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1999 Suai Church Massacre

Tetun: Massacre Igreja Suai 1999

The Suai Church Massacre and its surrounding events led to the formation of the Friends of Suai in Pt Phillip and Suai.

The Suai Church Massacre took place in Suai, on 6 September 1999 following a free and independent ballot held on August 30th. The Timorese were asked to vote for Autonomy with Indonesia or Independence. They voted for independence. When the result of the ballot became known a terrible wave of violence spread across East Timor, orchestrated and funded by the Indonesian Military Forces. A scorched earth campaign saw most of peoples’ homes and the infrastructure of East Timor burned to the ground.

This drawing that is in the opening shot of The Circle of Stones documents theĀ  Massacre. It was drawn by artist Natalino dos Reis Pires for a banner made for a re-enactment of the massacre, performed on the First Anniversary of the Massacre for the Timorese and international community in Suai for the Anniversary. Massacre Art These drawings of the massacre were drawn by local students.

Suai Church Massacre


As news of the first killing in Zumali, (the nearest centre in Covalima to the West Timor/Indonesian Border) spread, people began to panic. Some ran to the mountains and hid. Some were able to drive away through the border and fly out of Timor. Others sheltered in Our Lady of Fatima Church in the centre of town and in the unfinished cathedral in the Church grounds.

Below, this is an image of Our Lady of Fatima Church when the roof has been replaced but before it is re-painted showing the early circle of stones. Image capture July 2000.

Suai Church

There were three priests there. Father Hilario
Father Dewato and Father Soares. Despite threats and growing violence the three priests decided to stay with the people. Adriano do Nacimento told me, the people thought they may be safe in the church, and if they were not, then at least if they died there, then their loved ones would be able to find their bodies afterwards.

Nobody really knows exactly how many people died on those days September 5th and 6th, 1999. At least 50 in the church Adriano estimated and more in the unfinished cathedral were pushed to their death from a high shelf where they were sheltering. The three priests were killed and some people estimate 200 people died . Massacre Art