East Timor: Dili comes to life again as refugees return from hills

EAST TIMOR Tens of thousands of residents come back as the international peace-keepers secure city and aid agencies bring in food supplies

TO THE commanders of the International Force East Timor - Interfet - counting from the day they landed in Dili, yesterday was D-Day plus eight. Everyone else will remember it as the day the people came down from the hills.

All week they have arrived in small groups, picking their way down the scrubby slopes. A UN worker estimated that 20,000 had come back by yesterday afternoon. Ross Mountain, the UN's humanitarian chief for East Timor, predicted 70,000 could soon be in town.

There is rice in the warehouses, and more on its way in a ship chartered by the World Food Programme. Supplies of clean water are still a worry, but there is no question of turning back any refugees. Eight days after D-day, Interfet and its UN allies needed this as much as any refugee - at last, tangible signs that normal life is returning to East Timor.

"It's a red-letter day for the people of East Timor," said Brigadier David Richards, the commander of the British contingent of Interfet. "We're ready, and the humanitarian agencies are ready. Dili is as safe now as it is ever going to be."

But the Dili many of its people remember is gone. Yesterday they returned to take possession of newly liberated ruins. In Vila Verde district, a woman named Didi Esposto wept among a group of uncles and cousins. Didi is 23, and on the day she was born in September 1975, Indonesian forces were already infiltrating East Timor in preparation for the full invasion two months later.

Until two weeks ago she lived where she was born, in an old wooden house with a verandah, built 35 years ago by the Portuguese colonists. Eight people lived there, including Didi, her parents and her brothers and sisters. Now it is like all the others around it, a pile of ash and bent corrugated iron.

As people return to Dili they also begin to talk and share tales of near-death and escape. I met Amandio da Conceicao Ribeiro, from the nearby village of Taibesi. On Saturday - five days after D-Day - he was visited by soldiers of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI). "They said, `Give us money or we will kill you.' I gave them 50,000 rupiah, but they wanted more. I gave them another 100,000, but they said they would kill me.

"I said, `I have no more, please give me time. They said they would come back tomorrow, but by then I had fled... They burnt the houses around, but my house was OK."

Suddenly Dili feels like a town again - walking or driving,you meet people you know. On his motorbike outside the football stadium - now a refugee camp - was Felice Berto de Araujo Duarte, a student who worked as my translator a year ago. On the day the result of the referendum was announced - 78.5 per cent pro-independence - his brother telephoned with reports of imminent violence.

With his parents and four brothers and sisters he fled to his grandfather's home, a lowhouse screened by mango trees and palms. For a week neighbours were driven out by the militias and forced to the docks for deportation to West Timor.

The Duartes clung on invisibly, sleeping in a ditch, never showing their faces. They saw neighbours' goods looted and houses burnt. Soon they were the only people left in the street.

Finally the militia sniffed them out. "I was reading a comic when they arrived," said Felice. "I took my glasses off so they wouldn't know I was educated. We had cut up pieces of the Indonesian flag and we wrapped them around our heads. We lied and told them we were pro-Indonesia." The militia believed them. Instead of killing them, they herded them to the port and told them to get on the next boat out.

"That night... the BBC said the multinational force was coming, so we waited. But on Friday it did not come, and on Saturday and and Sunday it did not come.

"We let other people take our place on the boat, and finally the planes and helicopters started to land." The boat they should have sailed on was the Dovo Solo. Once at sea the young men on board - men like Felice - were hacked to death and their bodies thrown overboard.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Arts and Entertainment
books
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone