29 in Exile After E. Timor Protest at Embassy Ends

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After holding out for nearly two weeks on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, 29 protesters from the disputed territory of East Timor left Indonesia on Thursday for political exile in Portugal.

"Our political decision is to let them all go," Foreign Minister Ali Abdullah Alatas said, according to the official Antara news agency. The government had earlier hinted that one of the group might be detained in a murder investigation.

The bedraggled protesters were given new clothes at the embassy and then taken in a Red Cross bus to the airport for the flight to Lisbon. As they left the embassy grounds, the protesters waved at journalists outside.

The group brought worldwide attention to their cause by scaling an iron fence outside the embassy on Nov. 12 as political leaders from Asia and America were arriving in Jakarta to hold regional trade talks.

The demonstrators, who remained in a parking lot adjacent to the main embassy, asked for a meeting with President Clinton or Secretary of State Warren Christopher to press their demands for the freedom of Jose (Xanana) Gusmao, leader of the East Timor independence movement, who is serving a 20-year prison term.

While no senior U.S. officials met with the group, Christopher said Clinton raised the East Timor issue in his talks with Indonesian President Suharto. But there was no progress reported in efforts to find a political solution to the problem.

East Timor is a former Portuguese colony that was seized by Indonesia in 1976, an annexation never accepted by the United Nations. The territory has been the subject of numerous accusations of human rights violations by the Indonesian military.

As the protesters left the embassy complex, calm was reported returning to the university campus in Dili, the capital of East Timor. Security forces fired tear gas on the campus grounds Thursday after students pelted police with stones.

Dili has been in turmoil for two weeks, with frequent and violent clashes between Timorese protesters and Indonesian security forces. Most Timorese are Roman Catholic, while the Indonesians are predominantly Muslim.

The Indonesian government announced Wednesday that 30 Timorese arrested during the unrest will be brought to trial for their involvement in the disturbances.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement that it was concerned about the fate of 200 demonstrators reported missing in East Timor in the past two weeks.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°