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East Timor survivors tell Ottawa of atrocities

Toronto Star - November 13, 1997

Allan Thompson, Ottawa – Joao Antonio Dias said he watched Indonesian soldiers kill wounded East Timorese demonstrators by banging their heads against rocks.

Roberto Jeronimo spoke of beatings and electrical shocks to his genitals he endured while being tortured in an Indonesian prison.

Josefina Ribeiro told of how she was lined up in a classroom in East Timor, with all the other girls, and forcibly injected with the birth control agent Depo Provera.

All three were among witnesses who told their stories yesterday during a mock war-crimes trial of Indonesian President Suharto, whose forces stand accused of gross abuses of human rights in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony which Indonesia invaded in 1975 and claimed as its 27th province.

Suharto is scheduled to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Vancouver later this month.

Thirteen expatriate East Timorese, brought to Ottawa by the East Timor Alert Network, told of executions, torture and other abuses at the hands of soldiers from Indonesia. The network believes Suharto should be barred from Canada based on an Immigration Act provision that forbids entry by those linked to crimes against humanity.

Dias was working in the lab of the military hospital in Dili, the East Timorese capital, on Nov. 12, 1991, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in the Santa Cruz cemetery.

Dias was forced to help unload bodies from trucks that brought the dead and wounded to the hospital, where bodies filled the morgue and then were simply lined up outside.

"The survivors were calling out for their mothers, they were calling for help. The military response was to stab them with daggers and with rifle butts, and to smash their heads against the rock," Dias said.

"In the meantime, the trucks kept coming with more bodies and they drove right over the ones that were on the ground. Many of the wounded gesticulated, moving their arms and their legs to show that they were still alive, but the trucks kept running over them.

"I witnessed this killing but I could not do anything," said Dias, his words choked by tears. "I felt helpless."

Dias and other witnesses spoke in an ornate committee room on Parliament Hill, standing before a large portrait of a bloodied little girl who survived the Dili massacre.

Jeronimo, 42, a nurse and activist in the independence movement Fretilin, told of being tortured with electric shocks to his genitals. After his release, he worked in a military hospital.

"At the hospital, I often witnessed torture, rape and executions," he said. "Some were taken away in helicopters and thrown into the sea."

In 1983, he was arrested again and subjected to beatings and torture that included electrical shocks and having his finger nails pulled out.

Alfredo Rodrigues, 28, bared more than his soul yesterday. In the middle of his testimony, during which he described how soldiers crushed his toes and burned his body with cigarettes, Rodrigues turned around and pulled up his shirt, revealing a back covered with scars and burn marks.

A tearful Josefina Ribeiro, 25, said Suharto hoped "to eliminate us by stopping us from having baby."

"Like so many other Timorese women, I was injected with Depo Provera," she said. "All my male classmates were asked to leave the room, all the women were asked to line up so they could give the injection."

Aviano Faria, 27, told of how he survived the shooting in the Santa Cruz cemetery by pretending to be dead - but still being kicked in the head and stomach by Indonesian soldiers.

"As I speak here today my fellow brothers and sisters are still being killed," he said.