East Timor will be free!

May 6, 1998

Despite staunch opposition from the East Timorese people and increasing international pressure, Indonesia stubbornly maintains its illegal occupation of East Timor.

The Suharto regime still refuses to enter into negotiations, without pre-conditions, with the legitimate representatives of the East Timorese people. JON LAND spoke with DR MARI ALKATIRI, first deputy chief of Fretilin External Delegation and guest speaker at the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference, on recent developments in the independence campaign.

Question: What is the current situation in East Timor and how has the resistance responded?

As you know, just over one month ago, Konis Santana, commander in the field of Falintil [Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor] and an important leader of Fretilin [Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor] died in an accident. Since then, our Falintil and Fretilin leaders inside the country are trying to reorganise the structures by choosing and electing a national body to deal with the question of leading the struggle.

As a result of the economic, social and political crisis in Indonesia, the situation in East Timor is becoming worse. From the military point of view, the Indonesian regime is concentrating a great deal on preventing any military uprising or political demonstration.

They are sending in many more troops. From 20,000 to 25,000 a year ago, the number of Indonesian troops has increased to 35,000. At the moment they are carrying out large military actions, trying to capture the new leaders of the resistance.

We believe this will not happen because we are experienced in responding to such military campaigns. The increase in the number of troops and activity has corresponded to an increase in human rights violations. There are more incidents of harassment, rape and disappearances.

At the moment, a real priority for East Timor is food and medical aid. Money is also needed by university and high school students studying in Indonesia and East Timor.

The resistance now, both politically and militarily, is solid. Our struggle is more and more linked with the struggle for democracy in Indonesia. But this doesn't mean we only give priority to the struggle for democracy in Indonesia.

From our point of view, the crisis of the Indonesian regime started with the invasion of East Timor [in 1975]. Indonesia was condemned internationally. Even the Indonesian armed forces have become weaker because of their incapacity and incapability to win the guerilla war and beat the resistance. East Timor is still a main cause in the struggle to overthrow Suharto because internationally Suharto is becoming more isolated over the occupation.

This means it is important to link the struggle in East Timor with the struggle for democracy in Indonesia and not create a "dependency" of one struggle on the other.

Question: The Timorese Diaspora National Convention in Portugal from April 23-27 and the proposed congress for December are important steps forward for the resistance. What are some of the proposals Fretilin is raising for discussion at these gatherings?

During the 22 to 23 years of struggle, Fretilin has always tried to establish a new social contract — a new political pact between Fretilin, other groups, the church and the East Timorese people. This has been a permanent exercise and one of our weapons in the fight against Indonesia.

The convention is one attempt to consolidate unity within the people and within the political groups and parties in the liberation movement. Of course, we are trying to build up a consensus before the next convention. We have our own proposal for the magna carta which is circulating now among participants.

The magna carta proposal made clear the need to look to the future after independence. It is like a pre-constitutional law for the future and includes important topics on social justice, democracy and sovereignty of the people, and has to relate to the struggle for women's liberation and for sustainable development. A real magna carta will need to be a consensus-based political program if it is to be adopted by Fretilin, UDT [Timorese Democratic Union], the CNRM [National Council of Maubere Resistance] and independent East Timor personalities.

Fretilin believes these meetings are an important opportunity to discuss this proposal, because everybody engaged in the liberation of the country over the last 23 years knows that the poor and oppressed ensured the resistance continued inside East Timor.

It is the Maubere people of East Timor who have succeeded in defeating the Indonesian army. There is no way we are going to turn the clock back. We need to move ahead and defend the rights of the Maubere people.

Question: A number of major powers — the United States, United Kingdom and countries inside the European Union — have spoken out about East Timor and the human rights situation. What is your view of their positions?

They are starting to understand that Indonesia hasn't the capability to convert the situation — the illegal occupation of East Timor — into a fait accompli. They are starting to understand there needs to be a political solution.

But they still remain Indonesia's allies. They do not support the resistance. They are still doing everything they can to support the Suharto regime for economic and political stability. We have lobbied London, Washington and elsewhere and are seeking more support from the people of these countries and their representatives in government. The result has been quite positive.

Question: You have carried out much of your political work for the resistance while based in Mozambique. What support do African states give the East Timor independence movement?

Thanks to the African states, particularly the Portuguese speaking countries, we have managed to resist the intense aggression of Indonesia, especially in the last 10 to 12 years. Our work from 1975 to 1986 received vital support from them, particularly Mozambique. At that time, many in the international community didn't believe we would be able to resist for more than 20 years.

Even sympathisers tried to tell us to be "realistic", saying there was no way that East Timor, a tiny country with a small population, would be able to resist the regional powers. Then, African countries were the only ones which supported and believed in us.

Now we are getting broader support, including from Ireland and Portugal, which the United Nations still recognises as the administrating power. We are also receiving support from many other countries, groups and organisations. People are starting to believe that we, the Maubere people will win the struggle.

Question: Many in Australia are becoming more critical of our government's dealings with the Suharto regime. What comment, if any, do you have on the solidarity campaign.

I would like to thank them for their support and appeal to them to continue by mobilising more young people, students and workers to put pressure on the Australian government, to force it to change its criminal position on East Timor.

Australia is the closest democratic country to East Timor. In 1974-75 we could never have thought Australia would be the biggest ally of Indonesia in its genocidal policy against our people. We know Australia has its own interest in East Timor, with the Timor Gap Treaty.

But the best way to defend Australia's interest in East Timor is to defend the right of the East Timorese people for liberation and self-determination. An independent East Timorese state will never adopt a policy of isolating itself from the region. We would try to establish cooperation, coordination and good relations with all countries in the region and throughout the world.

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