East Timor

The cover-up was a bit clumsy, but five days after the massacre, the only remaining bloodstains were found in the churchyard. Some mysterious hand had replaced the broken doors and windows at the rectory. Even the bullet-holes in the walls were filled up and all the walls freshly painted.

But the flowers in the garden were covered with splatters of white paint, and there was still the unmistakable smell of blood in the air.

Visitors and foreign journalists milled in the church yard. An East Timorese priest shook his head and murmured: “Cosmetics ... ”

Bishop Carlos Belo -- this parish is in his diocese -- was visibly shocked. For more than an hour he stood alone in front of the church. Despite it being a Sunday, the church was empty except for the visitors. “Normally, thousands of people attend my Masses,” he murmured.

Few had the courage to attend the bishop’s Mass that Sunday morning in Liquica, and those who did were obviously distraught. Many wept. Belo assured them, “Jesus saw everything.”

Survivors told NCR that on April 6 in Liquica, 400 people tried to hide in the house of Fr. Raphael dos Santos when they were surrounded by armed militiamen who oppose an independent East Timor.

According to the Indonesian army, seven people died in Liquica that day. Belo mentioned at least 25 victims. Witnesses spoke of over 200 slaughtered like animals in the churchyard, the living room and bathroom of dos Santos’ house.

A woman told NCR she survived the blood orgy by hiding herself for hours under the dead bodies in the churchyard. She said that after the shooting stopped, young paramilitary men walked through the carnage slashing open the bullet wounds of the victims to disguise the real cause of death and deter possible investigations.

The woman later took refuge in Dili. She confirmed that Indonesian soldiers stood behind the militia in Liquica on April 6.

Over the next several days, not even the Red Cross dared to go to Liquica to investigate the massacre. The road was controlled by mobs. Toni Pfanner, the head of the Red Cross delegation in Indonesia, said: “One side has many more weapons than the other. [It is] a recipe for civil war.”

When journalists and Belo made the trek to Liquica on April 11 under the protection of Indonesian soldiers, the militiamen began to gather again. They threatened to kill the foreign journalists but made no moves.

After Belo’s Mass, as the visitors were leaving, the militia pursued the caravan on motorbikes, swinging guns and machetes. Several cars were severely damaged. While the soldiers tried to protect the foreigners, they exchanged knowing glances and smiles with the militiamen, like friends in a game of chase.

National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 1999