The 12th November Massacre - A Personal Testimony

There is lighter version of this page without the video clips.

November 12th 1991 will be remembered forever by the East Timorese as one of the bloodiest days in their History. Two hundred seventy one unarmed East Timorese civilians (mostly young people) where brutally killed by the Indonesian Army while staging a peaceful demonstration in Diliís cemetery of Santa Cruz Three hundred eighty two wounded were counted. Two hundred and fifty more people just "disappeared". In the following days the massacre continued in many places of East Timor, as the demonstrators were persecuted all over the territory. Inside the Army Hospital, in Dili, for example, many survivors were also reported to have been brutally killed with heavy stones and lethal injections.

271, 382, 250.

These simple numbers actually express unaccountable suffering among the wounded and the relatives of those killed and disappeared. Even such a breathtaking death toll can be forgotten. Five years after Santa Cruz, we hope it will not be so.

Zito Soares was one of the demonstrators that survived this killing. A young East Timorese student, he was twenty years old at the time. He agreed to share with us his experience of that day.

He was one of the 29 students who occupied the North American Embassy during the APEC summit in Jakarta, in November 1994. After twelve days, those students accepted to be hosted by the Portuguese Government. Zito is presently a Psychology student at the University of Coimbra.

Note: in this page you will find insets with still frames and quick sequences taken from Max Stahlís video of the Massacre, as aired by the portuguese channel 1. You will require Netscape 3 with the QuickTime plugin to view them. Some photos taken by Steve Cox are also available.

Before November 12th: the cancellation of the Portuguese Parliamentarians visit; reactions in East Timor and Sebasti„o Gomesí murder.

At the time of the forthcoming Portuguese MPís visit, the Timorese youth secretely prepared to show the World their strong wish of an Independent East Timor. In the territory, the news of the cancellation of the portuguese visit was a great shock. Zito Soares told us about those days:

Much tension was felt during those days! The military were visible everywhere. Even public transports were under watch in order to control all the peopleís movements. There were persecutions and even open threats all over the territory. Indonesian troops opened mass graves in Taci-Tolu, Hera, Maloa...; at the same time, other Military engaged in arresting and spanking all the Timorese that were on their "Black List". A cousin of mine, who later died in the massacre, couldnít sleep at home any more, because of these persecutions.

Dili was naturally the centre of all this military movement. Even inside the schools the pupils were watched - in such a way that those who eventually missed a class were immediately considered to belong to the Resistance.

At that time, the military forced the students to participate in debates promoting the Indonesian Language. During these debates they would speak about Portugalís abandon of East Timor and the birth of political parties in 1974-1975.

I didnīt help preparing the demonstration, because I was studying in the Seminary. The Seminary has a somewhat strict life-style: coming in and out is closely planned; so, I didnít take part in those actions.

However, we had classes in another school every morning. It was there, outside the Seminary, that we usually met our fellows and heard about what was happening in Timor and in the World.

Now, when we learned of the cancellation of the Portuguese Parliamentarians visit, there was great frustration among us, East Timorese. The presence of the Portuguese Delegation was, at the time, the only chance of showing the World what was happening in East Timor. It was a rare opportunity that could help the International Community change its attitude towards the Indonesian regimen, which occupied East Timor for 19 years by then. There was great furstration and a sense of helplessness among the youth...

That was when the military sarted digging mass graves in many places around Dili. A great deal of young people who were known to be Ďrebelsí were persecuted. Some of them, more than 30, escaped to the Motael Church and took refuge there with the Priest. After that, the Indonesian entered the Church, in the night of October 27th. They killed Sebasti„o Gomes and another one, too, who was an Indonesian agent, an infomer. They killed them both, and that was when all the trouble began.

The Demonstration

After all this happened many, many people of all ages joined Sebasti„oís funeral, when he was taken to Santa Cruz cemetery. It was then that the arrangements were made, among the youths, for a demosntration that would happen 14 days after Sebasti„oís death - the 11th of November. But that was postponed to November 12th, after the celebration Mass for Sebasti„oís Soul. The reason was the presence of Hollandís Foreign Minister, who would be in East Timor from October 10th on. He was to come as a representative of a Human Rights Committee.

Then, after the morning celebration, which I didnít assist...

You didnít go to that Mass in Motael Church, then?

... no, I didnīt go there, but I knew there would be the demonstration after. So, after the religous service at the Seminary, I went to classes, as usual - it was Tuesday, and in the first hour we had Geography - but the teacher didnít come. Since I was the class leader, my colleagues told me "Letís collect some money and catch a Taxi to Motaelís Church". It was about 7.15 or 7.30 in the morning. So we started collecting money among us. It was then that we heard the noise of the demonstrators approaching ; they had already walked two kilometers and were close now - my School wasnít far from Santa Cruz - itís about 300 metes away, or so.

So I gave all the money back to my colleagues and said "Well, the demonstration is coming, so let us join them now; but each one decides according to his own oppinion; as for me, I will join them". Then we came out of the classroom and started shouting happily - because we were joining a demonstration...

I didnít join the demonstration at once, but watched for some moments while the others passed. I joined only the last group.

Then we arrived and went inside the cemetery. We then started praying, saying the Rosary - in Portuguese.

Were you close to Sebasti„oís grave?

No, I was outside the cemetery. There were people near Sebasti„o and inside the cemeteryís Chapel. There were lots of people, so the most part of the demonstrators remained in the street outside the cemetery. When we atarted praying, everybody was quiet. After the prayers, flags were unfolded: East Timorís flag, and even Apodetiís! - also many banners.

That was when the the first military truck arrived, carrying Indonesian policeman. But they couldnít get to the street because of the crowd. Two more trucks arrived afterwards (from battalion 303) most of the men wore uniforms, some didnít wear shirt, and all of them were armed

Were they policemen or military?

These two groups were military. They all went inside the other cemetery, the Army cemetery, which is right in front of Santa Cruz. There they aligned by the wall overlooking the street, preparing to shoot at the demonstrators. The wall of this cemetery is very close to the street, we people stood very close by, (the soldiers were) at a distance of barely 5 of 6 steps away from some of us. So, there they were prepared to shoot.

Some of our fellows who had a megaphone told the crowd that the military wouldnít shoot at us because we were only peacefully demonstrating, with a clear intention: "Letís stay quiet, letís keep on praying, and then we will carry on with the demonstration untill the afternoon".

It was then that the Indonesian started their gun fire. They shot from the wall of the other cemetery at the demonstrators who were near the gate of Santa Cruz. There was a great commotion among the crowd of demonstrators. I heard much shouting, many people crying for their mothers and fathers.

I was outside the cemetery, 20 meters away or so, in the main street; at that moment I just took one or to steps forward and then threw myself at the the ground. All that came into my mind was "I am going to die now; or if I don't, I will be arrested". Then I turned my face back and saw the first soldiers. They had ran out of bullets and were using their bayonets now. They first bayoneted a friend of mine, Fortunato, who later lost his arm due to the wounds. From that moment on, I could only think about either running away or dying there with the others. "If I run away Iíll be shot and die at once, whereas if I stay here Iíll suffer much more". So I sprang to my feet and ran towards the smaller side door of the cemetery. That was when I got my arm wounded. But I was able to run across the cemetery, and escape to Bishop Beloís house.

Zito takes refuge at the Episcopal Residence and is taken to the Hospital.

So, I ran across the graveyard and jumped over the wall at the opposite side. There were no soldiers at the back of the cemetery. So I went through the housesí backyards towrads the Bishop's House.

I hadnít been aware of my wounded arm yet... it was some minutes after and one km or more away from the cemetery that I felt my arm was very cold... then I began shivering and I almost fainted. I was fortunately very close to a friendís house, so I went there. My friend was really scared when he saw me, he almost fainted too... His cousin then took me by car to the Episcopal Residence.

At last, I got to the Bishopís House (some demonstrators were already there). After some time the Headmaster of the Seminary appeared and took me with him to the Hospital. There were lots of people arriving there - some had three, four and even more bullets in their legs, arms, in their bodies, in their backs... The Urgent Care Unit was packed with people! My friend Fortunato lost all this muscle (the forearmís); they amputated him without anaesthetics. I was assisted by a Timorese nurse; Fortunato by an Indonesian Doctor. One could feel the military pressure inside the Hospital, the soldiers were there. After the treatment, the soldiers would arrest the people immediately and took them at once to the Military Hospital. I was fortunately taken by the Father to the Seminary. I was lucky at that moment, he insisted so with the military. I went afterwards to the Sisters health centre.

A second massacre occurred - inside the Military Hospital.

Meanwhile did anyone know about what was happening in the Military Hospital?

The army hospital is some 500 meters away from the cemetery. After the massacre, from November 13th on, the Indonesian began to enclose the Hospital, putting security battalions around the area. Nobody was able to access the Hospital, not even the Bishop.

It was a colleague of mine, who had been severely injured - he got a bullet and then was bayoneted; by the way, there was another fellow who lost his nose with a single shot! - it was that boy that managed to escape from the Hospitalís Morgue. He told that, as soon as the 13th November, large stones had been used to kill those who were still alive inside the Hospital; he actually saw these things happen. And all this was known only a week after; by that time, the dead had already vanished.

The following days.

I was taken back to Seminary by the Head master, and then was tended by the Sisters. I didnít go to classes for a week beacause I couldnít write... My family (living outside Dili) was notified by one of the Seminaryís priests. The only relative of mine who died was that cousin who also was at the Demonstration. Weíve received no more news about him until today.

Many of my friends died. They were my schoolmates, chiefly. Ten or more people, as far as I can remember.

Some other people

Some of Max Stahlís video scenes of ther massacre have become unfortunately famous. Zito Soares told us about some of the people that are seen running away from the Indinesian Army Soldiers, or badly injured by the shots.

A badly wounded young man who is being held by a friend has survived. He recovered from the wounds after some time and became a student at an Indonesian University.

Another young man, sitting inside the chapel and shwoing a severe wound in his feet, has also survived. According to Zito his ankle was completely broken; he stayed in the military Hospital for 3 or 4 months, and couldnít walk normally any more. He is now in East Timor.

We would like to express here how grateful we are to Zito Soares for his accepting to give this testimony.

Interview made for TimorNet by Jo„o Keating and Isabel Bolas. Special thanks to Manuel Correia.