Tense situation in East Timor


By Jon Land

East Timor remains tense following November 12, the seventh anniversary of the Dili massacre, in which more than 270 East Timorese were killed by Indonesian soldiers at Santa Cruz cemetery.

The anniversary was marked by gatherings of remembrance for all those murdered and disappeared by the Indonesian military.

Imprisoned resistance leader Xanana Gusmao sent a message to student and youth activists urging them not to hold large demonstrations but instead to attend special masses and prayer meetings.

Nobel laureate Bishop Carlos Belo called on the relatives of the victims to commemorate the massacre by registering "in churches in all parishes the names of their sons and daughters who were lost".

Early on the morning of November 12, more than 5000 people attended a mass at Balide Church in Dili before marching to Santa Cruz cemetery. Street theatre was performed, and several resistance activists addressed the crowd, calling on the Indonesian government to acknowledge the East Timorese people's right to self-determination.

While the day passed without incident (unlike in recent years), there may be reprisals for the killing of Indonesian soldiers over the last few weeks.

On November 9, a fire-fight took place at a military post in the Alas subdistrict, when it was stormed by 50 people demanding to see the local commander. Three soldiers and one civilian were killed.

The Jakarta Post reported on November 12 that in the attack ammunition and firearms were taken, along with 13 soldiers as hostages. The newspaper stated that 11 of the soldiers were released on November 10.

On October 31, an off-duty Indonesian police officer was allegedly shot by five men in his home in Liquisa because of threats he had made to East Timorese opposing the Indonesian government's autonomy proposal.

The bodies of an Indonesian government engineer and two soldiers were found the day before in the town of Weberek.

In an unrelated incident on November 9, which indicates the futility and resulting frustration caused by the military occupation, Indonesian soldiers based in Los Palos fired on each other after a fight broke out during an "inauguration" ceremony for new members of Battalion 745. One soldier was killed.

A helicopter carrying officers sent to mediate was unable to land because of shooting.

In other developments, the UN secretary-general's special representative for East Timor, Jamsheed Marker, has been finalising proposals for the settlement of the status of East Timor with the Portuguese government.

In an interview in the Portuguese Diario De Noticias on November 10, Marker said that the document was based on "an Indonesian proposal to give a large degree of autonomy to the territory except in the areas of defence, foreign affairs and fiscal policy".

Marker said the UN had welcomed the proposal, but that "we have decided to go further and prepare a more substantial document which could be accepted by both countries, whatever the final decision on the territory's status". More UN talks involving Indonesia and Portugal will take place in New York on November 19.

East Timorese resistance leader Mari Alkatiri expressed the concerns of the resistance in an interview on November 6 with Portuguese radio station RDP Antena 1: "We continue to demand the CNRT's [National Council of Timorese Resistance] direct participation in the negotiations.

"When I say direct, it does not necessarily mean at the same table. But in the same way that the UN negotiates with Portugal and with Indonesia, or rather mediates between the two, it will also have to give us the same status ... not just being consulted. Our yes is absolutely necessary before the people can be heard."

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