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Marker airlifted amid protests at airport

Agence France Presse - December 20, 1998

Dili – A special envoy of the UN secretary general was airlifted by helicopter from the Komoro airport here Sunday as hundreds of protestors stormed the terminal, witnesses said.

Some 500 people, mostly students but also other civilians, some of whom held machetes, stormed the airport and broke through two security cordons as envoy Jamsheed Marker was waiting to board a commercial flight to Denpasar.

The protestors were at the head of a column of thousands more who travelled to the airport in a convoy of trucks, buses, cars and motorcycles to see Marker off after a two-day visit here. Marker was driven to a helicopter and flown off as the mob began to break glass windows at the airport and force their way into the VIP lounge.

A Merpati Nusantara Airline airplane, which arrived at the airport from Denpasar, Bali, and was to take Marker and other passengers back to Denpasar, only taxied for a few minutes on the runway before taking off again as the mob began to stream into the taxiway.

A Merpati official said the airplane headed for Kupang in West Timor and would return later in the day if the security situation allowed it. Military sources the aircraft would return to pickup Marker and other passengers, adding that the UN envoy was taken to the nearby military airbase.

But Dili district military commander Lieutenant Colonel Endar told AFP that Marker was flown directly to Kupang and will take another flight there to Denpasar. "The Danrem (the East Timor military commander) ordered for the helicopter to pick Marker and his delegation up and fly them to Kupang," Endar said, refering to Colonel Tono Suratman who heads the East Timor military command.

Police and soldiers reinforcement were sent to the airport to disperse the mob and, about 60 minutes later, order had been reestablished there. The mob, "a mixture of students and civilians", had been dispersed and no arrests were made, Endar said.