Jakarta nervous about East Timor opposition

Issue 

By James Balowski

Last month Indonesia officially celebrated the 19th anniversary of the "integration" of East Timor as its 27th province. In carefully orchestrated ceremonies across the country, government officials focused on the regime's much touted "development" of the province — contrasting this with the long period of stagnation under Portuguese rule.

In a press conference held at the start of the celebrations, the Jakarta-appointed governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares, claimed, "Autonomy makes no sense for East Timor" and said current — but unspecified — discontent originated from intellectuals and "personal frustrations over local politicians".

On July 17 there were ceremonies in Dili and the town of Balibo, 180 km from the capital, where the so-called Balibo Declaration of support for integration was supposed to have been signed in 1975. In Dili, officials watched a tightly regimented parade of around 500 troops joined by "representatives" of the youth movement who paraded in front of government buildings, cordoned off from the rest of the city by heavy security. Local people were not invited.

Presided over by Major-General Adang Ruchiatna, the ceremonies in Balibo were held less that 100 metres from the building where five Australian journalists were killed by invading Indonesian troops in October 1975. Amid heavy security, five foreign journalists were specially flown in for the occasion by an Indonesian Air Force helicopter to watch as East Timorese students raised the Indonesian flag and others, holding hand-written signs reading "We Love Integration", sang the Indonesian national anthem.

The admission of continuing political "discontent" by Soares reflects a worsening political situation in the territory. There is evidence of increased human rights violations in recent months, and no indication that popular resistance to the occupation has abated. Since January, there have been repeated outbreaks of violence between indigenous East Timorese and Indonesian transmigrants in East Timor's second largest city, Baucau.

In a rare public statement in July, the Dili-based representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr Symeon Antoulas, said there had been an increase in arrests and unexplained killings and disappearances. At a meeting last month in Austria, between prominent East Timorese and exiled Fretilin members, Jakarta was left scrambling to salvage something as the talks produced an unusual sense of unanimity, providing graphic evidence of the government's inability to manage even its own political supporters in the province.

Indonesia's image has also come in for a battering by the leaking of a secret three-year-old US military intelligence document which indicates that two top-ranking Indonesian generals, including now Vice President Try Sutrisno, knew in detail about the Santa Cruz killings.

On June 6 one of the six signatories of the Balibo Declaration, Guilherme Goncalvez, formally withdrew his support. Indonesia used the declaration as justification for its full-scale invasion of the territory, its annexation the following year and in part its refusal to heed calls for a referendum on East Timor's future.

Goncalvez, who was governor of East Timor from 1976 until January 1980, told reporters that the problems in East Timor were unresolved and that "Integration has failed".

The importance of building a mass protest movement within Indonesia itself was emphasised during last month's Australian national tour of Ria Shanti, an activist from the newly formed Timorese solidarity organisation SPRIM (Indonesian Pro-democracy Movement and Maubere Peoples' Independence).

In ideological terms East Timor remains an Achilles heel for the Indonesian government. SPRIM is now being joined by other pro-democratic organisations beginning to take up this question.

This growing sentiment was demonstrated last month in a defence speech by Tri Agus Siswowiharjo, editor of the student network magazine News from Pijar, on trial for "insulting the president". This is the first time since the Indonesian invasion that a statement calling the occupation of East Timor illegal has been made public — a statement which was greeted by thunderous applause by the public attending the trial.

The regime's sensitivity to these developments was indicated by an article by Irawan Abidin, from Indonesia's Department of Foreign Affairs, which appeared in the August 3 issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review. He attempted to argue that letters, statements and other communications received from resistance leader Xanana Gusmao since his arrest in 1993 could not possibly be genuine.

In recent months Xanana has been actively working to build solidarity links between the East Timorese independence movement and pro-democratic forces in Indonesia. Xanana is already a symbol of heroic resistance for many Indonesian activists, and the last thing the regime needs is a popular pro-independence movement emerging on its doorstep.