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Massive convoy of protest in East Timor

Straits Times - June 24, 1998 (abridged)

Dili – An estimated 50,000 people paraded through the streets of the East Timor capital yesterday in a motorcade protest calling for reform and dialogue on the future of the troubled territory, witnesses said.

The demonstrators, mostly students and youths, took a convoy of hundreds of trucks, buses, cars and motorcycles to the governor's office to meet the Jakarta-appointed East Timor Governor Jose Osorio Abilio Soares. Security was almost non-existent and human-rights activist Ze Luis of the Foundation for Law, Human Rights and Justice said no incidents were reported.

"There is a need for an open dialogue involving all elements of the population, to seek a settlement to the question of East Timor," one witness quoted the Governor as telling the students.

Mr Soares also told student representatives that he had met jailed East Timorese rebel leader Xanana Gusmao in his prison in Jakarta recently. He said Gusmao had told him that a referendum on self-determination for the former Portuguese colony would take more than five years to prepare. First a dialogue was needed between representatives of various East Timorese groups to seek an acceptable and durable solution for East Timor, Mr Soares said.

Mr Soares also told the students that the authorities would not ban rallies at universities. "But please, respect the human rights of other people, do not disturb their tranquility and peace." The motorcade dispersed around noon, when part of it broke off and headed for the local Parliament where hundreds of students and youth staged a rally there.

[It should be noted that on a number of occasions, Soares has "misquoted" Gusmao and any such statements are open to question. Last week for example, Soares claimed that Gusmao had told him he agreed with the proposal that he be released in exchange for East Timor being acknowledged as part of Indonesia while a number of other news sources quoted him as saying that autonomy was not enough and that he blamed Soares for the ongoing military presence - James Balowski.]