Timorese students support referendum

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Timorese students support referendum

On February 21 Green Left Weekly's SAM KING Spoke with MARCOS DA CRUZ, the chairperson of Renetil (National Resistance of East Timor Students) Yogyakarta.

Question: There has been much pessimism in the Indonesian media and in certain sections of the reform movement recently, saying that a referendum in East Timor is impossible or undesirable because it will lead to increased violence. How do you respond to that suggestion?

Basically, I describe it as black propaganda from the Indonesian government and from the pro-integration forces. It comes from the reality that the Indonesian government does not want to allow a referendum.

Habibie is not serious about the two options that he publicly supported, federated autonomy or independence. If the Habibie government seriously supported those options, it would pull out the troops that remain in East Timor now. It would stop organising and arming the minority pro-integration civil militias.

So far the policy of arming civil militias has meant that 1000 automatic weapons have been supplied for all seven zones in East Timor. The Indonesian armed forces [ABRI] also train the civil militia groups, called perlawanan rakyat [people's struggle] in how to use the weapons.

The number of armed people struggle groups is very high; that fact is obviously a major problem. Horizontal conflicts [between civilians] are the Habibie government's aim. That kind of conflict allows it to keep its authority in East Timor.

Question: What concrete measures do you think the independence movement can take to stop the kind of civil conflict you described?

The first step we are taking is initiating a dialogue between the pro-integration and pro-independence forces on March 5. This will be a kind of reconciliation meeting. It will occur in Java, especially Jakarta, and in East Timor.

Reconciliation is a strategy to avoid violence around the referendum. If the dialogue becomes deadlocked, then we have to take further steps in the process.

Question: What conditions do you think need to be present before a referendum can take place?

Firstly the withdrawal of ABRI. Another is that ABRI stop organising the militias and take back the arms they have distributed.

Another is dialogue with Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the East Timorese resistance. This dialogue would have to address some sort of compromise between Indonesia and East Timor. For example, this should include compensation for the victims of military repression during the period of occupation.

Question: Has there been much discussion in East Timor or amongst East Timorese people abroad about what to expect after a referendum, or what path the society will take?

At the moment, we feel it's too far away to predict what will happen, because the preconditions for a referendum are not yet present. At the moment we are focusing on establishing the preconditions.

Question: At this stage, what is best response the international community can give to support the struggle of the East Timorese people?

We want the UN to pressure the Indonesian government to withdraw its troops and weapons. Secondly, we ask that the UN send a peacekeeping force to guarantee the safety of the Timorese people.