East Timor: Eve of Independence
This series of images were taken in East Timor in March/April 1999, and mainly depict the various groups of people involved in the struggle for independence from Indonesia.
At that time the predominantly Catholic East Timor had been under Indonesian occupation for 23 years. The people there had suffered greatly under the occupying forces, with an estimated 250,000 of the population being killed, and many imprisoned and tortured.
After General Suharto stepped down as the head of state of Indonesia in 1998, the East Timorese were given the option to vote for their independence in 1999.
My intention was to photograph some of the survivors of the massacre at the Santa Cruz cemetery in November 1991, when 271 East Timorese were killed by the Indonesian military during a remembrance march. In the course of my research, the story started to become much wider, with many people wanting to give an account of their own experiences after 23 years of isolation.
This was particularly the case with the Falintil guerrillas who had been fighting the military ever since Indonesia invaded the country in 1975. As they were based mainly in forests in the east of the country, visiting their camps was notoriously difficult, but with the help of local activists, I was granted access.
At this time, pro-Indonesian militias, backed by the military were becoming very active, and all the time gaining strength. It became very obvious that the situation was changing rapidly, and even though independence from Indonesia was in sight, the military and local militias had a very different agenda.
Refugees had started to appear in Dili, the capital and there was a very strong indication of what was to come later that year when, after the population voted for independence, militias supported by the Indonesian military lay waste to East Timor - killing hundreds of East Timorese.