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Thousands march in East Timor

Associated Press - February 25, 1999

Dili – Several thousand pro-independence supporters marched solemnly Thursday in East Timor's capital of Dili with the bodies of two activists who were slain in a clash.

Violence between rival groups has escalated in the former Portuguese colony since Indonesia offered last month to consider independence for the territory if the East Timorese reject an autonomy offer.

In a confrontation Wednesday, separatist activists stabbed to death a soldier and gunmen fired on the crowd, killing two people. Witnesses said pro-Indonesian armed civilians were behind the shootings.

On Thursday, thousands of youths paraded in the streets with the caskets of the slain pro-independence activists, Joaquim De Jesus and Francisco De Concecao. Some carried machetes and other weapons.

Funerals were scheduled for Friday in Santa Cruz cemetery, where Indonesian soldiers fired on pro-independence demonstrators, killing dozens.

In a written message to his supporters, separatist rebel chief Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao urged that the funerals be held quickly in order to head off the risk of more violence. Gusmao is being held under house arrest in Jakarta.

"East Timor's people want peace, but if the Indonesian military continues their violent actions, then [the pro-independence movement] is ready to face them like in 1975," Xanana said in the statement.

Col. Timbul Silaen, East Timor's police chief, appealed for restraint. "There's no need to kill. It's time to respect one another," Silaen said.

There were no reports of violence in Dili on Thursday. Security forces persuaded residents to dismantle barricades they had set up around the site of Wednesday's clash.