Timor peace ship returns


By Debbie Sewell

DARWIN — The Lusitania Expresso set sail from Darwin on Monday, March 9 heading for Dili to lay floral wreaths at the Santa Cruz cemetery, site of a massacre by Indonesian forces on November 12 last year. Songs of freedom rang out as the boat was given an emotional farewell by hundreds from Darwin's Timorese community and supporters.

First contact with Indonesian forces came at 2 p.m. the next day. Ironically, it was an Australian designed and built Nomad aircraft, which made low passes over the peace ship. Aircraft surveillance continued late into the afternoon.

Tension increased when a small frigate was seen at 11 p.m. Tuesday evening. It sailed in close to the Lusitania, keeping a parallel distance of one mile.

At 7 a.m. on Wednesday, with the mountains of East Timor visible 16 miles away, three navy vessels could be seen approaching the Lusitania. The captain tried to make contact. The Indonesian naval commander eventually made radio contact, warning the peace ship that it would be forced to leave.

There was no doubt in the mind of Lusitania captain Lois Dos Santos that the Indonesian authorities would use force.

The unarmed peace ship was harassed by three navy warships and helicopters for four hours. Peace mission organiser Antonio Ravara said, "This is a violent action against the ship. The Indonesians don't have to fire their guns in order to have a violent confrontation". The ship was finally forced to sail out of the area, escorted by warships well into the evening.

The short voyage forged a bond between the participants, mainly students, from 21 countries. A prayer service was conducted and wreaths and flowers were thrown into the ocean in a symbolic message of hope and love for the people of East Timor.

An international student network is being set up to disseminate information and coordinate activities in support of human rights and the East Timorese struggle for self determination. n