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Subject: Students in E. Timor Exploit New Freedoms
Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 00:19:24 -0700 (PDT)

E Timor students soak up freedom

DON GREENLEES is the first correspndent to report from East Timor after the fall of president Suharto. He writes from Dili

The Australian>13jun98

IN a small courtyard on the University of East Timor's dilapidated campus, students eagerly queue up to take part in a novel experience: addressing a "free debate" forum on the ills of Indonesia's 23-year rule.

Taking turns at speaking through loudhailers to a crowd of about 100 fellow students, they denounce Jakarta and call for a plebiscite on whether East Timor remains part of Indonesia.

Before the end of former president Suharto's rule on May 21, this innocent event would have been much harder to stage in Dili, if it took place at all. Now under President B.J. Habibie, the students are exploiting a giddy sense of liberty.

But sudden freedom poses its own challenges to students not used to serious negotiation or public expression. Says student leader Antero Benedito da Silva: "Free debate is something new in East Timor. We need time to help ourselves and help our friends to understand what free debate is."

As he speaks, students are given a further reason to hope the climate of confrontation might be changing. Twelve jailed student activists finally returned home from Dili's Becora prison yesterday under amnesties issued by Dr Habibie. They were weak from a week-long protest inside the jail but relieved to be reunited with their families.

Back inside the jail walls, 253 prisoners have refused to return to their cells for the past nine days and have eaten little as part of a protest calling for better conditions and political reforms.

Mr Da Silva says the freed students are likely to join an expected crowd of several thousand today in a march on the office of Jakarta-appointed Governor Abilio Soares. Calling for independence and the freeing of East Timorese prisoners, thousands of students have joined similar gatherings in recent days.

*********************************************************** TAPOL, Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: Defending the rights of the victims of Indonesian oppression in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh.

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