Breaking through the lies about East Timor


By wendy Robertson and Elle Morell

East Timor — Keeping the Flame Alive
Canberra: Australian Council for Overseas Aid
33 pp. $3.00
Reviewed by Wendy Robertson and Elle Morrell

Since East Timor was invaded in 1975, it has been ignored and isolated from the outside world. In September 1991, an Australian lawyer, Robert Domm, trekked into the mountains of East Timor to meet with the leader of the resistance, Xanana Gusmao. It was the first time in 15 years that contact was made.

This pamphlet exposes the treatment of the East Timorese under Indonesian rule and the people's resentment and fear of the occupying army. It draws attention to tragedy of the ongoing conflict and, most importantly, the peace proposal advanced by Xanana in his interview.

The pamphlet also highlights Australia's, and indeed the world's, hypocrisy in condemning Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait while condoning the annexation of East Timor.

East Timor was invaded by the Indonesian armed forces on December 7, 1975. The people, many of whom lived on the edge of subsistence, numbered about 680,000. Since then, up to 200,000 of them have died as a result of the hostilities.

The pamphlet makes clear that the atrocities we hear about are only a very small part of what actually happens in East Timor.

Despite Indonesian claims that the situation is "normal", the East Timorese resistance to this brutal rule is strong and highly organised; it enjoys unparalleled support in the towns, especially among the students and young people who have grown up watching their families and friends suffering under the Indonesian rule.

Robert Domm comments, "The people in the towns believe there's hope in the hills, it's not all bleak. They haven't been totally subjugated because their leader [Xanana Gusmao] is in the mountains. They see him as a beacon keeping the flame of freedom alive."

Although it is true that things such as schools, roads, housing, farming and medical facilities, during the 15 years of Indonesian rule, have improved more than during the 200 years under the Portuguese, without the right to self-determination, material gains are insignificant.

This pamphlet is important in bridging the gap between the propaganda of the Australian and Indonesian governments and the reality experienced by the East Timorese.