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Tuesday, September 7, 1999 Published at 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK

UK Politics

UK must help Timor - exiles

Protesters outside the prime minister's residence

East Timorese protesters outside Downing Street have insisted that the UK has a moral obligation to help end the bloodshed in their homeland.

Campaigners staged a vigil after handing in a letter demanding that the UK Government uses its influence to get Indonesia to allow United Nations peacekeepers into East Timor.

East Timor
Several anxious exiles told BBC News Online that they had found it impossible to contact relatives to check that they were safe from the wave of violence triggered by the territory's independence referendum.

They said the UK had a duty to help because of its controversial record of arms sales to the Indonesian Government.

"I think the British Government has a moral obligation to take action," said Ermegildo Lopez who fled East Timor three years ago when he discovered he was to be arrested for his pro-independence campaigning.

"Why should Britain send troops to Kosovo but not to East Timor?"

Fears for relatives

Mr Lopez, who is studying social sciences in south London, said he was worried for his relatives at home.

[ image: Estevao Cabral: Unable to contact family in East Timor]
Estevao Cabral: Unable to contact family in East Timor
All attempts to reach them by phone had failed, he said.

"Their house is empty. I don't know where they are," he said.

Another of the protest leaders was also in the same agonising position.

Estevao Cabral, the UK representative of the East Timorese independence group, Fretilin, said he had been trying to reach his family for five days.

"I am very worried," he said. "Their telephone rings, but nobody answers."

Call for peacekeepers

Mr Cabral said the scale of the continuing killings by pro-Indonesian militia assisted by Indonesian troops appeared to be even worse than the violence which followed Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975.

He believed the UK should use its influence as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to stop the bloodshed.

[ image: Robin Cook has defended arms sales to Indonesia]
Robin Cook has defended arms sales to Indonesia
"I think the UK and the international community should put more pressure on Indonesia through diplomatic channels so that UN peacekeepers can go in."

But he said that if Indonesia refused to bow to world opinion the UN should send in troops despite Jakarta's objections.

Mr Cabral insisted that the violence had been orchestrated so that Indonesia could impose martial law and ignore the result of the referendum.

"But 98.6% of the population came out voted despite the intimidation and 78.5% supported independence," he said.

He also attacked the UK's record on arms sales to the Indonesian regime.

Only last week, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook defended the government's decision to invite Indonesia to the UK's largest arms fair.

It followed Mr Cook's confirmation that the Indonesian air force had flown British-made Hawk warplanes over East Timor - in violation of the export licence granted for the warplanes by the UK.

Mr Cook said then that arms sales would continue as Indonesia had given fresh assurances that any equipment sold would not be used for repression.

Mr Cabral said he was "saddened and astonished" that the UK was still prepared to believe Jakarta's promises.

UK 'complicit' in violence

[ image: Lydia Tindle: UK must stop arms sales to Indonesia]
Lydia Tindle: UK must stop arms sales to Indonesia
His comments were echoed by some of the British campaigners at the Downing Street protest.

Mature student Lydia Tindle said the UK's record on arm sales made it "complicit" in the current violence.

"New Labour says it wants an 'ethical dimension' in foreign policy. But they are still asking mass murderers to come her and buy weapons," she said.

Ms Tindle was part of group from Tyneside, where she said there was an established Timorese community.

"The Timorese like it there as they say the sense of humour is very like their one," she said.

She said she had got involved in the campaign after she heard Timorese activists speaking about their independence struggle.

"It's become a personal cause, because they have become like family," she said.

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