Independence for East Timor!


By Jon Land

Demonstrations were held across Australia in support of East Timor on August 17, Indonesian Independence Day. East Timor solidarity groups chose the date to highlight the ongoing illegal occupation of East Timor by Indonesia and the support given to the Suharto regime by the Australian government.

In Perth, 100 people demonstrated outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel where Indonesian and Australian officials and dignitaries had gathered to celebrate Indonesia's Independence Day. The action, organised by the Friends of East Timor, highlighted the hypocritical nature of the celebration when Indonesia has denied the right to self-determination to the East Timorese.

The protest demanded an end to: the East Timor Oil Gap Treaty between the Indonesian and Australian governments; human rights violations in East Timor; Australian military co-operation with Indonesia; the illegal occupation of East Timor by the Indonesian government; the ongoing genocide in East Timor which has so far resulted in the death of one third of its population.

Retired Senator Gordon McIntosh addressed the crowd and East Timorese singers performed several songs.

In Melbourne, Carolyn Cartwright reports that 100 members of the East Timorese community and their supporters rallied outside the Indonesian consulate on Queens Road. The rally was addressed by John Sinnott (Australia-East Timor Association), Abel Guterres (CNRM) and a spokesperson from Fretilin who described the continuing struggle for national liberation in East Timor since the Suharto regime invaded in 1975.

From Darwin Sally Anne Watson reports that as part of the week of action on East Timor, 50 people picketed the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at the Northern Territory Parliament House. Activists, who used their whistles, drums and slogans to good effect, drowned out the national media as they attempted to interview various Premiers. Keating entered via the backdoor to avoid meeting the protesters who kept up a stead chant with "No Blood for oil", "Australia out of the Timor Gap" and "Stop attacks on human rights. Free East Timor now". A Green Left Weekly photographer was threatened with arrest for trying to photograph the demonstration.

The week of action included a campus screening of John Pilger's documentary Death of a Nation, and a one night paste-up of 1000 posters which criticised the Australian government's silence on East Timor.

Amnesty International has expressed its concern for 24 East Timorese who were arrested after demonstrations in Dili in mid-July. On July 10, Francisco Malac, Geronimo Comisari and Geronimo Etnou were arrested for unfurling pro-independence banners as they were passed by the car of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions. They have not been seen since.

A further 15 Timorese have been arrested for their involvement in the July 14 demonstration, including the alleged organiser Mateus Afonso who was publicly beaten by Indonesian soldiers for three hours.

The trial of Jose Antonio Neves, who attempted to send a letter reporting human rights abuses to the Asia Pacific Conference on East Timor in Manila in June, is about to start. He is considered a key leader of the liberation movement and faces several years imprisonment. Neves has been refused visits and access by lawyers from the Legal Aid Institute.

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