Timorese plead for UK asylum

Britain was last night considering an application for political asylum from five East Timorese men who took refuge in the British embassy in Jakarta, saying they feared for their safety at the hands of the Indonesian security forces.

A Foreign Office spokesman in London said they would "certainly not" be asked to leave the embassy while the asylum request was being decided.

The five, all aged between 22 and 24, said they were activists in an underground movement dedicated to resistance against Indonesian rule, declaring in a petition that "military brutality has become a fact of everyday life in East Timor".

This is the third time since 1993 that young men from the former Portuguese colony, invaded by Indonesian troops in 1975, have sought sanctuary in foreign embassies in Jakarta. Last November 29 men scaled the US embassy fence during a visit by President Bill Clinton. They were eventually flown to Portugal.

The incident was a new embarrassment for the Indonesian government, which faces continued opposition to its occupation of East Timor and international concern over its human rights record. The five asylum-seekers said they had witnessed atrocities by the Indonesian security forces, including an incident in 1991 when the army fired on mourners and protesters at a funeral in Dili, East Timor's capital.

"We request your protection in the sincere belief that the government of England holds in high regard the value and dignity of human life in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human rights," the men's petition said.

It also called for a renewed dialogue between Indonesia, the UN and Portugal about East Timor. Indonesian rule over East Timor is not internationally recognised and the UN regards Lisbon as the legal administering power. Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1976.

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