March 06, 1992

Article at Reuters

Students risk violence in Timor mission – Canada

Students taking part in the international “peace mission” to East Timor speak to journalists

By Wilson da Silva

DARWIN, Australia – Canadian students taking part in an international “peace mission” to East Timor were warned on Friday that Indonesian forces could react violently, and were urged to abandon the quest.

Consul Refean Tessier, carrying a letter from Canadian High Commissioner Michael Berry, met the students privately at the peace mission’s headquarters here and later told journalists the students could face serious consequences.

 “There is a serious risk of violence, and if there is a confrontation there are Indonesian laws that, for instance with respect to illegal entry or illegal manifestation of demonstrations, which could bring consequences to their act,” he said.

“Essentially, consular assistance is very hard if they are in Dili and (our consulate is) in Jakarta,” he said.

The 120 students from 28 nations plan to board the Portuguese ferry Lusitania Expresso in the northern Australian city of Darwin next week and travel to East Timor, site of a massacre by Indonesian troops of between 50 and 180 civilians last November.

The students and activists want to lay wreaths at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili where the massacre took place. Indonesia has barred the ferry from its waters, and has stationed several naval vessels between Darwin and East Timor.

David Stewart, one of the four Canadians joining the ferry, said his compatriots were undeterred by the warning and criticised Canada’s silence over the East Timor issue.

“I’m ashamed to be a Canadian,” he said.

“I consider what Canada has done to help the Timorese a travesty of justice and human rights. Canada ... is an accomplice to genocide.”

Formerly a Portuguese colony, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 after rebels forced out Portugal, plunging the island into civil war between rival groups. Jakarta’s rule over East Timor is not recognised by the United Nations.

East Timor’s military commander has said any Indonesian journalist aboard the Lusitania Expresso was a traitor, the afternoon daily Suara Pembaruan reported on Friday.

Brigadier General Theo Syafei’s statement followed reports that a journalist from a leading Indonesian publication was planning to travel on the ship to East Timor.

Syafei said additional security measures had been imposed, including checking of documents permitting people to travel in the territory.

But the peace mission may yet make it to Dili.

Timorese sources in Darwin, in regular contact with family and friends in East Timor, said hundreds of people suspected of opposing Jakarta’s rule have been taken to the mountains by Indonesian troops, and pro-Indonesian Timorese moved in.

They said others in Dili have been told not to speak Portuguese to foreigners, nor approach Portuguese nationals – developments which the Timorese believe is an indication Indonesia is considering allowing the ferry to dock.

Portuguese merchant marine captain José Manuel Cabral, one of two tacticians advising organisers and who will travel aboard, dismissed reports from Jakarta that Indonesia might be able to stop the ferry in international waters.

He said the Indonesians could not legally board the ferry in international waters unless it had been chased there from Indonesian waters.

The Dili-bound ferry could be searched by the Indonesians in international waters but if nothing illegal or menacing was found, the ferry’s passage could not be stopped, he said.

Although none of the participants have asked for a visa, violations of Indonesia’s immigration laws cannot be dealt with until the ship docks in Dili, and therefore the ferry cannot be boarded for immigration reasons, Cabral said.