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Juliana was kidnapped and taken from Timor Leste as a 'war trophy'. Two decades later, she made a daring dash for freedom

ABC News - April 3, 2022

Anne Barker – Juliana dos Santos says she had been a "war trophy" for 22 years when she decided it was time to escape the man she claims kept her a prisoner and a slave.

Days after Timor Leste's independence ballot in 1999, Juliana was kidnapped at 15 by a pro-Indonesia militia leader and taken across the border to Indonesian West Timor.

She said she was raped, forced to marry her alleged kidnapper Egidio Manek, and gave birth to his child at the age of 16.

"He took other wives, the fifth one lived with us," she said. "I was treated like a slave and forced to serve him and his wife. All the household chores, including tending the fields, were left to me."

Juliana said her captor was abusive.

"Sometimes he would beat me until my eyes were black and swollen," she said. "I would just stay silent because the children were still small and I tried to be patient."

But in January this year, Juliana could take no more. With her children's encouragement, she made a daring dash for the border. But she said her captor was not willing to let her go without a fight.

'He grabbed my hand and said I had to marry him'

Juliana dos Santos and her family still live with the trauma of the day she disappeared. It was a week after the Timorese had voted overwhelmingly to support independence and an end to the 24-year Indonesian occupation.

For months leading up to the vote, militia gangs waged a campaign of terror across Timor Leste, murdering and torturing those who supported independence, burning their homes and livestock, and deporting Timorese civilians by the truckload to West Timor.

Juliana and her family were among hundreds who had fled to the Catholic Church at Suai on Timor Leste's south coast, as militia thugs backed by Indonesian soldiers circled with rifles, swords and machetes.

Her 13-year-old brother Carlos was murdered, along with up to 200 other people that day.

One of the militia leaders who ordered the killings at Suai, Egidio Manek, seized the then-15-year-old Juliana and forced her into a nearby car.

"As we tried to flee the church, Egidio was waiting at the door," she said.

"He grabbed my hand and said I had to marry him. I didn't even know him. He forced me into a vehicle that was heavily guarded by his men.

"I was crying uncontrollably when my parents came out of the church, but I couldn't even embrace them because I was locked inside the car."

'When we're older, we'll follow you'

Juliana said she was in the possession of Egidio Manek, then deputy commander of the Laksaur militia, which carried out the Suai massacre.

The United Nations-administered Special Panel for Serious Crimes later indicted him and 13 others with crimes against humanity.

Egidio Manek was charged with multiple counts of murder, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, deportation and inhumane acts, many of them relating to the slaughter at Suai.

The true death roll remains unclear because like Juliana, hundreds of victims – dead and alive – were taken to West Timor. Some of the bodies were later recovered from mass graves.

UN prosecutors also accused Egidio Manek of abducting Juliana dos Santos. But the trial never went ahead, because he and so many other militia members had disappeared into Indonesia.

Juliana dos Santos said she was taken to live at Betun in West Timor with the captor who called himself her husband.

Juliana said she was allowed to return to Suai a couple of times when there had been a death in her family back home.

She was never allowed to take her children, which she believes was a way of forcing her to return to her husband. She said she was threatened with a beating if she returned even a day late.

But Juliana said it was her children who finally persuaded her to flee after their father threatened to stab their mother to death.

"They told me, 'when we are older, we'll follow you,'" she said. "I am always in touch with them. I have told them I'll give them money to get passports. They want to come."

Five hours in croc-infested water

Juliana's escape was fraught with danger.

As she approached the border of Timor Leste, she says Egidio Manek's nephew and a group of Indonesian soldiers arrived in the dark, hunting her with torches.

She was forced to jump into the crocodile-infested river that runs along Timor Leste's border.

"The water was as high as my neck," she said. "I knew that the Indonesian soldiers were after me, and so I swam, grasping hold of the roots of trees to help keep me afloat."

Juliana said she spent five terrifying hours in the water before she finally reached a bamboo grove on the Timor Leste side of the river.

"Throughout the night my father had been calling me constantly," she said.

"Miraculously, I had managed to keep my phone clear of the water and it was still working, [but] I had turned it to silent to avoid being heard by the Indonesian soldiers."

Juliana was finally a free woman.

'There are many Julianas still suffering'

Juliana dos Santos has been the most publicised case among hundreds – if not thousands – of Timorese women and girls who were raped, abducted or subjected to sexual slavery in the months and years surrounding Timor Leste's independence ballot.

Some women who were also taken to West Timor have since managed to return home, many of them with children born from rape.

But how many more women are still trapped in Indonesia, perhaps still under the control of their kidnappers, is unclear.

A UN report in 2001 said after the Suai massacre alone, 20 women were taken to West Timor.

"We can presume that there are many Julianas still suffering in silence or who perished," said women's rights campaigner Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, the former wife of Timor Leste's independence leader Xanana Gusmao.

"But precise figures are unavailable to us.

"The shame factor and the normalisation of violence by men against women in Timorese society, particularly at a time of conflict, mitigate against us ever obtaining a true and accurate snapshot of the problem of sexual violence and slavery as weapons of war."

Ms Sword-Gusmao took Juliana dos Santos's case to the UN Human Rights Commission in 2001 and lobbied tirelessly to have her freed.

When she established a Dili-based organisation to raise awareness of sexual violence against women, Ms Sword-Gusmao wanted to honour Juliana.

Juliana is known as Alola to her loved ones, so Ms Sword-Gusmao called her organisation the Alola Foundation.

Multiple inquiries over the years found that Indonesia's security forces and the militia groups they controlled carried out widespread and systematic sexual violence in Timor Leste.

The involvement of Indonesia's security forces partly explains why militia leaders like Egidio Manek have evaded prosecution for so long.

Kirsty Sword-Gusmao said Indonesia has refused to hand over more than 300 of its citizens, including former militia members charged with crimes against humanity, among them Egidio Manek.

"Instead of cooperating with the UN, and to head off demands for an international war crimes tribunal, Indonesia set up its own ad hoc tribunal," she said.

"Only one man... was jailed as a result of this process."

Egidio Manek denies kidnapping Juliana

Neither the Indonesian military nor the government would answer questions the ABC asked about its failure to hand over Indonesians accused of carrying out the violence of 1999.

Egidio Manek denies all allegations against him. "What happened in 1999 is not my business. It's the business of the state," he told the ABC.

"The allegations of violence aren't true. If that violence actually happened here in Indonesia, I would have been prosecuted by now. I would have been jailed."

While not denying he was a member of the Laksaur militia, Mr Manek said Juliana dos Santos had chosen to stay with him and their children in West Timor.

"If she wanted to go back to Timor Leste then she could have. But she said she would stay here because her husband was here," he said.

"There has been no violence. We worked together well as a couple. We built our home, we tended the garden, and took care of our paddy fields."

What now for Juliana?

Juliana plans to stay in Timor Leste, and hopes to build a house and run a small business to help support her parents.

After two decades of her life were stolen, she said she wants her abductor to face justice.

"He deserves to be punished for the suffering he caused me," she said. "But my kids have asked me to forget about him and I don't think about him at all."

Many Timorese women who have given birth to children from rape have faced discrimination from their own families or communities in Timor Leste, and even the Catholic Church.

But Juliana's parents see her as a hero.

"Not even the bravest man could have done what she did, she was helped by the spirits of our ancestors," said her mother, Maria Martins.

"All those years of Alola's suffering are over now. I am angry for what he did to my daughter, but I am just happy that she has come home."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-03/timor-kidnap-victim-escapes-20-years-later/10086798