By Max Lane
New protests broke out in East Timor during the first 10 days of January, following a series of demonstrations in Dili and Jakarta in November. The new actions occurred in Dili, Bacau, Ermera, Viqueque, Same and Liquica.
On January 2 outside the Bacau church, East Timorese protesting over provocative behaviour of Indonesian migrants were fired upon. At least two people were shot dead.
These clashes seem to be generated by worsening repression, increasing tensions between Timorese and newly arrived people from parts of Indonesia and the desire to make it clear that the struggle for self-determination will continue in the lead-up to the January 9 Geneva meeting between the foreign ministers of Portugal and Indonesia.
A statement, sent to Green Left Weekly from Jakarta by East Timorese youth leader R. Sanhei on January 10, described drastically worsening repression since November. Most streets in Dili are now patrolled by groups of 10-20 soldiers "some wearing black jackets with eagle wings, others with red jackets with the word 'security'". They carry one-metre-long cane truncheons.
Normal Christmas celebrations were not possible, most people opting to stay indoors. Anti-riot squads in vehicles armed with AK-15s patrolled back and forth outside the Balide, Motael, Becora and Vila Verde Cathedral churches.
The atmosphere worsened, said Sanhei's statement, as the UN-Portugal-Indonesia meeting approached. There was a rush on shops as people stocked up with food in case of emergency. Students stopped attending schools. Many office workers stayed away from work. About 2000 East Timorese Chinese have started making preparations to leave East Timor for Australia.
A part of the worsening situation has been increased arrival of Indonesian troops. Since the end of November, seven Kopassus battalions have landed secretly in Los Palos province. Others landed openly on the morning of January 3 in Dili. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers arrived from West Timor on January 4 and were officially received in Dili square by Colonel Kiki Syahnakri.
In conjunction with the arrival of these new Indonesian troops, inspection of identity papers was intensified on all roads entering Dili. Road blocks of 10-15 soldiers and police have instituted searches of East Timorese entering the city. Student cards are not being allowed as sufficient papers to re-enter. Those without papers are being arrested.
Those who had been interrogated last November and other longer term prisoners have been re-interrogated by the Combined Intelligence Unit (SGI). Among these are Mahunu, former commander of Falantil, Mahudu, Aleixo Cobra, Dr Amthias and Ze Manuel. SGI has also increased efforts to uncover the clandestine network.
According to Jose Ramos Horta, special representative of the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM), another factor worsening the situation has been Jakarta's "illegal population transfers aimed at changing the demographic composition of the East Timorese population".
Recent outbreaks of urban violence in Dili, Bacau and other cities have sometimes been ignited by fights between migrants and local population. The rioting in Dili in November was also sparked off by a fight between a migrant from Makassar and an East Timorese, in which the Timorese was stabbed to death.
On January 9, Horta stated that "protection and favouritism by the authorities have encouraged many newcomers to treat the local population and its cultural and religious values with disdain". According to Horta, this has been "repeatedly denounced in recent months by local leaders, such as the provincial parliament representatives, former pro-integrationists and church members".
"CNRM strongly condemns the population transfers fostered by the illegal Indonesian occupation authorities", said Horta.
The next meeting between Portugal and Indonesia takes place on May 19. Increasing attention is being paid to these talks as a result of an agreement that the UN should organise a meeting of all East Timorese parties.
Although the meeting formally excludes discussion of self-determination, the presence of leaders and representatives of the East Timorese resistance will make it unlikely that the issue is avoided.
There is also likely to be a diplomatic struggle over who is actually invited to the meeting. The agreement is already being interpreted as a retreat by the Indonesians, because acceptance of UN auspices can be taken as an admission that East Timor is not just a domestic issue. This makes representation an even more central question.
According to Horta, the UN secretary-general will have considerable leeway in offering invitations. This theoretically raises the possibility of pro-independence East Timorese within Indonesia being invited.
The agreement itself, however, asks that Portugal and Indonesia arrange the participation of the East Timorese. Indonesia will be manoeuvring hard to ensure a strong pro-integration delegation. Ultimately Jakarta must decide who is able to go to the conference from within Indonesia.
From outside Indonesia and East Timor, it is likely that the component parts of the Resistance Diplomatic Coordinating Commission will attend. This includes Jose Ramos Horta, Fretilin and UDT. These forces are already engaged in discussions aimed at enhancing their coordination around the world. It is possible that Jakarta will want the pro-Jakarta group of former Fretilin leader Abilio Araujo also to attend.