Subject: NPR: East Timor confronts violence
Date: Sat, 15 May 1999 11:18:54 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

National Public Radio (NPR) [USA] Tuesday, May 11,1999

EAST TIMOR CONFRONTS VIOLENCE AS THE COUNTRY PREPARES FOR AN AUGUST REFERENDUM THAT COULD GIVE THEM INDEPENDENCE FROM INDONESIA

ANCHORS: BOB EDWARDS

REPORTERS: MICHAEL SULLIVAN

BOB EDWARDS, host:

Portugal today said political violence could threaten a recent United Nations-brokered agreement on the future of its former colony, East Timor. Fighting between groups wanting the territory to stay within Indonesia and supporters of independence left at least three people dead. In August the 800,000 Timorese will decide the question in a referendum. UN monitors will try to make sure the election is free and fair, a tough task in a remote region that has suffered decades of violence. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from East Timor's capital, Dili.

(Soundbite of soccer game)

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

A soccer game along the waterfront in Dili just before dark. A time for Timorese to set aside their worries for a little entertainment. Two teams of 11-year-olds competing on the beach.

(Soundbite of soccer game)

SULLIVAN: With the waves lapping at the shore and crowds turning pink and orange with the waning sun, it's easy to forget that for many on this island and many in the world community, this is an occupied land invaded by Indonesia in December 1975 as Portugal prepared to withdraw from one of its last colonies. Dili resident Armendo Florez(ph) remembers the day the Indonesians landed 23 years ago.

Mr. ARMENDO FLOREZ (Dili Resident): (Through Translator) They came from the air, by land and by sea. We fought them here in Dili face to face with simple guns against their heavy weapons for nearly a month. But after that, we were forced to retreat to the mountains.

SULLIVAN: Human rights groups say as many as 200,000 Timorese may have died in the fighting that followed the Indonesian invasion and the 23 years of oppressive Indonesian rule since. But President Suharto, the man who ordered the invasion of East Timor, is gone, replaced by B.J. Habibie. And the democratic winds being felt in other parts of Indonesia are being felt here as well.

(Soundbite of Timorese students singing) SULLIVAN: University students in Dili hold almost daily demonstrations, waving the Timorese flag and displaying photos of jailed independence leader Xanana Gusmao.

(Soundbite of students protesting)

SULLIVAN: Pro-independence demonstrations gained momentum after President Habibie shocked the world in January by offering the Timorese a referendum on their future. Remain part of Indonesia as an autonomous state or choose independence. The hundreds of students who gather at Dili's University leave little doubt as to their preference, widely believed to be shared by most Timorese.

(Soundbite of protesters)

SULLIVAN: But not all Timorese favor independence and President Habibie's announcement was met with alarm by those who wish to remain part of Indonesia. Florencio Viera(ph) is a spokesman for the Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice.

Mr. FLORENCIO VIERA (Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice): We want to be a part of Indonesia as historical background, where East Timor is dividedby two colonizers from Europe, like Portugal and Dutch. They are the country who came, divide us. So integration for us is back to motherland.

SULLIVAN: The FPDK(ph) is the political face of the pro-integration movement. The sharp end of the stick? The pro-integration militias which have emerged in recent months armed and financed, human rights groups and diplomats say, by elements of the Indonesian military. The militias seek to ensure that East Timor remain a part of Indonesia through intimidation and terror. The military denies any involvement.

(Soundbite of children)

SULLIVAN: Many victims of the militia's violence have ended up here, at the Motael Church clinic in Dili. In the past six weeks, says American Dr. Dan Murphy, he has treated more than 50 people for high-velocity gunshot wounds.

Dr. DAN MURPHY (American): All the injuries that we've seen here are unarmed civilians who have been attacked by people with military weapons. People can march down the main street of Dili with arms, with military weapons. No one does anything to stop them. They can go into a house and massacre everyone and nothing is done.

SULLIVAN: In the last month, pro-integration militias have attacked the house of a pro-independence activist killing his 18-year-old son and several others. They also ransacked the offices of Dili's leading newspaper. As a result, most pro-independence activists have fled or gone into hiding. The violence is not limited to the city. Eighteen-year-old Afonso fled the town of Lakeesha(ph), about 20 miles from Dili, after pro-integration militias attacked a local church.

AFONSO: (Through Translator) The people were all gathered there for the Mass and then the militias threw grenades into the crowd of people. Then they opened fire with their guns.

SULLIVAN: More than 50 people were killed in that attack and human rights groups say terror and intimidation in the countryside continue unabated. Many believe that while most Timorese favor independence they will vote for autonomy out of fear. And the UN's decision to allow the Indonesian authorities to provide security for the referendum says human rights activist Jose Luis Alevera(ph) will inspire little confidence in a population who see the Indonesian military as their oppressors.

Mr. JOSE LUIS ALEVERA (Human Rights Activist): (Through Translator) For 23 years the Indonesian military have been one of the conflicting party. They've been fighting against the East Timorese. So how can they suddenly play a neutral role? I don't believe it will happen.

SULLIVAN: Even if the military honors its pledge to remain neutral, there is a feeling here among many that three months is too short a time to prepare the East Timorese psychologically after 23 years of constant conflict. Even if the political will for a settlement is there. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Dili, East Timor.

Back to May Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99