November 13, 1994
DILI, Indonesia (AP) -- Hours before President Clinton arrived in Indonesia for an Asian-Pacific summit, East Timorese protesters rampaged Sunday in their provincial capital and kept up a sit-in at the U.S. Embassy to focus attention on Indonesia's human rights record.
Clinton has promised to discuss human rights with Indonesia's President Suharto. The twin protests, waged in front of foreign journalists, ensured a high profile for the issue.
Crowds of rioters in Dili, the capital of East Timor province, smashed shop windows, set fire to cars and threw rocks at police, who charged them with clubs. There were no confirmed reports of serious injuries or deaths.
In Jakarta, 1,500 miles to the west, two dozen East Timorese students began a second night camped on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy.
They want to give Clinton or Secretary of State Warren Christopher a petition demanding independence for the province, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and annexed the following year.
Allegations of repression in East Timor climaxed when soldiers opened fire on a peaceful demonstration in a Dili cemetery in 1991, killing at least 50 people. Some reports say as many as 200 people were killed.
Christopher expressed sympathy for the students who scaled the embassy fence Saturday morning. The embassy said it would not force them out. But on Sunday, barricades were set up to keep journalists away from them.
"The U.S. officials want us to move to the Vatican Embassy. We rejected this offer. We prefer to die rather than leave the embassy,"
said Domingo Sarmento, leader of the protesters.
Indonesia's government contends that Western-style rights are not relevant in this vast, ethnically diverse and impoverished archipelago.
Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and other independent observers said the violence Sunday in Dili appeared to be caused by ethnic tensions, kindled by a clash between Timorese and Indonesians the previous day in which at least three people died.
Many Timorese resent traders and job-seekers coming to the territory from other Indonesian islands.
The third anniversary of the 1991 massacre passed peacefully. Sunday morning, after a Roman Catholic Mass commemorating the killings, about 40 students staged a noisy but peaceful demonstration in Dili.
They waved East Timor flags and banners asking Clinton to support independence. Some chanted "Viva East Timor! Viva Bill Clinton!" with their fists raised.
Then a mob began to run wild, smashing windows, looting, burning cars and throwing bricks and rocks at riot police, who used clubs and tear gas. About 350 rioters overran a cordon of about 150 police on a main thoroughfare. Similar battles raged on nearby streets.
Several areas were sealed off, and an army helicopter made repeated low passes.
Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo, East Timor's spiritual leader and a vocal opponent of Indonesian rule, angrily shouted at the rioters to go home.
Fifteen people were arrested, said East Timor police chief Col. Andreas Soegiantos.
Meanwhile, U.S. journalists Alan Nairn and Amy Goodman flew back to Jakarta after being detained at the East Timor border as they tried to enter the province. Nairn and Goodman were witnesses to the 1991 cemetery shootings.
Nairn and Goodman were detained for failing to inform the government that they would be visiting East Timor, officials said.