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Sia Maubara: a historic place in East Timor that is now home to thousands of birds

2 min read

We are in East Timor, coming from Liquiçá, about 3 km from Maubara Village.
Sia Maubara, literally Maubara lake, clearly visible from the main road, is an 8-hectare salt lake located in a natural reserve. Home to thousands of birds, it is a bird watcher’s paradise but also an interesting historical place.
Basically, It is impossible to visit the lake without sighting Australian Pelicans and numerous other species of birds that call the reserve home, including Black Cuckoo-doves, Pink-headed Imperial Pigeons, Jonquil Parrots, Streak-breasted Honeyeaters, and Flame-breasted Sunbirds.

Birds apart, Sia Maubara has also a tragic history.
During the Timor-Leste war for independence, pro-Indonesia elements, including Indonesian soldiers, murdered East Timorese people in what became known as the Liquiçá Church Massacre, that took place on 5/6 April 1999.
During the event, up to some 200 locals were murdered at the Liquica priest’s house next to the local Catholic church. The event left many witnesses, including the local Catholic Priest, Raphael dos Santos, even though the real number of victims at the hands of pro-Indonesia militias (primarily the Besi Merah Putih, meaning ‘red and white iron’ in Indonesian, and one of the most feared of all the militia in East Timor, responsible for the arson, murder, torture, rape, and intimidation in country’s history) and Indonesian soldiers and police, has never been fully determined, ranging from a low of five claimed by Indonesia, to more than 200 by local sources.
It was said that one way in which the bodies were disposed of was to sink them in Sia Maubara, a suspicion eventually confirmed when Australian Marine Divers recovered corpses of twelve victims from the lake. Other body parts have been found jammed under a rock in a nearby stream, but most of the remains had been dragged away by animals.
However, despite its violent past, Sia Maubara is a place of rare beauty where bright blue water meet dead trees bleached by the sun scattered along the shore, giving the lake an eerie ambiance that is reminiscent of its macabre past.
And you may not be the only visitor, as crocodiles may be visiting the lake too.