Protests as E. Timor police evict 1,000 squatters

DILI, East Timor, Jan 20, 2011 (AFP) – East Timorese police evicted more than 1,000 long-term squatters from a former Indonesian barracks in Dili Thursday, sparking a rowdy protest.

Poor families had been living in almost 120 houses in the Bairro-Pite district of West Dili since Indonesian security forces evacuated the capital in the aftermath of a bloody independence referendum in 1999.

Witnesses said more than 100 police smashed doors and windows as they forced residents out of the leafy neighbourhood.

“It’s been done by force as if we’re animals,” said East Timor Labour Advocacy Institute director Domingos Araujo Baptista, who represents the squatters.

“They’re adamant about evicting us. Evictions like this are commonly practised by dictatorial regimes – it’s against human rights.”

Shouting anti-government slogans, about 50 people marched around the city and protested in front of the presidential palace and parliament building after the evictions.

The government reportedly warned residents to leave and paid $2,000 compensation to each of the 150 families affected.

Baptista said the residents, who are demanding $4,000 per family, had not been consulted.

“This eviction is illegal and unfair because there’s been no negotiation between us and the government,” he said.

The government plans to turn the properties into homes for police officers.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, won its freedom from Indonesia in a UN-backed referendum marred by violence that left an estimated 1,400 people dead. It gained formal independence in 2002.

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