'East Timor's struggle must inspire pro-democracy movements'


DARWIN — During April and May, East Timor activist JOSE GUSMAO visited Portugal to take part in discussions with the East Timorese independence movement. On his return, Gusmao, who is the representative of CNRM (National Council for Maubere Resistance) here, spoke to Green Left Weekly's SALLY MITCHELL and TOM FLANAGAN.

What did you hope to achieve in Portugal?

I went there with three main tasks: to meet with other regional representatives of CNRM, and special representative Ramos Horta; to attend a symposium on East Timor at Oporto University; and, most importantly, to meet with all East Timorese political party and independence leaders to discuss strategy and to reinforce our unity. This was very successful.

What were your impressions of the movement for a free East Timor there?

East Timor is a big issue in Portugal. The Portuguese believe in our struggle like the East Timorese themselves. We have great support from the government and the Portuguese people. Students, in particular, play a strong role. The Portuguese student movement plays an important role in mobilising public opinion. Both high school and university students are very active.

One example is Portuguese high school students who are planning to mark the anniversary of the Dili massacre on November 12 by organising 50 double-decker buses to go to Spain and then France to deliver petitions to the headquarters of the European Union.

The East Timor movement in Portugal provides assistance for East Timorese who come to Portugal and they also raise funds for people back in East Timor. It also supports the East Timor independence struggle in other countries such as Australia, helping with air and bus fares and telephone bills for instance.

An example of the official recognition given the East Timorese movement was the Portuguese government's offer to allow us to hold a special session of our meeting of East Timorese independence organisation and political party leaders inside the Portuguese parliament. The Portuguese president and foreign minister also attended the conference at Oporto University. The foreign minister especially is very active and outspoken on East Timor.

Speaking at that conference was an Indonesian student called Yemy Damayati. She had been jailed in Indonesia after being found guilty of "insulting" Suharto — she had been involved in organising a demonstration. At the conference she spoke on behalf of the young students in the Indonesian pro-democracy movement who support the East Timorese struggle.

About being released from prison, she made the comment: "I got out of a small prison, to get into the big prison of Indonesia". She asked the Portuguese to help the Indonesian people in their liberation struggle.

The Portuguese president, who attended the meeting, drew out the similarity between the Indonesian struggle against the Suharto dictatorship and the struggle of the Portuguese people who overthrew the Salazar dictatorship in 1974.

The Portuguese government also recognises the importance of the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia to the struggle in East Timor.

What do you see as the key to winning freedom in East Timor?

We must work together with the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia in order to overthrow the Suharto dictatorship.

We need to let the Europeans know about the atrocities committed by Suharto in the 1960s when almost 1 million Indonesians were slaughtered.

We need to work together with the Indonesian pro-democracy movement to denounce to the world the continuous violation of human rights, not only in East Timor, but in all of Indonesia.

Our liberation struggle is not only for East Timor; it should be the source of inspiration for the pro-democracy movements across Asia.

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