A Brutal Exit: Batallion 745
Evidence of an Indonesian Army unit's direct role in killings in East Timor
BURUMA, EAST TIMOR
After East Timor voted last August to reject Indonesian rule, the territory was thrown into a chaos of violence and destruction. Indonesia's military leaders deny responsibility for the upheaval, in which hundreds of people died.Skip to next paragraph
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But an examination of one Indonesian battalion's final two weeks in East Timor indicates that its soldiers were involved in 20 murders and disappearances leading up to the killing of Monitor contributor Sander Thoenes.
As Battalion 745 withdrew from East Timor - according to eyewitnesses, the victims' families, and a former 745 sergeant - its troops murdered specific supporters of independence and were ordered to shoot people who came within range of their departing convoy.
Today the Monitor begins a four-part series documenting the brutal last days of Battalion 745.
The soldiers of Battalion 745 greeted Sept. 21, their last full day in East Timor, by torching the barracks where they had spent the night.
As flames danced on the roofing timber of the cement buildings, the soldiers clambered into their trucks and rumbled away from the coastal town of Laga. In a few minutes, just a few miles down the road, the killing would begin.
The cool of daybreak was just giving way to the brittle heat of East Timor's dry season when Zelia Maria Barbosa Pinto heard the convoy: the deep grinding of truck gears, the buzzing whine of the motorcycle escorts, and sporadic gunfire.
Standing about 50 yards from the road in an expanse of rice paddies, Ms. Pinto was returning home after spending the night at a friend's house. She watched with growing apprehension as two men on a motorcycle were ordered to stop as they approached the 30-truck convoy.
Egas da Costa and his younger brother Abreu, two relatively well-educated local farmers, were on their way home. The previous day they had gone to a local community college to see for themselves the television coverage of the arrival of an Australian-led international force in East Timor.
The Da Costas were supporters of East Timorese independence and saw the coming of the Australians as a joyous event - the beginning of stability and freedom after months of turmoil and 24 years of Indonesian control.
Three weeks earlier, East Timorese voters had opted overwhelmingly for independence in a United Nations-sponsored referendum. But on the road in front of Egas and Abreu were some of the last vestiges of Indonesia's presence in the territory - a group of about 100 soldiers and officers, along with some of their families and a few refugees, heading for neighboring West Timor, which would remain a part of Indonesia.
Faced with scores of armed men, some wearing red-and-white Indonesian flags as patriotic headbands, Abreu slid off the back of the motorbike. It must have been obvious to him and his brother that they were encountering the wrong people at the worst possible time.
At about this time on that Tuesday morning, Sander Thoenes was leaving his home and climbing into a cab bound for Halim Airport in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. A reporter who worked for London's Financial Times, the Monitor, and publications in his native Holland, he was joining dozens of other journalists waiting for a charter flight to East Timor.
Thoenes wasn't exactly eager to return to the territory - he'd been there just three weeks earlier - but he felt he had to go. The arrival of the UN-authorized international force in the territory on Sept. 20 was dominating headlines around the globe.