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Anti-UN protests in East Timor

Melbourne Age - August 22, 2002

Jill Jolliffe, Dili – East Timor's new government faced a second day of protests yesterday, when a dissident political party demonstrated outside government offices.

Among the crowd were remnants of a group of 2000 former independence fighters who held an unauthorised military parade in Dili on Tuesday.

Yesterday's protest, involving about 500 people, was staged in front of the main government offices near the Dili waterfront. The building also houses offices of the United Nations Mission to Support East Timor.

At first it appeared the protesters would try to force their way in to the building, but leaders of the dissident party, the CPD-RDTL, quickly brought them under control.

The crowd shouted anti-UN slogans and demanded that the government set a date for a day of national dialogue on the problems of former resistance soldiers. Thousands of the veterans are now unemployed and, they say, forgotten.

Most of the demonstrators were country people from the east of the territory. They travelled to Dili on Sunday in a convoy of more than 100 trucks crowded with former soldiers wearing uniforms. Families of victims of a 1983 massacre at the town of Kraras carried a banner demanding that the perpetrators be tried. More than 180 people were allegedly killed by an Indonesian firing squad in September of that year.

Protest organiser Jacob Correia read a list of demands, which included the end of UN control of the East Timorese and defence forces, which are not yet in the hands of the newly independent government. He repeatedly accused the UN of exercising "neo-colonial" control over East Timor.

A delegation of the protesters met government officials, and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta later announced that President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minster Mari Alkatiri would see them today.

In two days of demonstrations, the CPD-RDTL, formerly considered a pariah movement, has flexed its muscles.

At official ceremonies on Tuesday for the 27th anniversary of the formation of the guerrilla army Falintil, Dr Alkatiri indicated his willingness to make concessions. He promised a series of measures to help the many problems of former guerrillas.