Reporters on the Job

*Battalion 745 first came to our attention after the death of Sander Thoenes last September. But during his travels around East Timor, the Monitor's Cameron Barr kept hearing disturbing reports about the unit.

On Oct. 3 in Fuiloro, a town near the battalion headquarters in Los Palos, an earnest young man told him that 745 soldiers had abducted and killed his brother four weeks earlier.

Late in October, the Roman Catholic bishop of Baucau told Cameron that the battalion had killed six people as it passed through the city on Sept. 21.

In November, Cameron reported in the Monitor that international investigators working on the Thoenes case had reached the initial conclusion that Battalion 745 was responsible for his death.

We wondered why this battalion's name kept coming up. What was the unit doing during its last days in East Timor? Was Sander's murder a random act or part of a pattern?

If the claims about Battalion 745 proved true, they would refute the still oft-recited line that the Indonesian military was not directly involved in September's campaign of violence in East Timor.

This January Cameron traveled to Kupang, in West Timor, to meet Lt. Col. Yacob Sarosa, the 745 battalion commander. It was the first time the officer had discussed the accusations against Battalion 745 with a foreign journalist.

Cameron also spent a week in East Timor retracing the convoy's route out of the territory. Human rights organizations in Jakarta and Dili provided initial leads, but many of the people he interviewed had never talked to official investigators or human rights workers.

In Los Palos, he located former 745 Sergeant 2nd Class Hermenegildo dos Santos, who had testified to Australian investigators about the battalion's activities. Mr. dos Santos had earlier rejected journalists' attempts to interview him, but he sat down twice with Cameron to provide an insider's account of the convoy and some corroboration about the events along the way.

As Cameron's investigation shows, the last days of the 745 in East Timor were a chilling coda to Indonesia's 24-year occupation of the former Portuguese territory.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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