East Timor’s Suffering and Survival

East Timor, which gained its independence from Indonesia in 1999 after suffering years of genocide, is now a beacon of democracy in Asia but faces new colonial pressures from globalization, writes John Pilger.

By John Pilger

Filming undercover in East Timor in 1993, I followed a landscape of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses marching down the hillsides, crosses beside the road. They littered the earth and crowded the eye.

A protest calling for East Timor to be given a larger share of revenues from offshore oil and natural gas.

The inscriptions on the crosses revealed the extinction of whole families, wiped out in the space of a year, a month, a day. Village after village stood as memorials.

Kraras is one such village. Known as the “village of the widows,” the population of 287 people was murdered by Indonesian troops. Using a typewriter with a faded ribbon, a local priest had recorded the name, age, cause of death and date of the killing of every victim. In the last column, he identified the Indonesian battalion responsible for each murder. It was evidence of genocide.

I still have this document, which I find difficult to put down, as if the blood of East Timor is fresh on its pages. On the list is the dos Anjos family.

In 1987, I interviewed Arthur Stevenson, known as Steve, a former Australian commando who had fought the Japanese in the Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1942. He told me the story of Celestino dos Anjos, whose ingenuity and bravery had saved his life, and the lives of other Australian soldiers fighting behind Japanese lines.

Steve described the day leaflets fluttered down from a Royal Australian Air Force plane; “We shall never forget you,” the leaflets said. Soon afterwards, the Australians were ordered to abandon the island of Timor, leaving the people to their fate.

When I met Steve, he had just received a letter from Celestino’s son, Virgillo, who was the same age as his own son. Virgillo wrote that his father had survived the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, but he went on: “In August 1983, Indonesian forces entered our village, Kraras. They looted, burned and…

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