Don Greenlees, Dili – Chanting, singing hymns and waving banners calling for an end to Indonesian rule, 2000 East Timorese paraded through the streets of Dili yesterday in an emotional outpouring over the killing of a 21-year-old local man by a soldier [Other reports have put the number of demonstrators as high as 10,000 - JB].
The phalanx of local residents walked, rode on motor bikes or crowded on to the back of trucks to join in the procession bearing a symbolic wooden coffin.
In the biggest public rally in Dili since President B.J. Habibie took office, the people marched just after midday on the office of Governor Abilio Soares and then on to the provincial legislature before returning to a moving ceremony at the young man's home on a rise overlooking the city.
They were later to make a final journey of several hundred metres from his home for the burial at Santa Cruz cemetery, the site of the November 12, 1991 massacre in which some 200 people are estimated to have been shot dead by the military.
Herman Soares was gunned down by an Indonesian soldier near the village of Obrato, 60km to the west of Dili, early on Tuesday evening. According to his cousin, Olandino Soares, 20, who survived the shooting, the soldier opened fire while Soares was clearing wood blocking the road.
He was initially hit in the leg and when he climbed back into the car to escape he was shot in the chest. Residents in the area were instructed by troops to take him to hospital in Dili, but he died on the way.
The military, who stayed out of sight during yesterday's protest march, apologised to the family, admitting there was "no reason for the shots to be fired". "We have apologised to the family, to the Bishop (Carlos Belo) and to the public in general," said East Timor's deputy military commander, Colonel Mujiono. The soldier who fired the shots claimed he suspected Soares of stealing wood. He has been identified and is likely to face legal action.
But the swift response of the military has failed to appease the anger of many East Timorese, who had hoped President Habibie's offer of "special status" for the territory invaded by Indonesia in 1975 presaged a more low-key approach from the thousands of troops deployed by Jakarta.
Prominent local figures told a raucous crowd of mainly young working men and students that the incident proved nothing had changed in the way Indonesia ruled East Timor since the fall of president Suharto on May 21. "The army continue with their policy of cleaning up all those people against Indonesia," human rights activist Manuel Arbantes said.
Earlier yesterday, dozens of people solemnly streamed into the home of Herman Soares in Jalan Balide to view his body, laid in a coffin on a white tablecloth. A simple wooden cross was placed above his head. Nearby, female relatives wailed in grief. On the street outside, petrol drums were painted with signs saying "Shot dead by ABRI (the armed forces)".
His uncle, John Pedro Soares, said the shooting of an "innocent boy" proved East Timor would only be safe and peaceful when the heavy military presence was finally withdrawn by Jakarta. "They shot him like an animal. It is just like Suharto is still here. Where is the reform? Where are the human rights? We want all the troops to go home," he said.
[Demonstrators also demanded a referendum on independence, the release of Xanana Gusmao, called for Suharto be tried at an international court for "war crimes" in East Timor and that the governor, Jose Osorio Abilio Soares, be held responsible for maintaining the troop presence. An AFP report on June 18 identified the soldier responsible for the killing as Agus Medi (31) - James Balowski.]