Port Phillip remembers Suai Church Massacre

The East Timor flag will be raised on the community flagpole in memory of the priests, men, women and children who were killed in the Suai Church Massacre, known as Black September, in 1999.

Widespread violence swept East Timor following the people’s vote for independence from Indonesia, causing international outrage and prompting international friendships.

Survivors and mourners placed candles and flowers around the Suai church and over the following year, created a ‘circle of stones’, marking where bodies burned after the massacre. A wreath and a circle of stones will be laid at the base of the St Kilda Town Hall community flagpole as Council and the Port Phillip community join together to commemorate 20 years since Black September.

Council, with support from residents, formed a friendship with the coastal town of Suai, which later extended to the Covalima district, committing to the ongoing rebuilding of infrastructure and support of the Timorese people.

Mayor Dick Gross said the friendship with Suai and Covalima had enriched the lives of Port Phillip residents.

“Council’s friendship with Suai and Covalima was borne out of terrible circumstances, but over the last 20 years, our friendship has developed into a true partnership. Twenty years ago, when the peace agreement was signed, it was done in solemnity and silence: everyone understood the gravity of what had occurred and the season of hope that was to come. Now we have an opportunity to reflect on what the Timorese people endured to gain independence, and their on-going struggle to rebuild their nation.” Cr Gross said.

Friends of Suai and Covalima has had a remarkable impact over the past 20 years, with support ranging from the construction of key buildings, to training in public administration, leadership and teaching, however a great need still exists.

The Covalima Community Centre, supported by City of Port Phillip, is an invaluable resource for community development and local skill training in the district of Covalima, connecting people to livelihood programs and educational opportunities. With over 60 per cent of Timorese citizens aged under 18 and facing a high-level of unemployment, education and training is a priority of Friends of Suai and Covalima.

Since 2012, community donations have funded more than 150 scholarships for secondary school, vocational training and tertiary education in East Timor. Donations have also been used to fund sustainable environmental programs, such as the recently established With One Seed carbon reforestation project in the Covalima district.

Commemorating Black September

Commemorating the Suai Church Massacre, Black September.

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