"The Indonesian government thinks we are animals that can be beaten into submission," an East Timorese priest told me. "But we are not animals, and the beatings only make us resist more."

Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move rejected by the United Nations. Despite growing economic and political integration into the international community, Indonesia continues its brutal assault on East Timor as though the world does not care. And maybe it does not.

Last month the House of Representatives renewed funding for military training aid for Indonesia, which it had cut off in 1992 in response to the 1991 massacre by Indonesian troops of more than 250 peaceful mourners in a cemetery in Dili, the Timorese capital. The Clinton administration also appears set to deliver F-16 combat jets to the same Indonesian military.

The United States is not eager to alienate Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous country, where low wages and a ban on free unions substantially benefit U.S. companies. But as abuses mount in East Timor, they become more difficult to ignore. In April, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights expressed "deep concern" about continued reports of human rights violations in East Timor.

I made similar findings last November, on the eve of two troublesome anniversaries: Nov. 12, the anniversary of the 1991 Dili Cemetery Massacre, and Dec. 7, marking 20 years since the Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony.

With colleagues from six countries, I was planning an ecumenical prayer service for those massacred at the cemetery, but was promptly expelled within 24 hours for "security reasons." It was clear the authorities did not want any news of their latest crackdown to reach the outside world. In mid-October, the occupying army unleashed a reign of terror on the island, with mass arrests and house-to-house beatings. Policemen in groups of four, sometimes in civilian clothing, burst nightly into homes and beat Timorese youths with bamboo truncheons. The teenagers were targeted because they are the most disaffected and willing to demonstrate. The Indonesians also arrested hundreds of locals in an attempt to cripple any anniversary demonstrations. Since then, Timorese have streamed into foreign embassies in Jakarta to seek asylum abroad.

For the Timorese, the 1995 offensive was only part of a long history of state-sponsored terror. Since the invasion, approximately one-third of the population has died in extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced starvation and armed resistance. Human rights groups have recognized East Timor regularly as one of the most repressive places in the world. Political rights and civil liberties are absent, as are freedom of speech, freedom of movement and, worst of all, freedom to be Timorese.

Taking a page from China's assault on Tibet, the Indonesian authorities hope to obliterate the Timorese people and their culture through a policy of "transmigration," which has injected more than 100,000 Muslim immigrants from other islands into a population of approximately 600,000 Timorese, who are mostly Roman Catholic. These transmigrants are the primary beneficiaries of government development funds.

Our small group got a minute dosage of what Timorese face daily. W. S. Triswoyo, "head of immigration" for East Timor, informed us that "security was everywhere." And indeed it was, with agents taking pictures of us, hovering around us at the hotel, eating next to us in restaurants, following us down the street and searching through our bags while we were out. When we went to the beach at night to get out of earshot of our pursuers, a truck pulled up and emptied out 20 police in full riot gear brandishing bamboo truncheons, the same weapon used against local youths. The police surrounded us and ordered us back to the hotel.

Despite the repression, Timorese are eager to express their anger, and their only means of communicating with the world is through visitors. "Independence or death," said one youth tightly gripping our hands. "Long live East Timor," a group of school kids chanted. Timorese told us they were "ready to die" if that is what was necessary to pray with us at Santa Cruz.

Candidate Bill Clinton said East Timor had been ignored in an "unconscionable" manner. As president, he has an opportunity to act on his convictions. The United States should press for implementation of the U.N. Security Council's request for the withdrawal of Indonesian troops, support Timorese Bishop Carlos F. X. Belo's call for a referendum on independence and expand the current ban on the sale of small arms to Indonesia to include armored vehicles and military helicopters, which have been used against Timorese civilians.

The moral choice for the United States is clear: Either side with Indonesian Vice President Try Sutrisno, who said, "These ill-bred people have to be shot . . . and we will shoot them," or with the Timorese who ask to be treated like human beings. The writer is a New York-based human rights lawyer.