Seminars discuss East Timor's future


By Liam Mitchell and Vannessa Hearman

The issue of possible international involvement in an independent East Timor dominated the discussion at an Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) seminar titled "East Timor: the way forward" on February 28 in Sydney.

Speakers from ASIET, the Australia East Timor Association, Fretilin, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and human rights lawyer Liz Biok discussed the current political situation in East Timor and for refugees, and the Australian government's response.

Biok said there has been no real change for East Timorese asylum seekers following the High Court ruling that Portuguese protection was not effective and therefore Timorese could not be considered Portuguese. She said that a special visa category should be created for all Timorese refugees.

The discussion stressed that any international aid to an independent East Timor must have no political or economic strings attached. Jon Lamb from ASIET emphasised the need to campaign to maintain pressure on the Australian government.

The Balibo murders were discussed at length, with ICJ member Rodney Lewis describing the inconsistencies between the two Shermann inquiries and repeating the call for an independent judicial inquiry.

Fretilin Australia representative Estanislau da Silva identified education, health and agriculture as the main areas of work after independence. He said Fretilin would push for a government of national unity, involving all forces supporting independence.

ASIET national coordinator Max Lane and AETA coordinator Dr Andrew McNaughtan also spoke.

At an ASIET forum in Melbourne on February 26, 40 people were addressed by Joaquim Santos from Fretilin and Jacinto dos Santos from the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT).

Joaquim Santos detailed Fretilin's plans for the future, including developing free health-care and education, and gender equality. He said Fretilin believed that an economy controlled by a majority of the population was important to ensure democracy. However, a free East Timor would also seek to join regional groupings such as the South Pacific Forum.

While both speakers called for a UN peacekeeping force in East Timor, they conceded that the role of such forces in Cambodia and parts of Africa was not always constructive, but they saw no other alternative.

A conference titled "Strategic development for East Timor" will be held in Melbourne in April, organised by CNRT. It aims to bring together people with expertise in various areas to determine policies for the future East Timorese republic.