Thousands rally for a free East Timor


By Arun Pradhan

Thousands of people rallied across Australia on November 12 to commemorate the killing of more than 300 peaceful protesters in Dili three years ago. Protesters in 11 cities showed that they would not accept the Australian government's support for the Suharto regime's occupation of East Timor.

In Sydney, Sujatha Fernandes and Holly Doel report that 1000 people attended a march and rally which met outside St Mary's Cathedral, where a mass had been held for those killed in the Dili massacre.

After street theatre from the East Timorese Cultural Centre and music from the Solidarity Choir, Harold Moucho of Fretilin described the impact of the invasion. Besides the outright killing of more than one third of the East Timorese population, he pointed to the forced sterilisation programs, systematic rape, torture and political assassinations and imprisonments that continue to occur. Thanking the Australian people for their solidarity, Moucho told the crowd, "to Aksi, AETA and Resistance, your solidarity will be written in the books of the East Timor struggle".

Sam Lazzaro from Resistance and Alico Santos from Fretilin Youth addressed the role of young people in the struggle. Lazzaro spoke about what young people in Australia can give to the struggle, since they are not tied to the past and don't have illusions in the Labor Party. She encouraged people to become active in the solidarity campaign by joining groups such as Resistance.

Other speakers included Helio Tavares from UDT, Linda Pillay from the Australian East Timor Association and Max Lane from Aksi (Indonesian Solidarity Action). The rally concluded with a message from Xanana Gusmao, who said, "The struggle continues on every front ... to resist is to win".

After the rally about 80 people went to the Resistance Centre for an emotional toast given by Brian Deluz from UDT and Harold Moucho.

Ben Reed writes that more than 1000 people gathered at Melbourne's city square. Speakers included Abel Guterres of CNRM. Street theatre after the speakers graphically recreated the events of Dili and highlighted Gareth Evans' complicity in covering up the massacre.

The protesters then marched to the Garuda airlines office, where speakers from UDT, Fretilin, AETA and Aksi called for ongoing support and solidarity.

People in Perth may have been surprised to see a plane flying over the city carrying the message, "Indonesia out of East Timor, freedom now!". Some 800 people continued this demand, rallying at All Saints Chapel and marching through the streets to Forrest Place.

Anthony Benbow reports that protesters held crosses representing the hundreds of people killed in Dili. The marchers initially remained silent out of respect for those who had died before people broke out into chants such as "Free East Timor, no blood for oil!" and "shame, Evans, shame".

Gordon Macintosh, former ALP senator and representative of Friends of East Timor, Christabel Chamarette from the WA Greens and several East Timorese in exile addressed the rally. Other speakers included people from the trade union movement and the Catholic Church.

In Darwin, Tom Kelly reports that activities commemorating the massacre began at 8am on Friday with 200 people gathering outside the NT parliament. Speakers included Didge McDonald, representing the Northern Territory Trades and Labour Council, Labor MLA John Bailey and Jose Gusmao representing CNRM.

The crowd chanted, "Free East Timor", "Free Xanana" and "Indonesia out", beating drums and waving placards and East Timorese flags as they marched to the Indonesian Consulate. A line of police and wooden barriers met the protesters, denying them access even to the footpath adjacent to the fence.

When a delegation attempted to deliver a letter protesting against the Indonesian invasion and ongoing atrocities in East Timor, they were blocked by police. The delegation refused an offer by police to deliver the letter on their behalf. Jose Gusmao explained that this was because they didn't like seeing Australians playing a role subservient to the Indonesian regime.

The evening of November 12 was marked by a mass at St Mary's Church in Darwin.

Russel Goldflam from Friends of East Timor in Alice Springs reports that more than 100 people gathered there, with many East Timorese coming from as far as Warburton. Lea Dee Almeida, women's officer for Fretilin NSW, addressed the crowd before a wreath-laying ceremony. The names of 373 people killed in the massacre were read out, followed by prayers from Catholic and Anglican priests.

"Stop the killing, stop the treaty, free East Timor now!", declared a demonstration of 400 people in Brisbane, reports Nick Everett. The demonstration started with a rally at King George Square. Participants heard speeches from Aksi, Resistance and the Catholic Church, as well as a speech and performance by the East Timorese community.

Communications union secretary Ian MacLean described the debate on East Timor at the recent ALP National Conference and read out the policy unanimously adopted at this conference. Other speakers noted the absence of any reference to self-determination in this policy. An Aksi speaker described successive Australian governments supporting the Indonesian regime.

The rally, led by the East Timorese, stopped in the Queen Street mall for street theatre and more speakers, gaining a positive response from passers-by. It then proceeded to Albert Park, where participants were entertained by local performers and a platform of speakers from the Aboriginal community, Bougainville, Green Left Weekly, the Community and Public Sector Union, Amnesty International and a number of political parties.

Despite drizzling rain and the distraction of the Grand Prix, Andrew Hall reports that 150 people rallied in Adelaide.

John Heard, from Christians in Solidarity with East Timor, called for Australians "to stand in solidarity with the people of East Timor regardless of economic and political interests". Mon Ayco, a Filipino cultural worker, expressed solidarity and called on workers to unite in struggle.

The theme of union solidarity was also taken up by Paul Noak from the AFMEU. He said "the struggle here is the same as in Indonesia ... increased labour market deregulation here is like the situation in the Third World where workers are able to be exploited". Noak also spoke about Gough Whitlam, as the idol of the Labor Party left, who gave permission to the Indonesian invasion.

Andrew Hall from Aksi described the importance of linking struggles within Indonesia for independent trade unions and political activity or a free press. He stressed the need to campaign against all who oppress the people of East Timor — whether Suharto, the Indonesian military or the ALP and ACTU. The movement should seek to force the Australian government to withdraw recognition of the Indonesian annexation, to recognise the resistance organisations as legitimate representatives of the East Timorese people, and to end all defence cooperation with Indonesia.

A speaker from Campaign for an Independent East Timor, the main organisers of the day, spoke of Australia's shameful greed for East Timor oil, and compared the situation in East Timor with that of Kuwait and the Gulf War.

Thanks was given to Australians for their support to the East Timorese, with particular thanks given to Green Left Weekly and Resistance for their role.

In Canberra, according to Sam Wainwright, a lively Green Left Weekly East Timor Freedom Now Dinner was attended by 70 people. Speakers included Bill Tully from CIET, Reihana Mohideen from the Democratic Socialist Party and Alison Dellit from Resistance.

Karen Fry and Catherine Wardley in Newcastle report that 30 people attended a candlelight vigil, organised by the Asian International Solidarity Network, on November 11. Speakers included members of Amnesty International, Resistance and AISN.

A similar vigil was organised in Hobart on November 12. Katrina Dean relates that 30 people attended a ceremony there, which had a speaker from Amnesty International.

Steven Jones from the East Timor Relief Association in Townsville reports that 40 people gathered in the mall for a memorial service conducted by Bishop Benjamin from the Catholic Church. Frank Costanzo from Pacific, a local peace group, described the history of the invasion and Australia's destructive role in East Timor.

From the mood of the commemoration events across the country, it is clear that the campaign will grow and continue to hound both the ALP government and the Indonesian regime. With resistance still strong within East Timor, it is up to us to maintain solidarity and pressure until East Timor is free.