Students Hold Candlelight Ceremony Outside Consulate
DARWIN, Australia (AP) _ Weary activists blocked from reaching East Timor staged a candlelight ceremony Thursday in memory of pro-independence demonstrators killed in the former Portuguese colony.
The Indonesian navy halted the activists’ ferry on Wednesday near the 12- mile territorial limit around East Timor. Just four hours after returning to Darwin, the student-led group joined members of the city’s East Timorese community outside the Indonesian consulate.
About 250 people lit white candles and laid wreaths for those gunned down in November in East Timor, which was forcibly annexed by Indonesia in 1975. Indonesia says 50 were killed in the shooting, but human rights groups claim the toll was much higher.
The activists had hoped to conduct a similar memorial ceremony in Dili, the capital of East Timor. Although the ferry was turned back, mission organizers claimed success in drawing attention to East Timor.
The ferry - carrying about 150 students, politicians, activists and journalists from about 20 countries - was surrounded by three Indonesian ships for about two hours Wednesday after it stopped, apparently from engine trouble.
The ship’s captain, Luis doe Santos, said Thursday he complained to Portuguese maritime authorities over alleged dangerous conduct by the warships. He said he would take the matter to the United Nations.
″The ships, they were so close to me, you can imagine that if at that particular time, I had a problem with my rudder, and my ship started to turn suddenly ... it would create a problem, a big problem,″ he said.
Australian student Ian Whitchurch said the trip had been very tense.
″We were all scared. We didn’t think that the Indonesians were going to do anything stupid and shoot at us, but there was always the risk that someone would disobey orders,″ he said.
″We know dictatorships are afraid of flowers, of unarmed, peaceful young people when they want to demonstrate,″ Portuguese President Mario Soares told Lisbon’s TSF radio.
Brig. Gen. Nurhadi Purwosaptro, a spokesman for Indonesia’s armed forces, called the ferry voyage ″a provocation which is based on political pretension to create confrontation and tension in East Timor.″
East Timor covers half of the island of Timor, about 1,250 miles southeast of Jakarta.
Human rights groups say 200,000 people have been killed since Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor. They maintain that Indonesia is trying to wipe out Timorese culture by sterilizing women and forbidding instruction of the Timorese language.