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East Timorese Remember 1999 Massacre


This is the tenth anniversary of one of East Timor's worst massacres. Up to 100 people were killed by pro-Indonesian militia at a church. The victims' families are dismayed that so few of those responsible have been brought to justice over the 1999 crimes.

The killings in the coastal town of Liquica came about five months before East Timor would vote to secede from Indonesia.

The campaign against independence was ruthless. Militia troops were supported by the Indonesian military and were trying to force East Timorese to vote to remain part of Indonesia.

That bloody period in East Timor's history reached its peak in Liquica, on the country's northern seaboard.

As soldiers and militias burned and looted houses around the district, about 2,000 pro-independence supporters sought shelter at a Catholic church. There, they were savagely attacked by gangs wielding machetes.

A police report stated that only five people died but witnesses claim the number of dead was between 30 and 100.

Only one person - a former militia member - is in prison for his part in attack a decade ago. Others had their convictions overturned.

Christina Carrascalao, whose brother died in the violence that preceded East Timor's vote for independence, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the Liquica killings left people in constant fear of their lives.

"You just have to learn to cope with the fear, to cope with the pressure - to cope with the terror that was going on," she said. "You know a lot of killings were happening, a lot of houses being burned. People were being tortured."

Last year, Indonesia expressed regret for violence in East Timor in 1999. But Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has rejected calls for an international tribunal.

Along with East Timor's leaders, President Yudhoyono argues that past crimes should be forgiven in the interests of a better future.

East Timor achieved independence in May 2002 but remains beset by political instability, friction between regional groups and very high unemployment. It is one of Asia's poorest nations.

An outbreak of violence between disaffected soldiers and forces loyal to the government in 2006 prompted the United Nations to set up a new peacekeeping force, with forces from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal.

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