Subject: AAP: East Timorese students want Australian apology

East Timorese students want Australian apology By Rod McGuirk

DILI, Aug 31 AAP - East Timorese students want a national apology from Australia for its policy of accepting the Indonesian invasion of their country.

Students at the still-ruined University of East Timor had planned to quiz Foreign Minister Alexander Downer about an apology during his visit here today.

But a question-and-answer session with the minister, which they said they were promised, never eventuated.

"A lot of them ask is Australia going to apologise to East Timor, it hasn't apologised to the Aborigines," British teacher Paul Greening told AAP.

"Is it going to apologise to East Timor for its complicity in the Indonesian occupation, the training of Indonesian troops and being the only country in 1978 to recognise Indonesian sovereignty?"

Opposition foreign spokesman Laurie Brereton gave in-principle support for a parliamentary apology, but Mr Downer was quick to rule it out.

"I think what Australia has done for East Timor is fantastic in the last couple of years," Mr Downer said.

"What previous government's have done isn't something we're going to get into."

Mr Brereton, who has publicly criticised former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam's stance on East Timor at the time of the 1975 invasion, said the parliament could help the issue move on by honestly and realistically acknowledging the past.

"It would be good for all sides of politics to be quite honest about shortcomings of past policy here," he told reporters in Dili.

"If their (the government's) policy in respect of indigenous Australians is anything to go by, they'll probably find that (an apology) a challenging question."

The East Timorese affinity with the Aboriginal struggle was highlighted when National Timorese Resistance Council president Xanana Gusmao invited indigenous group Yothu Yindi to perform at the anniversary of the independence ballot celebrations last night.

Mr Downer visited the university, still with boarded-up windows from last year's militia attacks, to inspect the progress of computing and English courses for 1,000 students funded through Australian aid.

Student councillor Joao de Sila Sarmento criticised the lack of priority given by the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) to re-establishing tertiary education.

Students, who formed the vanguard of the independence movement, have been without formal education since the post-ballot chaos of September last year.

The university will not formally open until the semester begins in October, although it remains unclear where the replacements for Indonesian teachers will come from.

"We are being marginalised by our own victory," de Sila Sarmento, 24, told AAP of the students' plight.

"Tertiary education is abandoned, it is not in the least a UNTAET priority."


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