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European ambassadors to go to East Timor

The Sunday Tribune - November 9, 1997

Liz Walsh – Three European ambassadors are to go to East-Timor early in the new yeras as part a new EU initiative announced in Dublin last week by British Foreign Seretary Robin Cook. The initiative comes on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the Dili massacre on Wednesday in which more than 250 civilians were shot dead by the Indonesian military which invaded the country in 1975. In addition, a report published this week for the United Nations documents the rape and sexual abuse of East Timorese women by the military.

The mission to East Timor by ambassadors from Britain, Holland and Austria will move throughout the disputed territory, meeting members of the East Timorese resistance movement, high-ranking Indonesian officials and members of the general population. It is expected to press for UN-mediated talks and for the implementation of the 1997 UN Commission on Human Rights resolution. Until now, EU governments have refused to send ambassadors into East Timor for fear a visit would be mistaken as recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over the island.

A spokesman for Foreign Secretary Cook said details of the mission remain to be worked out but that it will go ahead shortly after Britain takes presidency of the EU in January. The Dublin-based East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign gave a guarded welcome to the mission, but warned that Indonesia, condemned by Amnesty International as being "casual about mass murder" must not be allowed to "orchestrate".

"The EU must call the shots on this and the safety of the East Timorese people during and after the visit must be paramount" said Dublin director Tom Hyland.

Meanwhile, an Australian report published on Thursday by an Indonesian-born academic details incidents of rape and sexual abuse by the Indonesian authorities against East Timorese women. The report by Dr. George Aditjondro of Newcastle University, Australia, to be presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1998, says that rape is being used as a weapon to "subdue the local population"

In addition to rape, East Timorese women allege they have been sexually abused by the military during house to house searches, often when their husbands are already in jail or in hiding.