Nearly a year after Indonesian troops mowed down 200 mourners at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, the repression in East Timor goes on. Catherine Scott reports.
CHURCH sources inside East Timor report that Bishop Carlos Belo of Dili was forced to cancel Mass last month under pressure from the Indonesian military.
The security forces feared that a demonstration would ensue, aimed at embarrassing the Indonesian government at the time when it was chairing the Non Aligned Movement Summit, held in Jakarta in early September.
Security once again was very tight, both in East Timor and in Jakarta, as the Indonesian government was determined to suppress any incident which would draw attention to the plight of the East Timorese.
A similar demonstration after a Requiem Mass last November led to the cold-blooded massacre by Indonesian soldiers of over 200 East Timorese at Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili.
The tragedy led to world-wide condemnation of the brutal military occupation which has denied the human rights and freedoms of the indigenous population in the South East Asian island since,Indonesia's invasion in 1975.
The Catholic Church has often sheltered East Timorese, the majority of whom are Catholic, from military harassment, but priests and religious have paid the price by being subjected to lengthy interrogation sessions.
Bishop Belo recently spoke out against the lack of freedom accorded to East Timorese in a long interview in the Indonesian monthly, Matra. The people, he said, should "be given the freedom to be complete human beings".
He complains about the lack of democracy, and calls for the East Timorese to be given a chance to choose their own future. He wrote to former UN secretary General Perez de Cuellar in 1989 asking for a referendum.
In spite of strong assurances from the Indonesian government that the Dili episode would not be repeated, it has been censured several times since then for its failure to improve the situation inside East Timor.
A strong resolution was passed on 27 August expressing concern at the continuing widespread human rights abuses, and regretting the fact that insufficient action had been taken to bring members of the armed forces to justice. It called for the report by the UN secretary general's personal envoy, Mr Amos Wako, who visited the territoryin February, to be made public so far the report, which is thought to be damaging to the Indonesian government, has been kept under wraps.
Access to East Timor, which was closed to the world between 1975 and 1989, has again been restricted, in spite of Indonesian undertakings made in a consensus declaration at the UN Commission on Human Rights in March to admit visitors.
Information reaching aid agencies confirms that the people are continuing to suffer intense repression, torture and disappearances. Young people are being particularly targeted for maltreatment. Almost all who died in the Santa Cruz massacre were under 30 years of age. Some dozens of students and civilians were being rounded up and imprisoned in recent weeks in a number of towns throughout the territory.
A group of young Timorese this week sent a message begging the international community to keep up the pressure on Indonesia to release prisoners held in East Timor. These young people have grown up under Indonesian rule, and their steadfast refusal to accept integration with Indonesia is a particular annoyance to the Suharto regime.
TALKS between the Indonesian and Portuguese governments about the future of the territory, which had been suspended since June 1991, are due to recommence in New York shortly. The Indonesians have so far refused to allow East Timorese participation, in spite of assurances from the Timorese Nationalist Convergence, led from the mountains by its leader Xanana Gusmao, that the East Timorese are willing to enter round table talks without preconditions under the auspices of the UN.
Diplomatically, the Indonesian government has been under increased pressure since the Santa Cruz massacre. There has been pressure in the United States for a change in US policy, and a bill aimed at suspending US military aid to Indonesia was carried unanimously in the House of Representatives in June.
Introducing the bill, Democrat congressman Tony Hall said: "At a time when every US foreign aid dollar is undergoing rigorous scrutiny, why should tax-payers provide aid to a nation which has seized and subjugated its neighbour? The congress can save both money and stand for principle in terminating aid to Indonesia".
In contrast, British Aerospace has been reported to be close to concluding a deal with the Indonesian government to sell the regime more than 40 Hawk trainer jets. These can be converted into attack aircraft against civilians.
The sale cannot go ahead unless it gains an export licence. According to the Foreign Office, sales are scrutinised on a case by case basis, taking into account the human rights record of the recipient nation. Britain is Indonesia's second largest arms supplier. Human rights groups are concerned that the depressed economic climate might influence the granting the export licence on the BAe deal.
Britain's role in supplying arms to a country with no external enemies was roundly condemned by peers of all political parties in a debate in the House of Lords on July 16. Many called for Britain to impose an arms embargo, and to suspend military assistance to the Suharto regime. Yet Britain has traditionally avoided being drawn beyond stating that it does not accept East Timor's integration with Indonesia.
The British government now holds the EC presidency, and is well-placed to exert additional pressure on both the UN and the Indonesian government to find a solution to the question of East Timor.
Given the immense suffering of the East Timorese people over the last 17 years, the British government could do much more to ensure that this population wins the right to live as "complete human beings".
CIIR produces Timor Link, a newsletter containing news and analysis on East Timor which appears four times a year. A thirty page analysis, East Timor An International Responsibility, is also available. Details from CUR, Unit 3, Canonbury Yard, 190A New North Road, London NI 78.1.