'Australian government owes East Timor'

Issue 

By Nick Everett and Mike Byrne

BRISBANE — An interview with jailed Indonesian trade unionist Dita Sari, filmed secretly at Jakarta's Tangerang women's prison in August, was shown here on February 20. A documentary, Bitter Paradise, by Canadian film-maker Elaine Briere was also shown.

Resistance activist Dani Coulson explained how Dita Sari's party, the People's Democratic Party (PRD), had assumed a pivotal role in Indonesia's anti-dictatorship movement. By June 1996, at the time of Dita's arrest, the Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggles (PPBI) was organising masses of factory workers in many centres. The PPBI is an affiliate organisation of the PRD, and is headed by Dita. Dita was arrested at a 20,000-strong demonstration in the industrial city of Surabaya, East Java. She is serving a five-year sentence.

Coulson explained that the interview, filmed by Sydney film-maker Jill Hickson, is a preview of a longer documentary on Indonesia's democracy movement called Democracy or Death. The film will be screened in Brisbane on May 7.

East Timorese activist Afonso Corte-Real also spoke. "[Australian PM] John Howard claims that an independent East Timor would be a burden on the Australian taxpayer, but East Timorese people have a history of centuries of self-sufficiency, and we will be self-sufficient again.

"However, the destruction of so much of our natural resources poses a challenge for us. Given the Australian government's collusion with Indonesia's military regime, and its theft of our oil, it would be fair to say the Australian government does owe East Timor something."

Corte-Real also responded to claims by Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, that an independent East Timor could face civil war. Corte-Real said that once the Indonesian military has left East Timor, the pro-integration militia will not have a sufficient base of support to pose a threat.

Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, with Green Left Weekly, will be holding a public meeting on March 17 titled "What future for an independent East Timor?". Phone Nick 3210 8924 or Mike on (07) 3254 0565 for more information.