Jolliffe Review

Rare, smuggled animals

Jill Jolliffe


by Helene van Klinken

Monash University Publishing $34.95 pb,213 pp, 9781876924805

Think of Syria today and you have East Timor in 1975-78, the main difference being that the story of Indonesia’s brutal invasion was totally hidden from the world. It was in this framework of pain, trauma, and confusion that an estimated three to four thousand Timorese children were carried off to Indonesia without informed parental consent.

Helene van Klinken is quite au fait with this tumultuous phase; her family has long being involved in Indonesian studies. Her book is based on a PhD at the University of Queensland, in which the author laid a solid theoretical frame­work to expound her ideas, examining the story as one of the cruel exercises of hegemony by colonising powers over those they colonise.

Her choice of subject was influenced by her interest in Australia’s Stolen Generations and by conversations over­heard in childhood.

There is little awareness of the fact and scale of the transfer of young, dependent East Timorese children to Indonesia. I was struck by the parallels with the removal of Aboriginal chil­dren from their families […] Australian authorities wanted to assimilate the Aboriginal children into the dominant, white, Christian society; the aim of the Indonesians was similarly to integrate the East Timorese children, and make them Indonesians.

‘Transfer’ seems a weak term for cases that often involved small children being taken across borders in boxes with the lids nailed down, like rare, smuggled animals. But van Klinken explains the reason for this neutral term. Most of the perpetrators were soldiers. While many of them removed children by force, there were other methods. One factor was that there was no effective local law in force, either Indonesian or Por­tuguese, although Indonesia had signed the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 — not a law accessible to East Timorese parents in those war-ravaged years.

Furthermore, they were lied to, threatened, or otherwise tricked into surrendering their children for travel to Indonesia.Timorese religious figures with custody of abandoned or orphaned children sometimes agreed to their be­ing taken, because they genuinely be­lieved they would be safe. Some parents willingly signed documents allowing their children to be educated in Islamic boarding schools abroad, understand­ing that they would be returned to East Timor when their education was complete.

Van Klinken sees Suharto’s post-1965 New Order ideology as the framework that justified the invasion of East Timor and the mass abductions of Timorese children to be raised as Muslims. The example was set soon after the initial attack on the territory, with six small children, allegedly or­phans, being brought to Indonesia by the dictator’s Dharmais Foundation in October 1976.

Of the many who followed, some were raised by senior Indonesian officers with gruesome human rights records. Indeed, they could be said to constitute a rogue’s gallery of torturers and war criminals. There is secret police chief Major General Kiki Shyanakri, who in February 2003 was recommended by the UN’s Dili-based Serious Crimes Unit for indictment on charges of crimes against humanity for orchestrat­ing massacres in 1999. As a captain in 1981, he had ‘adopted’ a six-year-old Timorese boy who had been separated from his parents during a mass surren­der in the Manatuto district.

Many of the children taken had initially served Indonesian soldiers as battlefield assistants, known as TBOs. It was their practice to take them back to Indonesia by boat when their duty tours ended.

Major General Zacky Anwar Makarim, a Special Forces intelligence of­ficer, recruited a twelve-year-old called Hercules Rosario Marcal for this pur­pose. Hercules had been crippled in an Indonesian bombardment that killed his parents in Ainaro in 1978, and Makarim ‘rescued’him.

In later years, Hercules became a notorious gang leader in Jakarta, financed by Makarim and Suharto’s son-in-law Prabowo Subianto, another feared figure in East Timor, who had sixTimorese living with him in Jakarta.

Yunus Yosfiah, the alleged killer of the Balibo Five, also adopted (his wife Antonia Ricardo is East Timorese). None of these men was an ideal adop­tive father to children who were so deeply traumatised.

Most children were unhappy and rebellious; others were compliant, studied hard, adopted Islam, and went on to develop successful careers in In­donesia. At war’s end in 1999, the bid to reunite children and birth families began, a bitter, unfinished tale that van Klinken describes in interviews with both children and parents.

She errs in the claim that both In­donesian and East Timorese Catholic leaders supported integration. In East Timor the only figure who could be considered supportive beforehand was Dom Jose Joaquim Ribeiro, the last Por­tuguese bishop of Tim or, who delivered an anti-communist rant against Fretilin leftists when I interviewed him before the 7 December 1975 invasion. By 8 December he was a changed man after witnessing executions on Dili wharf, including that of journalist Roger East. He braved heavy fire to reach the site after being alerted by parishioners. He also visited prisoners in torture centres, to Indonesian soldiers’insults. His Vic­ar-General Dom Martinho Lopes had longstanding nationalist credentials and was unwavering in defendingTimorese rights until his expulsion in 1983. ?

Jill Jolliffe is the author of Balibo, on which the film of the same name was based.