An initiative by Ireland at the UN Security Council yesterday on behalf of East Timorese women held in "sexual slavery" in West Timor reflects the case of Ms Juliana dos Santos, who was 15 when abducted as a "war prize" by a pro-Indonesian militia leader.
Supporting the Irish initiative, part of an EU submission, the council is likely to call on Indonesia to implement its own "global plan" for "the repatriation and resettlement of refugees without further delay". As UN-administered East Timor prepares for its first ever free election on August 30th, the issue of an estimated 70,000 refugees becomes more acute.
Ms dos Santos, now 16, was abducted by Mr Igidio Manek, deputy commander of the Laksaur militia, during the Indonesian army-ordered thrashing of East Timor after it voted in August 1999 for independence.
A survivor of a church massacre in the southern coastal town of Suai, Ms dos Santos was allegedly raped and has since had a child by Mr Manek, the main suspect for the massacre. She is regarded as Mr Manek's "sex slave" by international agencies.
The case of Ms dos Santos has already been presented at the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva by the Australian-born Ms Kirsty Sword Gusmao, wife of the independence leader Mr Xanana Gusmao. Ms Sword Gusmao said Mr Manek confessed to killing Ms Dos Santos's younger brother, Carlos, before her eyes, as well as murdering the popular parish priest Father Hilario.
In spite of being a prime suspect for the Suai massacre of about 200 people, Mr Manek "is free and operates with the implicit blessing of the Indonesian military authorities", she said.
In her submission in Geneva last month, Ms Sword Gusmao said: "Juliana lives in a state of captivity, without access to the truth about her newly-freed homeland and, according to independent informants, is prevented by Mr Manek from meeting or talking to anyone beyond his immediate circle of militia collaborators."
Ms dos Santos gave birth to a son, Hercules Carlos Amaral, on November 27th.
A recent Sydney Morning Herald interview with Ms dos Santos - under the heading "I'm doing fine, says bruised teenager taken by militia chief" - took place in the presence of Mr Manek and the Herald said the young mother was clearly unable to speak freely in the interview "dominated" by Mr Manek. "Asked about the bruises, she replied: `Oh, it's nothing. I just felt itchy. No, I've never been beaten or anything like that'."
Ms Sword Gusmao rejects this. Two letters from Ms dos Santos show the signs of having been dictated by Mr Manek, "with whom she had now started to form a type of psychological dependency known as Stockholm syndrome".
Sister Clara, a Catholic nun with the Jesuit Refugee Service who was present during the Herald interview, said she did not believe Ms dos Santos was telling the truth. "I think she is not happy; the look on her face can't lie. Did you see the bruise on her cheek? She's in trouble."
News of a similar case came last week with the rescue of a 15-year-old by UN workers from a camp near Kupang, the capital of West Timor. She had been subjected over 18 months to repeated beatings and sexual abuse by a Timorese couple.
Ms Bjorg Fredrikson, of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said this girl was 13 when separated from her parents and forced to join the exodus of East Timorese across the border during the violence of September 1999.
The UNHCR estimates that some 500 children are in similar situations in West Timor and 1,200 East Timorese are living in schools and boarding houses across Indonesia. One group is being held in a mosque and had been forced to adopt Muslim names, Ms Fredrikson said.
Ms Sword Gusmao said Ms dos Santos's UNHCR caseworker was one of three murdered by militias in the border town of Atambua last September. As a result, the UNHCR's monitoring of the refugee situation in West Timor stopped in its tracks, making it impossible to verify refugee numbers.
Yesterday, a UN official turned down an Indonesian request for a UN presence during a planned "registration" of the refugees in West Timor on June 6th because security could not be guaranteed. To muddy the waters further, a new West Timor organisation, containing former militia figures, is claiming 95 per cent of the refugees Timor want to be Indonesians.