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Thursday, March 5, 1998 Published at 07:58 GMT

Has East Timor's time come?

For the quarter of a century since Indonesian troops stormed on to the Pacific island, the people of East Timor have lived through repression. But now President Suharto faces economic crisis and riots at home and the Timorese believe their moment of salvation may have arrived. BBC correspondent Mike Donkin has been there.

Mike Donkin reports on Timor
Any number of international protests and UN resolutions have failed to regain the Timorese their freedom.

The victims of East Timor's last serious bid for freedom are still honoured in prayer at Santa Cruz cemetery.

More than 100 young men and women, who dared to raise protest banners here seven years ago, were cut down by Indonesian bullets as they sheltered behind gravestones. It simply strengthened resolve.

[ image: More than 100 were killed]
More than 100 were killed
"What happened here was something terrible that theTimorese will never forget or forgive," one man told me.

"We will mourn for these people, and we will fight for the liberation of East Timor."

In the forests that cling to the mountain slopes of this beautiful island, that fight is a reality.

The orphans

Indonesian troops ride in open trucks, with their guns trained, and poke at vegetable baskets as they're loaded on buses, and warily patrol the grounds of Bel-Lali Orphanage.

[ image: Catholic majority in Timor]
Catholic majority in Timor
The reverend sisters command hush from a group of children whose parents may never see them again - all in the Timorese cause.

"Some of the parents died in the forest," Sister Joanna says. "Some of them still live in forests. "They asked us to receive the children in the orphanage, because they cannot live there with the children."

Even their lessons, though, are not in their native tongue but in Indonesian. "What's our capital?" they're asked. And who's our President"?

"Suharto", they chorus.

Indoctrination extends right up to the island's only university, where no-one graduates unless they pass a special paper on the President's political thoughts.

[ image: Guerrillas fighting for independence]
Guerrillas fighting for independence
Pointedly next door to the campus is a commando barracks, with their motto: "No surrender", on a mural of an assault with fixed bayonets.

As perhaps the only tourists in town, your every step is shadowed by the sound of motor bikes. Indonesian agents - Intels - turn up seconds after you arrive at each hotel or bar.

Resistance continues

Despite their attentions, we managed a rare rendezvous with a guerrilla leader, who claims growing military success and popular support, but admits these are still not enough.

"They kill us," he tells me. "They beat us with guns. "We will still not stop. "And the people in the villages will always help us."

[ image: Timor's lofty white cathedral]
Timor's lofty white cathedral
"But the guerrillas can never win this war from the mountains. "There must be some political agreement to free East Timor, he says."

From Timor's lofty white cathedral, its pews packed for this and every mass, the church has worked tirelessly for a peaceful resolution.

Its bishop won the Nobel Prize for his efforts and is currently carrying the message abroad. All but the island's occupiers have paid heed.

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