By Filomena da Silva
Another Timorese freedom fighter has fallen. David Alex Daitula, 46 years old, was Falintil deputy chief of staff, regional commander in the Bacau area, and one of the earliest fighters for Timorese nationalism with the Fretilin resistance movement.
For more than 21 years David Alex had learned to cope with the death of many thousands of his fellows, the mysterious disappearance and the imprisonment of many others. He had endured the famine of the encirclement campaign of the 1970s, the bombings, the disease and all the sufferings inflicted by the Indonesian military on the Timorese people. His morale was unshakeable.
Countless attacks by the occupying military have been launched trying to capture the guerrilla commanders. Many times David Alex had been surrounded in the jungles, but he learned how to trick the Indonesians. He taught his fighters how to survive in the harshest of conditions.
His guerrilla skills were first documented by film maker Max Stahl, the first foreigner to reach one of David Alex's dugout shelters in the mountains. The guerrillas spoke in low tones and whispers, and operated in small groups to provide maximum manoeuvrability and to minimise the exposure of the population to retaliation, Stahl said in a report published in the Australian Magazine in January 1992. His amazing story touched the hearts and minds of many people abroad.
In August last year, Jill Jolliffe, succeeded in getting a camera operator to East Timor. A guerrilla action was filmed live for the first time. David Alex and his men courageously carried out an attack in Assailatula/Bacau, killing two Indonesian soldiers and then fought their way out before the arrival of troop reinforcements. This film — Blockade — premiered on SBS television on December 7 to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Belo and Timorese diplomat, Jose Ramos Horta.
In January, an Australian journalist, Ivan Smith, spent four days in the guerrillas' hidden bush camp. David, although sick and physically weak, spoke with the same passion of the '70s with no signs of giving up.
In May, on the eve of the Indonesian elections, Falintil intensified attacks to destabilise the Indonesian occupation forces, attract international support and pressure Indonesia to accept an act of self-determination in East Timor under United Nations supervision. The security forces retaliated randomly against civilians. They intensified military operations to capture the guerillas.
On Wednesday, June 25, occupation forces under the command of Colonel Slamet Sidabutar captured David Alex. According to many sources, he was shot and captured in Kaibada, Bacau at 10am. Colonel Sidabutar, who was interviewed by RDP Portuguese radio, claims that David Alex died of wounds. The Timorese resistance claims that he died during interrogation.
For the Timorese resistance, death of a captured guerrilla is an expected fate. In 1978, we lost Nicolau Lobato, president of Fretilin and commander in chief of Falintil, among many others.
Today the resistance is not confined to armed struggle. An underground network has developed in the cities and villages that has deep connections with the armed resistance. Young people have rejected the so-called "development" and have joined the liberation movement, including the armed struggle. The entire population has now reached a point that life is only worth something if we can live in dignity in a free country and raise our children under our own cultural values.
In a recorded message in January, David Alex said: "It was 21 years ago that we committed ourselves to liberating our country. Many have died or been killed. They gave their lives for an ideal that we all shared. We keep fighting for our country and to avenge our comrades."
[Filomena da Silva is the from NSW Fretilin's Information Section.]