DARWIN, Australia (AP) _ Armed men from one of East Timor’s militia came to Maria Lenor Da Silva’s house and threatened to kill her if she didn’t leave. When she and her family fled to a nearby convent, the militiamen tried to kill them anyway.
``They burned the house and everything inside the house,″ Da Silva said today, speaking through an interpreter one day after being evacuated from her homeland to Australia.
``They tried to shoot one person. They missed. Then they stabbed him with a bayonet,″ she said. ``He was my nephew.″
The family fled, and no one knows whether he survived.
With her son and six grandchildren, Da Silva, 62, sought sanctuary in what she thought was the only place safe from the militia _ the headquarters of the U.N. mission that was sent to East Timor to oversee a ballot on independence.
But even that became too dangerous. Da Silva was one of more than 1,400 East Timorese who were airlifted to Australia on Tuesday after the U.N. mission abandoned its headquarters because it was too dangerous to stay.
Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed and the United Nations says hundreds of thousands more have been displaced in East Timor since anti-independence militias went on a rampage after the people of the territory voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.
In Australia, the refugees were given medical checks and are being housed in a tent city in the grounds of a Timorese community center in the northern city of Darwin, an hour’s flight from East Timor.
After the first full night’s sleep in more than a week that hasn’t been interrupted by the sound of gunfire, the refugees said today they were relieved to be safe.
A Catholic church service today went overtime, lasting hours. Afterwards, laughing children kicked soccer balls between the rows of army tents, their temporary homes.
But many people are worried about family members who fled to the hills, or who were taken away in trucks towards Indonesian-controlled West Timor by the Indonesian military, who are accused of complicity or of taking part in the militia violence.
U.N. officers say those in the hills have no food or water and urgently need help.
Sebastiao Guterres, a 26-year-old student who worked as a U.N. volunteer while the independence ballot was being conducted, said East Timorese had no idea how vicious the retaliation would be.
``We have had to learn, independence is not cheap,″ he said. ``We have had to pay.″