Tension after clash in Timor

Click to follow
STUDENTS clashed with the Indonesian authorities in the disputed former Portuguese territory of East Timor yesterday, with unconfirmed reports saying three people had died in the worst incident since a massacre in November 1991.

Opposition and official sources gave sharply differing accounts of yesterday's violence, which occurred when the authorities broke up a march by students at the University of East Timor in protest against the military. Tension has been high in the mainly Roman Catholic territory since two Indonesian soldiers allegedly entered a church during Mass last month, threw Communion hosts on the floor and stamped on them. The local commander fired in the air to restore order after churchgoers attacked the soldiers.

The military authorities have promised that the soldiers will be court-martialled and dismissed if found guilty, but religious sensibilities were again offended on Wednesday, when two Timorese nuns were taunted on the university campus. Three men were seriously hurt in the fight which ensued.

Local people said some 20 protesters had been injured yesterday, eight of them seriously, when troops used batons to prevent a crowd of about 500 students marching on the parliament in Dili, capital of East Timor. Activists said three people had been killed, but in Geneva a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said reports that its representatives had seen the bodies were incorrect.

The Indonesian military denied that there had been deaths or even arrests, but the ICRC spokesman said the organisation had visited people in detention. Activists said several dozen students had been taken to a barracks.

Yesterday's incident appears to have ended peacefully when the students agreed to disperse after a day- long confrontation with police and soldiers who had surrounded the university and other key points in Dili.

The contradictory versions of what happened echo the dispute over the events of 1991, when soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters during a funeral procession in the capital. A government inquiry concluded at least 50 people had been killed and 91 injured, but witnesses said there had been more than 180 deaths. Dozens more were alleged to have disappeared.

The massacre brought condemnation from Western countries, most of which regard Indonesia's 1975 seizure of East Timor as illegal.

The Indonesian authorities have since tried to show a lighter hand in the territory, but friction continues between the inhabitants and Indonesian troops.