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Student protests against bloodbath

Algemeen Dagblad - November 21, 1998 (Translated and abridged by Tapol)

Dili – Student organisations in Dili, the capital of East Timor, will hold a big demonstration on Monday to protest against a bloodbath perpetrated by the Indonesian army in Alas, a sub-district of about 1,000 inhabitants. According to reliable sources, between 9 and 19 November, at least 50 people were killed, including the village head. Others speak of more than 100 casualties. An eyewitness said yesterday: "There were so many bodies, I wasn't able to count".

It was probably an act of retaliation for an attack by rebels on 9 November on the headquarters of the army in Alas. The authorities have neither confirmed or denied the reports. The separatists (sic) killed three soldiers and took 13 hostages. Eleven were released afterwards. Two soldiers – both East Timorese – are still being held hostage. The rebels have supposedly received assistance from the inhabitants of Alas.

The bloodbath is seen in East Timor as a desperate attempt to suppress the growing freedom and the process of political reforms that has developed since the resignation of President Suharto.

A feeling of despair in Dili The names of eleven of the victims of the Alas Massacre have been listed, according to our sources. So far 14 people have been arrested. The army has burned down about 30 houses in the village. Between 100 and 150 youngsters have fled to the mountains because they are being hunted by the military. Many elderly people, children and women have found refuge in the Catholic Church in Alas. The authorities have also cut off water supplies, according to East Timorese sources.

A region that has until now been accessible to everybody has been sealed off from the outside world, which means, according to our East Timorese sources, that a military operation is going on. Bishop Belo from East Timor, Nobel peace prize winner has offered to start negotiations with the army to allow relief workers to enter the area.

According to our sources, Indonesia has send fresh troops to the area, including battalions 744 and 745 (territorial battalions which include a large number of East Timorese), anti riot Brimob police and Garuda I and II battalions from the army's Strategic Reserve, Kostrad.

In Alas the military are searching for people who have assisted the Falintil rebels, according to witnesses. The units operate in groups of four. Suspects are shot dead on the spot.

According to several observers the military hope, by means of this bloody operation, to kill off the new atmosphere of freedom and reformasi that was embraced so enthusiastically in East Timor.

In the past few months students in East Timor have organised huge public meetings all over East Timor. At these meetings discussions were held about the political future of East Timor. The population were given information about the significance of the holding of a referendum, the choice between independence and a limited form of autonomy.

Recently, East Timorese political parties, although not yet recognised, have been allowed to operate. The hope of better times has been smashed by the Alas Massacre.

The atmosphere in Dili is one of anger, despair and confusion. "Almost everybody is silent, even the bishop" says a woman. "People do not understand why the army is using violence at a time when everything was looking fine. Only the students have the courage to do things".

On-the-spot report from Dili

[The following is an on-the-spot report sent to Sonny Inbaraj on November 23 who re-posted it on the tapol.easttimor newslist. The author of the report was not cited.]

I attended a demonstration this morning Monday 23/11/98. It was organised by the DSMTT – which is a combined East Timorese students group against Violence. They all started gathering at UNTIM before 8am. Students from UNTIM in their light blue jackets, students from the Polytechnic in bright yellow, from Akper – the Academy of Health indark blue and also from IPI – the Indonesian Pastoral Institute.

All nine senior high schools in Dili closed for the day and the students walked to the demonstrasi in their all white uniforms. Another youth group which supports independence for East Timor – OBJETIL had white t-shirts with OBJETIL across the front. Many people in ordinary clothes. The common estimate was around 5,000 students. There were banners supporting a free ET of course and also for Xanana, Tau matan Ruark, Konis Santana, and David Alex.

Everyone marched from UNTIM to the DPR or People's assembly where they took over the front of the building. They have done the sme action 3 times before. They had a microphone and loudspeakers on a balcony over the front steps. They were demanding peace the military out of ET; UN forces in ET. They want a stop to violence, kidnappings, killings, intimidation and torture. They wanted to say that the Indonesian government is responsible for what is happening in Alas and other districts. They say that more than 50 people have been killed at Alas including students. They say that the military are still killing people at night. They say that the leader of Falantil in Alas Tera Bulak and his members (they are the ones who captured the kopassus men) are surrounded by Indonesian military. The speaker from Same asked that the UN and all the nations of the world defeat Jakarta.

One student suggested to me that the UN impose an economic embargo on Indonesia. I asked "won't that make ET poorer?" "No we will be OK . We have our gardens and many resources. If we run out of rice we will eat corn".

There were no military in sight and the police kept their distance but were equipped with 2-way radios. One students I was talking to said it is still dangerous to be seen talking to journalists because there were plain clothes people in the crowd. The students quickly point out when a spy comes near. The governor and the military were invited to attend. There were many rumours that Abilio would show at 1pm but he did not come. I was told that he was too scared. I left at 1.30. Everyone had been told then that he was not coming.

Manuel Carrascalao did speak and was cheered supportively by the students. He started his speech with "Viva Timor Leste." A student told me that Manuel always supports the students struggle and cares about people's suffering. He said that the military must stop the violence in Alas. He said the Timorese must unite. East Timor is their land not the Indonesians'. He told them about his meeting with the Portuguese PM where he stressed that Timorese people want independence and that Timorese who said otherwise were not representative of the people. Speakers, songs and poetry continued all morning.

I interviewed a teacher at the demonstration. he was keen for his name to be used. he is Antonio Cardoso Machido form the Dili College of Economic Science. He is also a memeber of the political department of the Gradutaes Forum. (Forsarepetil – The group which organised the 35,000 person demonstration when Abilio Soares threatened to sack government servants who did not support "autonomy").

He brought his students to the demonstartion and supports independence. He believes 99 per cent of east Timorese want independence and even the other 1per cent do but they are afraid of the consequences because they have been supporting the Indonesians. He believes ET will be economically viable. When the Indonesians leave the people will be able to return and farm their traditional lands instead of living in Dili. He believes Portugal as the administering power accepted by the UN should strive to overcome the problems ET now faces and should make compensation (for walking out I guess).

He says Australia should know that the ETese sacrificed 50,000 lives for Australian soldiers in WW II. He believes Australia should do a lot more for ET and should show their presence in ET. He believes Australia will be a good friend once ET is independent. When discussing the future viability of an independent ET and situation of education levels and human resources Antonio points out that Guinea-Bissau only had 6 gradutaes when they became independent in 1974 whereas ET has 1000.

One of our colleagues had just returned from Same. She told me that Falantil said 145 people had escaped from the villages near Alas and taken shelter with them. A group called Kontras which has recently formed and tries to trace missing persons, show that the Timorese are watching and reporting on the military actions and so increase the pressure on the military to get out of East Timor, had sent a representative to the area two days ago. He had spoken to 45 people and estimated that 60 people had been killed – including 20 near a river and 10 who were sheltering in a church.

Houses have been burnt and many people have fled. It seems there's still heavy military presence between Same and Alas.