|Subject: Journal News: East Timor supporters to
protest at Indonesian Consulate
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 16:55:59 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
East Timor supporters to protest at Indonesian Consulate
By IMRAN VITTACHI The Journal News (Westchester, NY) 7/9/1999
NEW YORK -- A Westchester-based group advocating human rights and self-determination for Indonesia-occupied East Timor will hang a provocative street sign next week outside Jakarta's main diplomatic mission in the city.
On July 17, the East Timor Action Network plans to post a sign for 30 days, "East Timor Way," at the northeast corner of Manhattan's 68th Street and Madison Avenue, next to the Indonesian Consulate.
The date marks the 23rd anniversary of Indonesia's annexation of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that it had invaded the previous December. Under the occupation, up to 250,000 Timorese -- more than a fifth of the territory's population -- have died of famine or killings, disappearances and torture alleged to have been committed by Indonesian armed forces.
ETAN, a nationwide grass-roots movement started in 1991 by Hartsdale resident Charles Scheiner to raise U.S. public awareness about East Timor, has persuaded politicians to make sweeping cuts in U.S. military aid to Indonesia, and sees the street sign as a political statement.
"We want the Indonesian government to know that people in New York recognize and support East Timor," said Scheiner, a Pleasantville software engineering consultant who, after hours, works out of his home as ETAN's national coordinator.
Scheiner and his fellow ETAN supporters want Indonesian diplomats to see the sign as they walk to and from the consulate, to remind them of their government's promises to respect the Timorese population's right to choose its future. Scheiner, who also acts as the UN representative for the International Federation for East Timor, a worldwide association of Timorese solidarity groups, is looking to recruit up to 200 volunteers to serve as monitors for a historic referendum there next month.
A spokesman for the Indonesian Consulate said ETAN was trying to disrupt the negotiations to bring about a political settlement in East Timor.
"The Indonesian government does not have the authority to ban ETAN's action, since only the city of New York has a say in it," said Rizali W. Indrakesuma, the consulate's chief information officer. "However, if this unnecessary action would be targeted to the Indonesian government, we could only say it is very much regretted."
In January, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie vowed to grant the territory independence if the population of 800,000 Timorese votes to be free. In brokering the vote with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in May, Habibie's foreign minister, Ali Alatas, insisted that Indonesian troops remain in East Timor as a "security force."
The referendum, which has already been postponed from Aug. 8, could be stalled further, following escalating factional bloodshed in recent weeks that has killed scores of civilians. According to reports out of East Timor last weekend, pro-Indonesian Timorese militias have attacked U.N. field offices and humanitarian convoys in a campaign to sabotage the vote.
Last week, ETAN settled on the sign's wording with the city's Department of Transportation -- the agency that oversees temporary street-sign applications -- but only after the group charged First Amendment infringement and filed a federal lawsuit against DOT officials. Rejecting ETAN's two previous applications for temporary signs on 68th street, Robert Adamenko, an assistant DOT commissioner, had turned them down, citing in a letter in October 1998 "the sensitive political nature of this request."
Although the latest sign application has been approved, Scheiner's group is pressing the lawsuit. ETAN's attorney, Manhattan lawyer Nancy Chang of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said DOT officials had violated ETAN's right to free speech and expression by arbitrarily rejecting its applications. A DOT spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.
"We are troubled by a system in which the right to put up political signs is determined according to the discretion of Department of Transportation officials," Chang said.
Chang noted that city officials have allowed other international rights activists to post signs -- such as "Tiananmen Square Corner" outside the Chinese Mission and "Brothers to the Rescue Corner" outside the Cuban Mission -- in defiance of foreign governments.
One of the rejected ETAN applications was for a sign commemorating a 1991 incident in the East Timorese capital, Dili. Indonesian troops, using U.S.-made M-16s, were seen by Western journalists firing on a crowd of hundreds of Timorese civilians. That event inspired Scheiner, a former anti-Vietnam war activist, to work toward cutting U.S. sources of weapons and military training for Indonesia.
Scheiner's group, which numbers 8,000 supporters, has successfully lobbied congressional leaders -- including Reps. Benjamin Gilman, R-Greenville, whose district includes Rockland and part of Westchester and Nita Lowey, D-Harrison -- to adopt resolutions calling for a ban on U.S.-made arms and military aid to Jakarta.