BY RACHEL WATTS
DILI — As official celebrations took place in Dili on May 20 to mark the first anniversary of East Timor's independence, more than 120 demonstrators gathered outside the government palace to express solidarity with the Acehnese people.
It was the first public action by the Timor Leste Solidarity Network for Aceh, West Papua and the Moluccas, a new group composed of Dili-based activists. Carrying placards, with slogans such as "Celebrate May 20, but don't forget the Aceh struggle" and "Stop the war in Aceh", the protesters declared their support for Acehnese independence. They also demanded that the East Timor government take a stronger stance on the issue.
The Fretilin-dominated government in East Timor is pursuing a policy of "normalisation" of relations with Indonesia and is reluctant to comment on the conflict in Aceh. This has angered activists, who believe East Timor has a moral duty to support the Acehnese people.
Alexander Almaart, a Dili-based member of the Aceh Sumatra National Liberation Front, has been lobbying political parties in East Timor and has received support from the Socialist Party of Timor, the Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Party. However, his negotiations with Fretilin have been less successful.
"Fretilin is waiting to see if the international community will openly support Aceh before committing itself. It does not want to criticise Indonesia and this is very disappointing", Almaart said.
Almaart believes a pressing task for the Acehnese movement for self-determination is to gain the support of the international community: "The situation in Aceh is not just an internal problem. We need international solutions. To continue the December 9 peace agreement, we need an international peacekeeping force in Aceh. We also need the international community to stop arming and training the Indonesian armed forces."
From Green Left Weekly, June 4, 2003.
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