East Timor resistance stands firm

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East Timor resistance stands firm

By Jon Land

Student and youth activists in East Timor have shown their determination by staging a series of spirited pro-independence rallies. Protest actions beginning on May 4 lasted five days, the largest involving 1000 students. More protests are expected.

These are the first significant actions students have been able to carry out since the start of the year. By exploiting the international spotlight on East Timor with the signing of the United Nations agreement on May 5, student and youth activists are attempting to regain lost ground.

Most of the rallies have occurred on or near the University of East Timor, where activists are gathering to hold peaceful protests demanding independence. The students have been the target of pro-integration terrorist gangs because of their support for independence.

The Indonesian military is also directly involved in harassing students. The polytechnic in Hera, 10 kilometres south-east of Dili, was occupied by soldiers on May 9 and several students detained. Two students are still being held by the Indonesian military.

The terror gangs have established "command posts" across Dili from which they coordinate their attacks on anyone suspected of being pro-independence. According to a report from Yayasan Hak, the main legal aid office in Dili, gang attacks in Dili on May 9 and May 10 at the Mercado markets and people's homes resulted in 11 deaths.

The report stated: "It was very clear that the militia operations on 10 May were supported by soldiers and Brimob [mobile police] troops. When the militia started out from their base in Tropikal [a hotel in central Dili], vehicles carrying army and Brimob troops drove ahead and behind ... Each of the militia groups was guarded by between 7 and 10 Brimob troops".

Many resistance and community leaders have been forced underground fearing for their lives. The Motael Clinic, the only place East Timorese feel safe to go to for medical treatment, has received repeated threats from the terror gangs. Pro-integration gang members even established a command post outside the home of Ancieto Guterres, the head of Yayasan Hak.

A march for peace involving 600 priests, nuns and novices wound its way through Dili on May 13. Residents lined the streets as the procession passed, Bishop Belo and Bishop Basilio do Nascimento leading the prayers for peace.

Resistance leader Xanana Gusmao has urged independence activists to maintain discipline in the face of provocation by the armed terror gangs, which are under the guidance and control of the Indonesian military.

In the face of calls for the release of Gusmao before the UN-organised vote on August 8, the Indonesian justice minister, Muladi, said that Gusmao would remain under house arrest: "We will consider whether to release him and under which procedure".

Resistance representative Jose Ramos Horta told the Irish Times on May 11: "They say it is 'for his own security'. It is the first time I hear the Indonesians worry about the security of anyone ... it is as if we had signed an accord to end apartheid in South Africa without freeing Nelson Mandela."

Hundreds of people have been killed by paramilitaries, many more wounded and tens of thousands uprooted from their homes.

At least 20,000 East Timorese internal refugees are living in concentration camp-like conditions. Camps like the ones in Liquica district — which were not in existence a few months ago — are a key part of the Indonesian military's plan to manipulate a vote against independence in August.

Pro-integration gang members "assist" the Indonesian authorities at these camps.

The Catholic relief agency Caritas, one of the few organisations helping the refugees, has had rice and other supplies destined for the refugees stolen by pro-integration thugs.

Media reports in Australia continue to misrepresent the situation, citing the violence instigated by the pro-integration gangs as clashes between "warring factions".

In the May 11 Sydney Morning Herald, Lindsay Murdoch claimed that the "pro-Jakarta militias are not the only villains". Murdoch also made the bizarre assertion, "There is a risk that if violence continues in East Timor, Habibie will order the armed forces to walk away from the territory, creating even more chaos and probably plunging it into a prolonged nasty little war on Australia's doorstep".

There has been a "prolonged nasty war" in East Timor since Indonesia invaded in 1975. The present violence is occurring because the Indonesian military is still there.

"We must continue to demand that the Indonesian military immediately withdraw from East Timor", Max Lane, national coordinator of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, told Green Left Weekly. "We also need to apply the maximum pressure on the Australian government to force it to halt all military cooperation with the Habibie regime."