Indonesia, East Timor solidarity conference

August 20, 1997

By Filomena de Almeida and Jill Hickson

SYDNEY — The current military crackdown by Indonesian armed forces in East Timor has resulted in scores of East Timorese being killed and hundreds more being arrested and tortured. It is a direct response to recent attacks on Indonesian troops by the East Timorese resistance. The Timorese people are still active and fighting against aggression and brutality for their self-determination.

The capture of David Alex, a Falintil resistance leader, and his death in suspicious circumstances while in Indonesian hands last month, has brought the issue of Indonesia's illegal occupation of East Timor to the attention of Australians once again.

East Timor is one of two main themes at the national conference of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) on August 22-24.

The conference will begin with a public meeting on August 22 at the Merewether lecture theatre at the University of Sydney at 7pm. Speakers will include Naldo Rai, an East Timorese activist and author based in Indonesia, and a representative of the East Timor Sanctuary Network who will speak about the Timorese refugees in Australia who face deportation by the Howard government and the campaign involving 10,000 Australians who have pledged to defy any deportation order.

The public meeting will also launch a national speaking tour of Rai and Edwin Gozal, a leader of Indonesia's People's Democratic Party (PRD) and a student activist. Gozal will also address the August 22 meeting.

Amnesty International will speak about political prisoners in East Timor and ASIET will launch the "Campaign to Free the Political Prisoners in Indonesia". A video interview with the PRD leadership in Indonesia will be shown.

Workshops and talks to be held during the conference include: a question and answer session on the history of the East Timorese resistance; a panel on prospects for independence and strategies for the solidarity movement in Australia (speakers include Estanislau da Silva from Sydney Fretilin and Domamacio from Melbourne RNJT); a talk by Max Lane on "democracy or 'orderly transition'" in Indonesia and "independence or 'autonomy'" for East Timor; and a talk by researcher and East Timor solidarity activist, Tony Burke.

On Saturday night, a dinner will celebrate the 22nd anniversary of Falintil. Founded on August 20, 1975, Falintil was originally the armed wing of Fretilin and its first major role was to restore peace in East Timor. On the morning of August 11, 1975, UDT (the Timorese United Democratic Party) launched a coup d'etat in a bid to force the Portuguese government to meet its demands, which included the expulsion of "communists" from East Timor. The coup resulted in an explosion of violence and many Fretilin leaders were killed or imprisoned.

Fretilin sent messages to the local Portuguese government calling on the governor assert his authority in the chaotic situation. The attempt failed and Fretilin took decisive action, entering a civil war that lasted less than a month.

Meanwhile, Indonesia was making repeated incursions in to the border districts and its frigates were patrolling all along the eastern coast. In a bid to get international support against the impending invasion, on November 28, 1975, Fretilin proclaimed the independence of East Timor. Fifteen countries recognised the Democratic Republic of East Timor. Nine days later, Indonesia invaded.

Faced with such a powerful enemy, Falintil strove to establish a close symbiotic relationship with the people. This ensured the continuation of the armed resistance through the next 22 years. December 7 marks the beginning of Falintil's role as the military army of the people of East Timor.

Paradoxically, the invasion by Indonesia cemented the blocks of national unity destroyed in the civil war. In a common front against an external enemy, the bitterest civil war victims buried their own sorrows to work together.

In March, 1983, Fretilin ceased to claim to be the sole representative of the East Timorese people. In 1987 it proclaimed its armed wing as a non-partisan force, the Timorese Resistance. Until his capture in November, 1992, Xanana Gusmao held the post of commander in chief.

Falintil now includes freedom fighters from different political organisations and non-partisan individuals. While many leaders have been captured, new leaders are being forged to take their places.

Falintil is now led by Nino Konis Santana, also a leader of Fretilin, and Taur Matan Ruak and Lerek. Their motto, "To resist is to win", continues to inspire East Timorese youth who wage the struggle in the cities, as well as the countryside.

The anniversary dinner and celebration is being organised by Fretilin in Sydney and will be held at the Whitlam Centre, Memorial Avenue, Liverpool at 7.30pm. The evening will include speakers and cultural activities.

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