Indonesia backs out of talks


On March 31, the East Timorese resistance received news from UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that the Indonesian foreign minister, Ali Alatas, had asked for a postponement of the intra-Timorese meeting scheduled to be held in Salzburg, Austria, at the end of April under the auspices of the UN. Alatas claimed that some of the East Timorese in the pay of Jakarta had not been consulted by the UN.

According to Jose Ramos Horta, special representative of the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM), "what has really displeased and concerned Jakarta have been the invitations extended to Bishop Ximenes Belo, Dr Armindo Maia (vice-rector of the University of Dili), Florentino Sarmento and Dr Mariano Saldanha — the first is a worthy representative of the people, and the three others are honest individuals who are not in the employ of Jakarta."

CNRM strongly deplored the postponement of the talks and accused Jakarta of full responsibility for this setback.

"The ease with which Indonesia was able to block the UN talks indicates that Jakarta is still getting strong backing from its traditional allies, such as the US and Australia", Max Lane, national coordinator of Indonesia Solidarity Action (Aksi), told a public meeting in Canberra on April 5. "Clinton is asking Congress to reinstitute military training for Indonesia under one if its military assistance programs. Clinton has also declared the Congressional ban on US light arms sales to Indonesia inapplicable."

Lane pointed out too that Australia was still supporting the Suharto dictatorship. "Not only have Indonesian troops and ships been in Australia over the last few weeks in joint war exercises, but Keating and Evans have even awarded Ali Alatas the Order of Australia for helping to lay the ground for the illegal and thieving Timor Gap Treaty."

According to Lane, the recent shift in Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans' rhetoric to urging "autonomy" and troop reductions in East Timor indicates that public pressure can have results.

"It is clear Evans is afraid of an escalation in public campaigning in support of East Timor. Jakarta will be forced to the negotiating table much more quickly, if we can force Evans and the ALP government to retreat on its pro-Jakarta policy. That's why Aksi is fully supporting the East Timor National Day of Protest in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines on May 13, one week before the next meeting between the Australian and Indonesian foreign ministers. We have to make East Timor a bigger and bigger public issue."

Meanwhile in Portugal, an Indonesian student leader is risking likely arrest on her return to Indonesia by campaigning in support of the East Timorese struggle for independence.

According to Yani Rosa Damayanti, a biology student recently released from prison, Indonesian students have become familiar with the situation in East Timor, and with the personality of Xanana Gusmao, the resistance leader. This is a result of advice from Xanana Gusmao in the early 1990s, urging young Timorese studying at Jakarta and Bali universities to befriend their Indonesian fellow students.

"We see in Xanana the courage to fight, the ability to set up a movement in such difficult conditions and the strength to resist in the face of difficulties", said Yani, who the Indonesian authorities kept in prison for one year just for taking part in a demonstration inside the parliament in Jakarta.