November 29, 1994
DILI, Indonesia (AP) -- "Viva Timor Leste! Long Live East Timor!"
The sudden shout across the grounds of the Roman Catholic cathedral transformed what had been a quiet congregation waiting outside for Mass into a mob of excited political protesters.
Anti-government banners unfurled, and chants of pro-independence slogans rang out. Fights broke out. Rocks and bottles arced through the air. Then riot police moved in with clubs and tear gas to rout the crowd.
East Timorese independence activists have been escalating their protests since international attention focused on a meeting of leaders of Pacific Rim nations in Indonesia early in November.
Since Indonesia forcibly annexed East Timor two decades ago after 400 years of neglectful Portuguese colonial rule, millions of dollars have been spent on sorely needed development. But while they have more today than before, many people in East Timor still demand self-determination and independence.
"The people must keep their dignity and their identity,"
said Bishop Carlos Belo, the territory's spiritual leader and a critic of rule by Indonesia.
The United Nations never recognized East Timor's annexation. But Indonesia's government in Jakarta insists the predominantly Catholic region be integrated with the rest of the Muslim-dominated archipelago in Southeast Asia.
There have been halting steps this year toward reconciliation between the government and some independence activists. Gov. Abilio Osorio Soares, a native of Timor, suggested a form of "special area" status be granted to the territory as a compromise.
But Indonesia is unlikely to ever agree to self-rule.
"Indonesia wants us to be good little Indonesians. But for us, integration never,"
said one student protester, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Such comments are dangerous talk in a place where the international human rights group Amnesty International says authorities are guilty of torture, arbitrary killings and wrongful imprisonment.
Indonesia denies that charge, but soldiers shot dozens of unarmed civilians to death during a protest march three years ago.
An official inquiry said about 50 people died in the shooting at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, the provincial capital, on Nov. 12, 1991. An additional 91 were wounded and 57 were missing, it said.
Critics contend more than 200 people may have died in the massacre.
The Indonesian government allowed foreign journalists into East Timor for a rare visit coinciding with the third anniversary of the slayings.
Dili is a hot and dusty town where suspicion and frustration weigh as heavily as the tropical humidity. Almost everyone, from cab drivers to hotel porters, talks of informers and spies.
"We are being watched all the time,"
said one activist who has joined students in demonstrations.
The day after the anniversary of the cemetery shooting, protesters rampaged through Dili's streets after a Timorese man was murdered by a new settler from another Indonesian island. Houses and stores owned by other newcomers were stoned and burned to the ground.
The government-sponsored influx of people from other crowded parts of Indonesia is a sore point. They number about 100,000 in a total population of 720,000. Locals complain they take the cream of jobs and money created by Indonesia's development effort.
High in the mountains of the rugged interior, Indonesian soldiers search for a small band of armed rebels who have been fighting a limited guerrilla campaign since the invasion two decades ago.
Their leader, Xanana Gusmao, was captured in 1992. He was later convicted of subversion and is serving 20 years in prison on another island.
Activists claim more than 1,000 rebels are still at large. The army says there are less than 200 with even fewer weapons.
"We'll get them all over the next two years,"
said Col. Niki Syhanarkri, Indonesia's military commander in East Timor. He promises not to punish rebels who surrender and says the cemetery massacre in 1991 was "an accident" that will not be repeated.
Indonesia has governed the western half of the island of Timor since 1945, when it won independence from the Netherlands.
It annexed East Timor in 1976, after intervening in a civil war among rival political factions that broke out the previous year when Portugal suddenly left.
Portugal profited for generations from sandalwood and coffee exports but did little to better the lives of the Timorese or prepare them for self-reliance.
Since invading, Indonesia has built roads and other infrastructure and improved education and health care. Houses are being built and some jobs created although unemployment remains high.
Ironically, the Indonesian-built university is a center of dissent for young people.
"It doesn't matter how many bridges, roads and schools Indonesia builds, the Timorese people need to keep their culture and beliefs and their souls,"
Belo, the bishop, said.
The army says seven of the eight infantry battalions based in East Timor are assigned to construction projects and only one is designated for combat duty.
Few uniformed troops are seen on the streets, but residents say many walk around town in civilian clothes.
"The military presence is too much in such a small place. It is oppressive,"
said Manuel Viegas Carrascalo, a member of the local parliament who initially welcomed the 1975 invasion but now wants autonomy.
Although Belo previously called for Indonesia to hold a referendum on East Timor's future, he seems more concerned now about encouraging calm.
He is guarded in his comments and condemns recent protests and violence.
"The church is not a political organization but it must stand up for people when it sees injustice," he said in an interview.