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East Timorese plan fresh protests

Reuters - June 24, 1998 (abridged)

Lewa Pardomuan, Dili – East Timorese reacted coolly on Wednesday to a meeting between the territory's Bishop Carlos Belo and Indonesian President B.J. Habibie and said fresh protests demanding a referendum on independence would be held on Thursday.

The territory's capital Dili, a seafront city of 130,000 people, was quiet on Wednesday, but students and residents said a large protest would be held on Thursday. Thousands of East Timorese, shouting "Viva Timor Leste" and "Viva Xanana," toured Dili on bicycles and buses on Tuesday to demand self-determination in the former Portuguese colony. No violence was reported.

When asked about the meeting in Jakarta, one resident said: "It's only a meeting. I don't expect much from it. There will be another big protest tomorrow to call for a referendum... that's what I know."

Student leader Antero Bendito da Silva said the planned protest would start at the house of Herman das Dores Soares, 21, who was shot dead last week by an Indonesian soldier in Manatuto, 100 km (63 miles) east of Dili, when collecting wood with his cousin. "We will start it at Herman's house, then to the Santa Cruz cemetery and later to the East Timor University," he said.

Herman's mother, Rosa Soares Sarmento, when asked about the meeting in Jakarta said: "I just hope this will bring a good result... that the military will be pulled out from East Timor. The military is here only to shoot at people."

What "special status" really means (comment by Tapol)

The offer of "special status" to East Timor by the Habibie Government has been firmly rejected by resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, and the Protuguese government. When people mention "special status", reference is usually made to Aceh where such a status was granted in the 1970s to ward off support for the Daud Beureuh Muslim movement in the province.

However, what is never mentioned is that in 1980, Aceh was designated a "Daerah operasi militer" or military operation area, known as DOM, which is still in place to this day. DOM has been justified by the armed forces leadership on the grounds of the need to crush the Free Aceh Movement. But for the population, this has meant curfews, road-blocks, raids and a heavy military presence. There have been thousands of "disappearances" especially during the period 1989 - 1993 at the height of the military operations. DOM has also served as a convenient cover for corrupt practices by military and civilian officials.

There is now a very active campaign underway in Aceh for the withdrawal of DOM. People from all walks of life are supporting the campaign, even including members of the local assembly and top religious leaders. Several students are currently staging a hunger strike "to the death" unless DOM is withdrawn. They have the moral and material support of the population.

So, even though Aceh has "special status" which is supposed to mean greater autonomy, the hand of the army weighs very heavily on the region. What is "special" about Aceh is not greater autonomy but far greater militarisation than most other provinces in Indonesia. In any discussion of the proposal for "special status", the farce of special status for Aceh should be highlighted.