Indonesia: UK campaigner kept flame alive

After two decades of struggle and 200,000 deaths in the troubled region, Jakarta appears to ease its grip
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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH woman who has possibly done more than anyone to promote independence for East Timor was last night waiting for the regime to match its words with actions.

Carmel Budiardjo, 73, who has campaigned on Indonesian human rights issues for more than three decades, said: "This is the first time an Indonesian government has talked about independence for East Timor and in that sense it is a step forward.

"However, while they might be saying they want to grant this independence they are still arming to the teeth, paramilitary groups who are going around killing those Timorese who say they want independence."

She added: "Indonesia is in such chaos at the moment.There are obviously a number of people high up in the government and the army who appear to think that both militarily and politically the cost of trying to hang on to East Timor is too high."

Ms Budiardjo was living in Jakarta with her husband, Suwondo, in 1968 when they were arrested. Their crime was to bemembers of the Indonesian Communist Party and to have had jobs with the previous government. Ms Budiardjo was interrogated, tortured and held without trial for three years. Her husband was jailed for a decade. After returning to Britain to wait for her husband's release, Ms Budiardjo founded the human rights group Tapol (from the Indonesian words for political prisoner) in 1973.

Last year she played host to MPs, activists and officials when the group celebrated its 25th anniversary.

One of the campaign's low points was the Santa Cruz massacre of 1991 when 273 students and independence demonstrators were murdered in a cemetery by Indonesian soldiers in Dili, the capital of East Timor

One of the highs was the 1996 decision of a jury in Liverpool to acquit four women from the campaign group Seeds of Hope who had smashed a British made Hawk jet sold to Indonesia. The women successfully argued that because the Hawks were used to bomb the East Timorese, their action had actually prevented a more serious crime. Mrs Budiardjo was a defence witness. She added: "People say I should be taking things easier, but retirement is not on my agenda."

East Timor on the Web: netret.htm