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East Timorese fleeing killings, torture

Australian Associated Press - January 6, 1999

Canberra – Hundreds of East Timorese were fleeing the countryside because of ongoing civilian killings and torture by the Indonesian military, it was alleged today.

The fresh allegations of atrocities were contained in videotapes smuggled out of the former Portuguese island colony and broadcast nationally by SBS.

The footage, filmed in a guerrilla freedom fighters' camp, gave credence to allegations of a civilian massacre at the town of Alas in November which the Indonesian government has denied happened.

"We fled because there was a massacre in the town of Alas, towards Fahinian," a man, who was not identified, told SBS. "In Fahinian, I heard the military stabbed people to death." East Timorese Bishop Carlos Belo reportedly estimated more than 40 people had been killed in Alas. SBS said hundreds of villagers had fled the countryside to the relative safety of the capital, Dili.

Luis de Fatima Soares, who left his home of Manufahi, said his foster son and brother-in-law were killed by the military. He said he had been beaten and kicked so badly by soldiers of Indonesia's 315 Battalion that he cannot walk. "They beat me with batons. They punched me. They kicked me," he said. "They punched my chest, my ears and my eyes."

A man from the village of Orana said he was bashed by troops without provocation. "They turned towards me and my child was standing next to me," he said. "They punched me twice and slapped me across the face. They also hit me with the gun butt."

SBS showed a photograph of the tortured and mutilated body of 24-year-old East Timorese Francisco Xavier. His nails were allegedly pulled from his hands and his tongue cut out by soldiers.

East Timorese resistance leader-in-exile and Nobel Prize Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta said the allegations did not surprise him. "Even after (former president) Suharto's collapse, when Indonesia's supposed to be going through democratic reforms, you still have people in East Timor arrested arbitrarily, interrogated, tortured and killed," Mr Ramos-Horta said. "This is going on daily throughout the country."

An Australian military attache who visited East Timor last month but was denied access to Alas concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove or disprove massacre allegations. However, he found several villagers had been killed and a number of houses burned.

[On January 7, a report by the Portuguese news agency Lusa said that up to 1,000 people have fled to Dili, with most of the refugees coming from the areas of Maubara, Maliana, Viqueque, Alas, Same and Ainaro. Other sources told Lusa that around 600 people had sought shelter in a church in Viqueque, that the area of Ainaro continued to be "completely closed" by Indonesian troops and that pro-Indonesian militias were spreading terror among the civilian population in the countryside - James Balowski.]