October 8, 1999 – An East Timorese farmer said he witnessed the shooting of Sander Thoenes, a Dutch correspondent killed near Dili last month (map), according to The Christian Science Monitorand wire service reports.
Alexandre Estevao said the gunmen wore Indonesian military uniforms with insignia for Battalion 745, a unit of East Timorese known for their loyalty to Indonesia.
Watching from behind a water tank at a distance of about 125 paces, Estevao said he saw the soldiers drag Thoenes’s body off the road and into a lot where UN peacekeepers found it the next morning. As the soldiers restarted their trucks and motorcycles, Estevao fled.
The soldiers were driving through Becora on five trucks and 10 motorcycles, some of them flying Indonesian flags, Estevao said.
Estevao’s account further implicates the Indonesian military in Thoenes’s death, an assertion that has been denied by government leaders in Jakarta. They have maintained that “rogue elements” of the military may have been responsible for the shooting, but not the military itself.
Thoenes’s motorcycle taxi driver told Western reporters the day of the shooting that Thoenes was killed by six gunmen wearing Indonesian military uniforms.
Australia’s Major General Cosgrove, the commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in East Timor, said on Monday he had sent a letter to the Indonesian military officials demanding that Indonesia hand over four officers believed to have been involved in Thoenes’ death and in an earlier, non-fatal attack on Western journalists Jon Swain and photographer Chip Hires, their driver, and their translator. After the Indonesian military failed to respond to this letter, Cosgrove sent a second letter on Friday, October 8, renewing the UN demand.
Thoenes, 30, a correspondent for The Financial Timesand contributor to The Christian Science Monitor and the Dutch newspaper Vrij Nederland,was found dead on the morning of September 21. He was the first of two journalists killed in East Timor since the conflict began: Agus Muliawan, 26, an Indonesian journalist working for the Japanese news agency Asia Press International was gunned down with a group of Catholic church workers on September 25.