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One thousand commemorate massacre

Reuters - November 12, 1998 (abridged)

Lewa Pardomuan, Dili – East Timorese on Thursday marked the killings of scores of unarmed protesters on this day in 1991 with tears and renewed anti-Indonesia sentiment in the former Portuguese colony.

Mourners burst into tears as students staged a play portraying the massacre at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, where Indonesian troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators seven years ago.

"In this place, there were many East Timorese youths who gave up their chests to be shot by the Indonesian soldiers... and to be crucified by the bullets. East Timorese have recorded this as part of their history," a former guerrilla member, Mauhudu, told the crowd in the local Tetum language. "We should unite to continue their struggle... for self-determination," said Mahudu who said he spoke on behalf of the Fretilin guerrilla movement.

About 1,000 people from various districts in the territory gathered at the cemetery to remember the dead in a ceremony held for the first time at the spot itself. They brought flowers, banners showing pictures of jailed Fretilin guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao and shouted "Viva Timor Leste (East Timor)."

Mourners later lay wreaths at a wooden crucifix inside the cemetery. "I am so sad... I just can't speak," one survivor of the massacre said in tears as she stood nearby. There was no sign of increased police and military presence in Dili, where tension usually rises ahead of the anniversary.

In Canberra, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the number of Indonesian troops in East Timor was too high and should be substantially reduced to pave the way for a lasting peace. "We think the troop numbers, whatever they are in East Timor, are still too great and that it would be helpful to the process of reconciliation in East Timor to reduce the numbers below their current level," he said in an interview to Reuters Television.

In the past, commemoration of the Santa Cruz massacre was restricted to homes and the East Timor university compound because the heavy military presence would discourage people from visiting the cemetery.

Students cancelled an anti-Indonesia protest on Thursday, in line, they said, with instructions from Xanana. Instead, they held the play in front of the cemetery, which featured the sounds of cries and machine guns. Many players and spectators were openly sobbing by the end.

East Timorese also held a candlelight vigil at their homes on Wednesday night to remember the dead. The territory's charismatic Bishop Carlos Belo held a mass at a chapel in his beach-front residence on Thursday. He declined to speak to journalists. Belo earlier urged people in the predominantly Catholic region of 800,000 to remain calm.