East Timor riot probed

December 26, 1997

INDONESIA'S National Commission of Human Rights has set up an inquiry into East Timor after violence erupted at the island's university last month.

The commission is not known to be sympathetic to Timorese separatists, who have waged an international campaign against Indonesia's annexation of the Pacific island when it became independent from Portugal in 1975.

According to Bahrain Lopa, secretary general of the commission, the Djakarta government must change its policy towards East Timor and not focus solely on material development or security.

It must also pay special attention to the "apparently uncontrollable" emotions of the students, which, he said, are a "potential source of conflict".

The disturbances were triggered partly by a visit by Dom Duarte, the pretender to the Portuguese throne, who is trying to broker an accord between Indonesia and Portugal, which backs the former colony's desire for independence.

During a welcome ceremony for Dom Duarte, four members of the Indonesian Armed Forces entered the university library and asked students for their identity documents. The students, allegedly assisted by non-students, "abducted" and beat up the soldiers. Security troops intervened and opened fire on the crowd. Several students were taken into custody, and others were injured.

Dom Ximenes Belo, bishop of Dili and co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize, who was accompanying Dom Duarte, spoke that evening of "acts of incalculable brutality" and said that the military had "broken into the university abusively, breaking windows and doors".

University rector Paulus Kaju suspended "indefinitely" all teaching. The local army commander later suggested that the violence had been deliberately masterminded by a group of activists and said that students should not conduct political activities on campus.

The Human Rights Commissions said that the riot was triggered by "excessive action by the security forces", albeit provoked, and that the "emotions" of a number of students contributed to it.

The security authorities in East Timor, however, are clearly unwilling to accept the blame. Six students have been formally charged with responsibility for the riot.

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