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'Stolen children' revisit tragic past

Jakarta Post - May 25, 2016

Tama Salim, Dili – "I want to hug and kiss my mother," said Muhammad Yaqub, born Manuel da Costa, shortly before traveling home to Timor Leste after 25 years of living in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan.

One week later he has managed to do just that and a whole lot more, spending time with some of his long-lost relatives in Ossu village in Timor Leste's Viqueque district. Yaqub also went on a 10-kilometer hike to hills in the village where he used to tend the buffalo and grow vegetables.

He then visited his father's grave and contemplated at the site where an Indonesian Military (TNI) soldier shot his old man dead some 40 years ago on a hillside just a short hike away from where his family now lives.

But as the time came for him to return to Balikpapan, the 39-year-old soon realized that he had to deal with the reality that members of his family in Timor Leste could not permanently be part of his life.

"There's no way I can afford to take care of them. My relatives want to see my wife and my children, but it all comes down to the [financial] situation; the costs are very high, [...] and it wouldn't be fair for me to bring one child and not bring the others," he said.

Yaqub is married with nine children. He was taken in the early 1990s by a TNI soldier soon after his father's death to Kalimantan, where he eventually settled down as a small business owner.

Mubarok Wotu Modo, 39, has led a more fortunate life away from his homeland. As an orphan, he was taken to Indonesia in 1990 at the age of 13 by soldiers of Battalion 726. Both his parents died of famine and disease during the early years of the Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste, then considered Indonesia's 27th province and known as East Timor.

Mubarok was taken to Makassar along with 39 other children, where he was eventually adopted by a local doctor, who allowed him to complete his education in the Muhammadiyah school system. Previously known as Ernani Monteiro, Mubarok returned to visit his relatives in Ossu, but had no intention of staying.

"I won't make a rushed decision on this. In Indonesia, I am financially able to provide for my wife and myself. But I'd be a fool to move [to Timor Leste] now," Mubarok said, adding that he certainly would not have the means to start a new life in the former Indonesian territory.

"Personally, I see Timor Leste and Indonesia as parents; both have to be dealt with equal respect. I can't just leave one for the other."

Yaqub and Mubarok are just two of 11 individuals who have mixed feelings about being reunited with their families after decades of being separated by politics. They are part of Timor Leste's generation of "stolen children," who were forcibly taken away from their families during the Indonesian occupation of then-East Timor.

The 25-year occupation of East Timor by Indonesia ended with a referendum in 1999, when an overwhelming majority of people in the province voted for independence.

During the occupation, many Timorese children were adopted by Indonesian orphanages or members of the military and most of them were taken away from their families without consent. It is widely believed that the New Order government of Soeharto had used the children as propaganda to justify support for East Timor's integration into Indonesia.

Fourteen years since Timor Leste's independence, many of these stolen children are now adults who have settled in Indonesia without any contact with their families. Many have new names, and have adopted the culture, language and religion of their new homes.

Many were told their parents had died, only to find out later that some of their relatives were still alive while others were taken at an early age and later found out that they were adopted.

Yaqub and Mubarok's homecoming is part of a people-to-people initiative arranged by a number of NGOs, with the aim of dealing with the legacy of gross human rights violations in Timor Leste.

This year is the second attempt at the project, bringing together participants from Jakarta, Sulawesi and Kalimantan. Last year, the program returned 15 "stolen children" to their families.

Jose Luis de Oliveira, a representative of the Timor Leste branch of the Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) civil society group, one of the event's main facilitators, said participants in the program had the final decision on whether they would return to their families.

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/05/25/stolen-children-revisit-tragic-past.html