Subject: AP: Timor is cause for Mass. high schoolers
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 08:50:03 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Independence for East Timor is cause for Mass. high schoolers

By Melissa B. Robinson, Associated Press, 04/27/99 21:15

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Dartmouth High School students - many looking ahead to college - are a world away from East Timor's bloody struggle for independence from Indonesia.

But they all said they felt compelled to get involved when they learned of conditions on the island, a former Portugese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and later annexed.

''I just could not sit back and not do anything, seeing women and children just walking down the street and being shot,'' said Sarah Tinay, 19, a senior who watched an East Timor video presentation by a classmate, Jim Madden.

Madden learned about East Timor on a 1997 Catholic church retreat. Last fall, he and Joseph Sousa, both 18-year-old seniors, started the only high school chapter of the East Timor Action Network, a national group that supports independence for East Timor, in the country.

''The human rights abuses in East Timor are just about as bad as they get,'' said Madden at the National Press Club on Tuesday. Fifteen students urged Clinton administration officials this week to pressure the Indonesian government into disarming paramilitary groups on East Timor.

During two days here, the students met with members of Congress, officials of the State Department and National Security Council, and East Timor activists.

Back home, they have prompted a dozen Massachusetts cities and towns to pass resolutions in favor of independence and improved human rights in East Timor, where human rights activists estimate over 200,000 have died since 1975.

''We hope it will be a pressing human rights concern, so at least people will become aware,'' said Sousa.

Indonesia's military has long been accused of human rights abuses in its efforts to wipe out pro-independence rebels on East Timor.

Earlier this year, Indonesia reversed its policy of sovereignty, saying it will let go of the territory if its people reject a proposal for autonomy during United Nations-sponsored balloting this summer.

The ensuing violence between supporters and opponents of independence threatens to undermine the vote, planned for July. Separatists suspect Indonesia is trying to sabotage the vote by arming civilian militias.

''This is not civil war,'' said Lynn Fredriksson of ETAN's Washington office. ''This is death-squad terrorism.''

Human rights activists, Portugal's Foreign Minister Jaime Gama and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan all have appealed for an end to the violence to ensure a proper ballot.

Members of Congress, including Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern and Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, have strongly condemned human rights abuses in East Timor.

They urged Secretary of State Madeleine Albright earlier this month to insist that Indonesia disarm and disband the paramilitaries and allow international monitors, citing beatings, killings and tortures of civilians at the hands of paramilitary groups, shortages of food and medicine, and the displacement of more than 10,000 people.

Mahendra Siregar, first secretary of the Indonesian Embassy, stressed that Indonesia has accepted autonomy or independence for East Timor and is struggling to institute political reforms in the midst of an economic crisis. He blamed the escalating violence on rival paramilitaries.

''Suggesting that there are no East Timorese who favor the Indonesia autonomy option is a false assumption,'' he said.

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