A Drive into the Dark Side

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Heading east from Dili to the village of Becora, the highway is deserted except our little convoy--a military truck bearing two tons of rice, and two cars carrying military officers and journalists. Half a dozen Indonesian soldiers guard the sacks of rice, their rifles pointed into the surrounding jungle. Their wariness does not inspire confidence. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, two young priests in white robes appear beside the road. After speaking briefly with the truck driver, the pair hop on their motorcycle and lead the way to Becora, where the rice is destined for pro-independence refugees hiding in the mountains near the village of Motaulun.Reaching the bridge at Motaulun, the priests turn right toward the hills. The river below the bridge has run dry, matching the hot, dusty landscape. The few houses on the slopes nearby are deserted; two of them are on fire. There is no one to be seen, until the two priests stop, followed by the truck and cars behind them. People begin to emerge from the forest. Within minutes, two dozen--mostly men, with some women and children--stand near the truck, listening to the priests giving instructions in the Tetum language. Two men then come down the hill, carrying a wounded man, Martino Makno. Makno, 30, says he was coming down to meet the truck, to help carry the rice uphill, when he was shot in the right shoulder by a soldier in Indonesian military uniform. The right half of his body has gone numb; the bullet has lodged in the shoulder. The priests ask the officer in charge to bring Makno to the hospital at military headquarters to be treated. But the officer refuses, telling them to come to the hospital to get medicine. It's going to be a total headache if I take him with us, the officer says. The pro-Jakarta refugees will look for him, since he's clearly on their target list. He denies that Makno could have been shot by one of his men. It's very easy to wear one of our uniforms, he says. The shot would have killed him if it had been fired by an Indonesian soldier. As troops unload the sacks of rice, more and more refugees appear--5,000 are said to be hiding in the area--and watch curiously as their compatriots are interviewed by TV crews. When one of the priests tells everyone in Tetum to take the rice to the mountains, the crowd goes wild as people start to fight over the sacks. The priest shouts for them to stop shoving each other, but no one takes notice. Don't expect people's ears to listen when they're hungry, the other priest says helplessly. By then, the bare hills are lined with hungry faces. Fortunately for the refugees, more food and medicine are on their way. On Friday some 20 tons of supplies were dropped from C-130 cargo planes, and the Red Cross had begun to fly supplies into Dili's bedraggled Comoro Airport. We are going to send at least two planeloads of supplies every day from now on, says Cymeon Antoulas, head of the Red Cross Timor office. For these hungry and frightened people, that aid will be as welcome as the international troops soon to arrive.