Tomi Soetjipto, Jakarta – Thousands of East Timorese protesters rallied in the troubled territory's capital Monday to mark the anniversary of its invasion by Indonesian troops 23 years ago, witnesses said.
Crowds began gathering at around dawn in Dili and dispersed around midday after hoisting the East Timorese flag and laying a wreath outside the Santa Cruz cemetery.
The cemetery is near the site of a 1991 massacre in which troops opened fire on thousands of East Timorese mourners. The government said 50 people were killed but human rights groups put the death toll as high as 200. Witnesses said Dili was tense but quiet Monday with many offices and businesses closed for fear of unrest.
In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, about 100 East Timorese students protested outside UN offices, demanding Indonesian troops quit the territory and that former President Suharto be tried in an international court for human rights abuses.
Witnesses saw police beat two East Timorese students with rattan sticks and drag them inside a truck. They said they were later freed. The students tried to march on the US embassy but were blocked by more than 100 police and troops in riot gear.
Jakarta has said it began pulling out combat troops from East Timor in August, but a document said to have been leaked recently from the Indonesian armed forces points to a build-up of troops. Indonesia denies it has stepped up troop numbers. Last month, at least seven people died in clashes between Indonesian troops and rebels. Some of the dead were civilians.
Elsewhere in Jakarta, about 800 anti-government union workers rallied in the south of the city in preparation for a march to the Defense Ministry. The workers rallied under the banner of Indonesian Union Workers, headed by former political prisoner Muchtar Pakapahan. And in downtown Jakarta, several hundred students protested outside the Education Ministry.