Subject: RT: Chinese find safe haven in East Timor
Date: Mon, 20 Jul 1998 10:34:09 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Embattled Chinese find safe
haven in East Timor
DILI, East Timor, July 19 (Reuters) - Ethnic Chinese in mainly Christian East Timor have found the troubled territory a haven of safety, despite rising tensions against Indonesian rule and a deepening economic crisis.
They say they are spared the terror and intimidation suffered by ethnic Chinese in many other parts of mainly Moslem Indonesia.
``I was born here and I've never had problems with the East Timorese, even though I am of Chinese descent. Our relations are always good,'' Lay In Fa, a 65-year-old trader living in the territory's capital Dili, said on Sunday.
The atmosphere is very different from fears expressed by Chinese living in the Indonesian capital Jakarta and other major cities, in which Chinese shops and homes were targetted for looting and arson and Chinese women raped during riots in May.
There has been an exodus of several hundred Chinese over the past week from around Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, in East Java. They said they feared fresh attacks as the country's economic plight worsens and prices and unemployment shoot up.
Around 300 ethnic Chinese fled the Surabaya area on Saturday because of intimidation and looting and fears of further violence.
Chinese, who control much of the commerce through Indonesia, are traditional targets for attack in times of hardship.
In East Timor, the half of Timor island annexed by Indonesia 22 years ago, the atmosphere is relaxed for the Chinese, many of whom are Roman Catholics.
U.N. special envoy Jamsheed Marker arrived in East Timor on Sunday as part of an effort by the world body to end the dispute over the territory's status.
Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese territory in 1975 and annexed it the following year, a move not recognised by the United Nations.
Students in East Timor had said for weeks they planned a large protest during Marker's visit to demand a referendum on independence from Indonesia and the release of all Timorese political prisoners.
At least three people were killed in the territory last month when it was rocked by a series of large anti-Indonesia rallies organised mainly by students.
``I never feel I am treated differently by the East Timorese only because I am Chinese,'' shopkeeper Lay said while tending his store selling basic commodities.
``I hold an Indonesian identity card because Indonesia is here, but I feel that I am an East Timorese,'' he said.
The Chinese in Dili said they heard about the May riots in Jakarta in which about 1,200 people died and which helped to end Suharto's 32-year rule as president.
``I heard about the violence on TV. I felt sorry for it, especially for the women who were raped. But I don't think such an incident will ever happen here,'' Lay said.
Government officials said there were at least 2,000 Chinese living in Dili, a seafront capital of 130,000 people. Most of the Chinese are traders who run shops selling clothing and basic commodities, such as food.
They speak their own Chinese dialects at home, in addition to the local Tetum language and Indonesian.
In and around Surabaya, times as less harmonious. A Moslem resident in Jember, about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Surabaya, said attacks on Chinese property in the town and nearby areas continued up to Saturday night.
Mushodiq Fikri told Reuters he believed the looting of shops, warehouses and plantations owned by Chinese had been planned.
``I am very sure they were planned,'' he said, adding that the looters had arrived in pick-up trucks, jeeps and cars, and had been directed by a man in a van.
``There were Chinese who received phone calls from unidentified people who said their shops and homes would be safe if they handed over 'security money'.
``The minimum is one million rupiah ($75) depending on the size of their shops and homes,'' he said.
Syaiful Bahri, a religious teacher in nearby Silo, said he knew who was ``behind this bad plan.'' He said many people wanted to chase Chinese away to take over their businesses.
He said they were using as an excuse the reform movement instituted by Suharto's successor as president, B.J. Habibie.
Suharto resigned on May 21 after the worst riots in decades and mounting calls for political reforms.
``Maybe people feel they have been successful in politics and they are using this opportunity to seize (Chinese) businesses using 'reform' as an excuse,'' Bahri said.
In East Timor, officials said thousands of Indonesian migrants to the territory, mainly from Java and Sulawesi, had fled in recent weeks fearing attacks by local anti-Indonesian activists.
But taxi driver Nunes Yong said the Chinese were spared from intimidation and harassment because they stayed away from politics in the territory.
``The Chinese only concentrate on doing business,'' said Yong, 55, whose father was Chinese and mother an East Timorese.
He said many Chinese were shot dead by the military when Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975. ``They were killed because they were suspected of hiding the Fretilin (anti-Indonesian guerrilla) members,'' he said.
The Chinese, mainly from the eastern part of China and Taiwan, have been living in East Timor for hundreds of years. During the Portuguese colonial period that ended in 1975, Taiwan maintained a consulate-general in Dili.
Yong said ethnic Chinese who originated from the territory did not take part in the recent exodus because they felt they belonged in East Timor.
But Jaime Lay, 22, said many ethnic Chinese youths also took part in recent demonstrations demanding a referendum on East Timor's future.
``They feel they are East Timorese even though they are Chinese. They don't think they are Indonesians,'' he said.