Young East Timorese organise

May 21, 1997

On November 28, 1996, young East Timorese in Australia set up the first organisation specifically to involve young Timorese in the struggle to free East Timor. Called the National Resistance of East Timorese Youth (RNJT), the group aims to fight for the liberation of East Timor, represent the interests of the youth of East Timor and prepare for a future nation of East Timor.

Since RNJT's formation in Melbourne, branches have been established in Darwin and Perth, and activists are in the process of setting them up in other states. Most members are refugees. The group is sponsoring the national week of solidarity for freedom in East Timor and democracy in Indonesia organised by the socialist youth organisation Resistance. Green Left Weekly's ALISON DELLIT spoke to KLAMAR about the group.

Question: Why was RNJT formed?

Because youth needed a way to fight. Most young East Timorese want to organise but not necessarily as part of any political party. RNJT is under the direction of CNRM. We work specifically with Falantil and members are loyal to Xanana Gusmao.

Question: What are young Timorese in Australia concerned about?

There are two categories of young Timorese: people who have been here a long time, maybe most of their lives, and sometimes forget the suffering of others in East Timor, and refugees and other recent arrivals who always have the fire of struggle in their thinking. But they need time to assimilate. The most important way to transfer this fire to public opinion is language. So learning English will improve the assimilation. Many do not want to do this until they know they can stay here, that they will get refugee status.

Question: Why should the refugees be allowed stay in Australia?

Before the invasion there were no refugees from East Timor. Now we have to be refugees to survive. Australia is our neighbour: during World War Two, East Timorese helped the Australian army to defeat the Japanese. Because of this, many East Timorese think Australia is the best place to go to get protection.

The Australian government has to choose between economic interests over justice and peace. It is very hard for people who love peace and justice to allow the government to condemn the East Timorese just to pacify the Indonesian government. It would be possible for us to repatriate to Portugal, but the decision must be one of the Australian people, not just of the Australian government. So let us stay.

Question: What is life like for young people in East Timor?

The majority never get the opportunity to enjoy their teenage years because of military repression. It is hard to compare young Timorese to other young people in Australia because young people in East Timor are tortured, raped and imprisoned.

From kindergarten to university the education system is colonial. For example, the state university has conditions on entry — like not being involved in political matters. If students do, the Indonesian government black-lists them. We can get better education by our own system. If, later on, we get our own university organised by ourselves, it will be full.

Also, all Timorese have to speak Indonesian. The problem is not the language, but that the system has tried to eliminate one identity. This means it is a big problem for East Timorese just to survive.

Question: What message do you have for the Australian government?

It must stop the cover-up of the massacres that are taking place. Most Australian people know about and oppose the complicity of the Australian government in the persecution of East Timorese. It should put more value on what Australian people think, feel, inspire to and dream of.

Question: What can Australians do to build solidarity with the East Timorese?

Australians and East Timorese should work together to convince more people and the government about East Timor. Demonstrations provide great support for the East Timorese. They are an opportunity for Australians and East Timorese to oppose the complicity of their governments and demand peace and justice for everyone.

Question: How are the East Timorese and Indonesian struggles linked?

The East Timorese struggle is for the right of freedom and self determination. The Indonesian struggle is for the democratisation of the system. The link between these is the recognition of the rights of human beings and their common interests, because the struggle against the Indonesian government will benefit both peoples.

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