Witnesses ejected from East Timor

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The Independent Online

Kupang, West Timor

The steel curtains are going up again in Indonesian-occupied East Timor. Those of us - hitchhikers, journalists or businessmen - who might have witnessed another bout of the violence which has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives since the Indonesians invaded were pushed out of the country yesterday.

Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the massacre when Indonesian troops killed several hundred unarmed Timorese who were protesting against the occupation at the Santa Cruz cemetery in the East Timor capital of Dili.

The Indonesians, who annexed this former Portuguese colony in 1976, are determined to prevent foreigners observing the expected demonstrations, which are drawing more and more young people. "Many of the protesters haven't got as far as their tenth birthday," said one Timorese yesterday.

December promises even greater headaches for the occupying power, as it is the 20th anniversary of the invasion and the beginning of East Timor's long martyrdom. At the height of the Cold War the Indonesian invasion was winked at by the West, which salved its collective conscience by condemning the takeover at the United Nations Security Council and thereafter did nothing which would inconvenience the right-wing regime of General Suharto.

The manner of my departure from Dili yesterday was clothed in as much decorum as one European Union citizen can muster against the agent of 170 million Indonesians threatening force if I did not go quietly.

I was visited yesterday morning at my hotel by an immigration officer called Timbul who invited me to leave "by road or by air immediately". "Orders from Jakarta" was Timbul's only explanation.

A few hours later I met his superior, Johanes Sri Triswoyo, the East Timorese chief of immigration, who said that the presence of foreigners could be the focus for unrest. "Orders came from Jakarta; that was that."

Politely but firmly I reminded him of the seriousness of his action and suggested a 24-hour reconsideration period, the presentation of written reasons for my expulsion and the payment of my air fare. I then strode off to see the Indonesian gunboat tied up at the quay beside the banyan tree and noticed she was called, with conscious or unconscious irony, Balibo, the border village where the Indonesian invaders killed two British and three other Commonwealth journalists in 1975.

It only remained for me to pick up the only air ticket General Suharto's regime is ever likely to buy me, accept my certificate of expulsion and make for the plane, a scene captured for my Indonesian police file by the official photographer.