On April 10, Green Left Weekly's MAX LANE spoke by telephone to East Timor resistance leader XANANA GUSMAO, who is still under house arrest in Jakarta.
The telephone answered "Cipinang Prison" when I rang Xanana's house. Xanana had been imprisoned since 1992. It was an early morning call and Xanana was in the shower, so an Indonesian prison guard answered the phone. As the day progresses and Xanana begins a full day of meetings with his fellow East Timorese, politicians, diplomats and visiting journalists, Timorese aides take over answering the calls.
According to For Xanana it was the economic crisis that most influenced the B.J. Habibie regime to change its position on East Timor. "We joke now that the Habibie regime wants to sell East Timor to the East Timorese", he said, referring to the loans the regime is getting from overseas. But "the East Timorese have no money and it is the international community who end up doing the buying", he added.
Xanana emphasised that the regime is not working to resolve the East Timor issue out of a commitment to human rights. Rather, it is a pragmatic stance, he said.
Xanana emphasised that it is crucial for people overseas to maintain pressure on the Indonesian government, to keep up political solidarity. "While it is good that people are preparing to provide aid for East Timorese economic development, the solution to the East Timor issue is not with us yet. There are still many obstacles."
Xanana believes that part of the problem stems from the fact that Jakarta has no real commitment to resolving the issue on the basis of "universal principles". There is no common perspective inside the government, he said. "Just one day before the tripartite meeting [between Portugal, Indonesia and the United Nations] in New York, the Indonesian cabinet referred their autonomy proposals to a new team to examine and correct them." This is one example of the potential for delays and obstacles.
Xanana identified the role of the small pro-integration groups armed by the Indonesian military in East Timor as another obstacle. Not all of the Indonesian Armed Forces accept the Habibie government's position on East Timor, he said.
"There are some efforts to create instability", he added, referring to the BIA [the Indonesian army intelligence agency], and the army's special forces, Kopassus. Xanana explained that these forces had played a central role under Suharto in fighting the unarmed people in East Timor and Indonesia, using kidnapping, torture and so on. Now they are worried that their position and the need for their 'services is being undermined. Instability in East Timor and Indonesia is therefore useful for them, he said.
As far as Indonesian political forces were concerned, Xanana said there was clear support for a genuine referendum in East Timor from friends such as the People's Democratic Party, the Union Democracy Party and the National Workers Party. "Then there is the National Mandate Party of Amien Rais and the National Awakening Party."
Xanana was scathing about the public comments of Megawati Sukarnoputri from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) opposing independence for East Timor. Her comments, he said, revealed she knew nothing about democracy or struggle. He emphasised the need for a long struggle in Indonesia to raise and spread awareness about democracy.
Soon after his arrest, Xanana adopted the position that the struggles to end the Suharto dictatorship, for democracy in Indonesia and for freedom for East Timor went hand in hand. "This cooperation is still needed", he said. "That Suharto has been overthrown does not mean that democratisation is finished."
When we discussed the May 22 international day of solidarity for Indonesian and East Timorese students, Xanana emphasised that demands for the release of all political prisoners were very important. "Especially", he added, "the 1965 Thirtieth of September Movement prisoners, many of who are old and sick and have been in prison for so long".
By April, he said, the key demands in relation to resolving the East Timor question would be clearer. "Things are changing week by week. We now have an attempt by some elements to postpone the presentation of Indonesian proposals to the UN."
In response to the suggestion that the Australian government's policy change on East Timor was motivated by the desire to ensure that Australia is the major economic power in an independent East Timor, Xanana said, "the Australian government's position is helpful. It is not the time yet for such suspicions.
"In any case, the East Timorese people have shown through the 450 years of Portuguese colonialism and the last 24 years that they will fight for their independence." He added, "Offers of aid are coming in from many different quarters, from the European Union and elsewhere. It will be up to the East Timorese people to make sure they are able to stand on their two feet."
On when he thought he would get to New York, or Australia, Xanana said, "A lot is up to the Indonesian government at the moment. But if I am freed from here [he laughed] I will be off to East Timor before anywhere else." He added that the East Timorese resistance has suggested to the UN that the previous annual meetings of pro- and anti-independence East Timorese held in Austria were extremely expensive, wasteful and unproductive. In this context, he said, Australia is being discussed as a possible location for a dialogue between various East Timorese groups.
Xanana asked that his solidarity greetings be passed on to all supporters of East Timor in Australia and reiterated that the political pressure must not be let up until East Timor is free.