Prisoner hunger strike in East Timor


By Jon Land

At least 24 East Timorese inmates at Becora Prison in Dili are on hunger strike demanding the release of imprisoned resistance leader Xanana Gusmao. According to prison officials, more inmates are expected join those already protesting.

The action began on August 31, when 14 prisoners refused to eat any food, stating that they would remain on a hunger strike until Gusmao is released from Cipinang Prison in Jakarta. A further 10 prisoners joined the strike on September 8. The hunger strikers have told visitors they are determined to continue the action "until the end".

Indonesian justice minister Muladi repeated the government's position on Gusmao's release shortly after the protest began. He said that Gusmao will only be freed as part of an "acceptable" solution to the problem of East Timor.

It is believed that a number of the hunger strikers are being force-fed. Two who were taken to Dili's Wirahusada military hospital for treatment resumed their hunger strike when they were returned to the prison.

In other developments, Indonesian troops continue to re-enter East Timor, despite claims by the Indonesian military that it is scaling down operations and reducing troop numbers there.

The East Timor International Support Centre reported on September 8 that five new battalions entered East Timor through West Timor and remote beach landings near the Manatuto and Viqueque districts.