Troubled East Timor reopens

January 16, 1998

THE University of East Timor, the only higher educational institution in Indonesia's youngest province, reopened last week after an enforced five-week "vacation".

It was closed in November following clashes between students and police, associated with the visit to East Timor of Dom Duarte, the pretender to the Portuguese throne.

East Timor was annexed from Portugal by Indonesia in 1975. The Indonesians claim to have brought prosperity and material progress but the human rights situation there is a matter of international concern, and there is ongoing political and guerrilla resistance to Indonesian rule.

The November clashes, triggered when military police attempted to enter the university library to interrogate students, resulted in numerous injuries. Six students were arrested, and are still in jail.

The announcement that the university would reopen was taken quietly in Dili, the Timorese capital. The following day, however, there was a demonstration by Timorese students in Semarang, the seat of the regional legislative assembly of central Java. The demonstrators demanded news of Lucas da Costa, a Timorese economist who disappeared on December 23.

Professor da Costa, the only Timorese scholar holding a university post in Indonesia proper, disappeared while on his way to deliver a lecture at Wijaya Kusuna University. Although Professor da Costa's family and the Association of Timorese Students in Surabaya reported his disappearance to the local military police, they declined to comment.

Politicians, including Joao Carrascalo, president of the Democratic Union of East Timor, and spokesmen for the National Resistance of East Timorese Students (Renetil) stated, however, that they were sure that Professor da Costa had been kidnapped by the Indonesian army, probably, according to Renetil, due to Indonesian suspicions that he was involved in student political action against the occupation of East Timor.

Renetil said that two days before Professor da Costa disappeared, six Timorese students in Surabaya were also kidnapped. They were taken from their homes, blindfolded and taken to an empty house on the outskirts of the city where they were held for several hours and "savagely tortured".

Another key issue for Renetil is the fate of six Timorese students from Dili who have taken refuge in the Austrian embassy in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, but who are, in effect, isolated there.

Timorese student and political organisations have appealed to Portugal, which now acts as patron for the Timorese cause in international forums, urging that the six should be allowed to have access to representatives of the world media, and guarantees that they will never be surrendered to the Indonesians.

* Letters, page 13

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