Background on September 6, 1999 Suai Massacre

Excerpt from Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor to the Secretary-General (January 31, 2000)


72. A woman victim testified that on 16 September she was raped by a militiaman in a camp in Atambua. The victim stated that five other militias men had watched the incident. She also testified that she witnessed the rape of a nurse by militia men in the same camp.

73. A man testified that he had been working as a cleaner at a militia headquarters and had witnessed Indonesian army personnel issuing arms to members of the militia group.

Suai Church
Suai Church. Photo by Suai CivPol.

74. A woman victim testified that she had been raped in a 

Suai Church Massacre

75. The Commission visited the site of the massacre that took place at the Suai church on 6 September. At the time of the massacre, several hundred persons had sought refuge in the church. In the incident, three priests Father Dewanto, Father Francisco and Father Hilario were killed. Accounts of the militia and TNI removing the bodies of those killed in the church have now been corroborated with the exhumation in West Timor of 26 bodies alleged to be victims of the killings in Suai church. These bodies were recovered from Oeluli beach, Kobalima district, approximately three kilometers inside West Timor. The exhumations were undertaken at the direction of the Indonesian National Inquiry Commission on East Timor. The forensic expert who accompanied the International Commission of Inquiry examined the bodies and concluded that the remains were of 3 priests, 12 males, 8 females and 3 bodies of undetermined sex. One was a child, two in their teens, six in their teens to mid-20s, twelve were middle-aged and two elderly.

Eyewitness accounts of Suai church massacre

76. A woman witness stated that the women had been separated from the men and the men had been shot. She testified that militias were in the front and members of the TNI had stood behind them. She also testified that the victims of the killing included children.

77. The next witness stated that she had sought refuge in the church after the militia burned her house. At the church, she saw the militia and TNI throw grenades and then shoot the people who were trying to escape from the church.

78. Another witness testified that he was in the garage near the church when militia and TNI began shooting at the people in the church. He stated that the militia used machetes before shooting them.

79. A woman witness who had taken shelter at the church witnessed the shooting and killing. She testified that grenades were first thrown and when people began running they were shot or attacked with machete.

80. A witness testified to seeing the killing of two of the priests Fr. Hilario and Fr. Francisco. According to him, Fr. Hilario was shot first and Fr. Francisco was slashed with a machete. He also stated that the church was set on fire and he himself suffered burns when trying to escape from the church. He had visible burn marks on his right ear and face.

81. Another witness testified that he hid in Fr. Hilario's room when the militia and TNI began shooting. He identified by name two militiamen who shot Fr. Hilario in the abdomen.

82. A woman witness testified that her brother was killed at the Suai church. She also testified that her younger sister was injured during the shooting. She and her daughters were taken to the military headquarters where militiamen sexually abused her daughter.

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Executive Summary Report on the investigation of human rights violations in East Timor

From Indonesian Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in East Timor's Summary Report

Massacre in the Suai Church complex

Mourners kiss the coffins of the dead priests.

On September 4, the Laksaur militia and members of the TNI in Debos Hamlet caused the death of a high school student. Consequently, villagers fled for refuge in the Nossa Senhora de Fatima Church and the Ave Maria Suai Church, where many refugees had been staying for a while. On the evening of September, residences and government buildings in Suai were burned down by the Laksaur militia and members of the TNI. Commencing September 6, villagers were forced from their homes. The Suai subdistrict military commander, 1st Lieutenant Sugito took part in the burning and pillaging.

On September 6 at around 14.30, the Laksuar Merah Putih and Mahidi militias and members of the TNI and POLRI attacked refugees staying in the Suai Church complex. The attack was directly led by the Regent of Covalima, Herman Sediono and the Suai subdistrict military commander, 1st Lieutenant Sugito. Before this, the militias threatened to kill all of the priests and both male and female refugees. At the time there were approximately 100 refugees staying in the church complex and an unknown number of refugees outside the complex. Father Hilario was shot once in the chest and Igidio Manek a Laksuar militia member stepped on the priest's body. Father Fransisco was stabbed and sliced by Americo, also a member of the Laksuar militia. Another witnessed, Domingos dos Santos, saw Father Dewanto killed in the old church. At the time of the attack, the Police, the Loro Sae Mobile Brigade Contingent and members of the TNI were outside of the fence shooting refugees who tried to flee outside the church complex. It is thought that at least 50 people were murdered in this incident.

Twenty-six of the corpses were hauled by a truck and two cars and were buried in Alas Village, Wemasa District, Belu Regency. The burying of the corpses was directed by Suai subdistrict military commander, 1st Lieutenant Sugito along with three members of the TNI and a contingent of Laksaur militia. The corpses were transported from Suai at around 08.30 by 1st Lieutenant Sugito and his cohorts, after passing by the Metamauk Police Post in the Wemasa, West Timor area. The exhumation of the mass grave of the Suai Church victims found there to be 16 males, 8 females and 2 corpses whose gender could not be determined, ranging in age from 5 to around 40 years of age.

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Statements by members of Congress who visited Suai before August 1999 vote (Aug./Sept. 1999)

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)
Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA)

Congressional statements at Sept. 6, 2001 press conference

Additional Background

Free Juliana Dos Santos Kidnapped to West Timor (Feb. 20, 2001)

Bishop Belo to mark first anniversary of Suai massacre in East Timor (Sept. 5, 2000)

Indonesian Officer Admits: I buried massacre victims (Jan. 19, 2000)

Yogyakarta mourns slain Father Tarcisius Dewanto (Dec. 10, 1999

Man behind Timor massacre named (Nov. 5 1999)

Belo blesses Suai survivors amid evidence of more atrocities (Oct. 26, 1999)

Nun: 'Blood of victims seeped out of church' (Sept. 13, 1999)