Wed, 22 Nov 2000

East Timorese refugees attack Ambassador John McCarthy

MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi (JP): An entourage including Australian Ambassador John McCarthy was attacked by a group of East Timorese here on Tuesday during an inauguration ceremony of a new Australian insurance company building.

However, the ambassador was apparently unscathed and no one in the group was reported injured after some 20 East Timorese refugees tried to kick and punch their way through.

A spokesman for the Australian Embassy told The Jakarta Post later in the evening that the ambassador had returned to Jakarta unharmed.

"The ambassador wasn't kicked or hit at all," Public Affairs Counsellor Kirk Coningham said.

The attack occurred as McCarthy was attending a ceremony to open the Mutual Life and Citizens (MLC) Life office on Jl. Bontolempangan.

The National Bank of Australia finances the MLC Life insurance business here.

Witnesses said the assailants beat and kick several people as they tried to get to the ambassador, who was being interviewed by local journalists.

Witnesses said McCarthy and several others were forced to take refuge inside the building as several people, including journalists, tried to calm the attackers, but to no avail.

It took nearly 20 minutes before arriving security officers could secure the situation and escort McCarthy out of the office, which was besieged by angry East Timorese.

Reports said the mob again tried to attack the ambassador as he was about to be taken to the airport. One man, believed to be Australian, was said to have been "hit" in the scuffle.

Alfredo Dos Santos, the coordinator of the refugees' actions, said after the incident that initially the refugees had no intention of becoming violent.

"We just wanted to tell him that the Australian government should not have interfered in the East Timor affair.

"It was a spontaneous action. My friends felt sick when they saw him. They believe Australia must be held responsible for the civil war in East Timor."

Makassar city police chief Sr. Supt. Muhammad Amin Saleh said he regretted the incident and blamed the organizing committee of the inauguration ceremony for not informing the police that McCarthy would attend.

Muhammad's deputy, Supt. Adrizal Adnan, was also upset with organizers.

"In such a case, people blame the police, while we (the police) were not aware that a foreign ambassador was here."

A police emergency meeting was to be held to discuss the problem, Adrizal said.

However sources told the Post that organizers did inform police but only at the local precinct station, possibly thinking that the information would be relayed to the city police level.

In Jakarta, Minister of Defense Mahfud M.D deplored the incident, saying; "I really regret it. I urge the police to take stern action against those involved in the assault. No matter who they are."

Before joining a coordinating meeting on political and security affairs Mahfud said the attack could seriously spoil the mending of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Political tension between Indonesia and Australia has been escalating since Australia's perceived leading role which led to a ballot in East Timor in September last year. (27/02/sur)