Conference demands 'free the political prisoners'

August 27, 1997

By Nick Everett

SYDNEY — Around 150 people attended a public meeting on August 22 to launch the Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) activists' conference. The national conference, held at the University of Technology, Sydney, on August 23-24, was titled "Indonesia and East Timor: an agenda for solidarity action".

Edwin Gozal from the banned People's Democratic Party (PRD) and Students in Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia told the public meeting about the evolution of Indonesia's democratic movement and the PRD's efforts to build unity amongst all those suffering "under the heel of Indonesia's military dictatorship".

Gozal said: "While the Australian government has sought to foster close military and economic ties with Indonesia's dictatorship, it has nothing to say about the situation of Indonesia's political prisoners and is determined to deport East Timorese refugees".

In videotaped greetings from the leadership of the PRD, Mirah Mahardika noted that ASIET's solidarity work had inspired others in the USA, New Zealand, Netherlands, Malaysia and the Philippines to also establish solidarity organisations.

A statement from Parliamentarians for Democracy in Indonesia, convened by senators Bob Brown, Vicki Bourne and Margaret Reynolds, expressed their support for the "Free the political prisoners campaign".

The group will be putting questions to the parliament on December 10 (Human Rights Day), when a petition will be presented demanding that the Australian government end military ties with Indonesia and call on Suharto to free Indonesian and East Timorese political prisoners.

Other speakers at the public meeting included East Timorese activist and writer Naldo Rai, Heinz Gottman from Amnesty International and Susan Price from Melbourne ASIET.

Rai outlined the history of his people's struggle for self-determination and the huge toll Indonesian occupation had taken on the East Timorese. He emphasised the importance of the strengthening relationship between the PRD and the East Timorese resistance.

Outlining some of the issues to be discussed at the conference, Price said: "Turning the support of the majority of Australians for East Timorese self-determination into public opposition to Australian foreign policy will be necessary to force the government to end its defence cooperation with Indonesia".

More than 100 people attended the two-day conference. In the first session, Gozal and George Aditjondro spoke about "The struggle for democracy in Indonesia: Prospects for 1998".

Gozal described two main currents emerging in the movement: the Mega-Bintang-Rakyat alliance symbolising the growing unity amongst Indonesia's urban poor determined to demonstrate their opposition to the regime on the streets; and the KNPD, made up of supporters of ousted opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, who are pursuing democratic reform exclusively through electoral and legal avenues.

Aditjondro outlined a political basis for unity in the democracy movement, including opposition to the banning of political organisations and to the military's role in politics, support for the principle of self-determination, solidarity between the urban and rural poor, acceptance of armed struggle as a legitimate tactic and a rejection of Indonesia's sham election result.

In the discussion that followed, Filipino socialist Sonny Melencio pointed to the similar issues confronting the forces that had fought the Marcos dictatorship. He stressed that unity must based on the goal of ousting the dictatorship.

Following workshops on the PRD's program and strategy, self-determination for West Papua and issues in Australia-Jakarta relations, a feature talk on "Democracy and independence or 'orderly transition' and 'autonomy'?" was presented by ASIET national coordinator Max Lane.

Lane noted that while the US is more keen than Australia to open lines of communication with opposition forces in Indonesia, its goal is to achieve an orderly transition to a new government better able to implement the austerity measures necessary for more profitable US investment.

"The Australian government", Lane said, "has raised no criticisms of the regime's human rights policy because of the vulnerability of Australian capital".

Other talks and workshops examined strategies for self-determination for East Timor, organising solidarity, the environment as a solidarity issue and women in Indonesia and East Timor.

The conference also launched a national speaking tour of Gozal and Rai and adopted an agenda for solidarity action in 1997-98.

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