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Indonesia's silence on Timor Leste crisis AMSTERDAM (THE NETHERLANDS) - For two months Timor Leste has gone through its worst crisis since its independence. Much of the country's trade and economy depend on us. Much of the geo-political space in which it has to pursue its foreign policy, and to achieve stability and justice, depends on us. They use our language, even smoke the same kretek cigarettes as we do. And, in the most fundamental sense, they had suffered under "our" harsh occupation. Yet, with a few exceptions, many prefer to remain silent, ignoring their sorry plight. Why?

As early as March 1992, in Lisbon, I had the occasion to meet with Rogerio Lobato, the exiled Fretilin minister, who was also the brother of East Timor's, hero Nicolai Lobato, killed in the 1980s by one of Gen. Prabowo Subianto's units. Two rumors were circulating at that time: That Rogerio Lobato planned to buy arms in 1975 from China for the freedom struggle at home, and that he was involved in gold smuggling to Angola. Both could have been true, but only the second was later confirmed. He left the impression of a maverick adventurer.

Rogerio Lobato belonged to the first generation of heroic Fretilin leaders who spent their lives abroad. Unlike Jose Ramos-Horta and other exiled leaders, though, he was not prominent in the country's national front, the CNRM (later changed to CNRT) umbrella coalition, which formally included Fretilin. In 1986 Xanana Gusmao decided to join the CNRM and reestablished the Falintil guerrilla as a non-partisan i.e. national military wing -- a move that hurt Fretilin leaders, but advanced Xanana's, and Falintil's image abroad.

While Xanana, Ramos-Horta, the CNRT, the non-Fretilin, non-left-wing leaders took much of the credit abroad, the Mari Alkatiri-led Fretilin remained deeply rooted in the society. When the country regained its independence in 2002 with Xanana as the national leader, Fretilin became the most popular political party. Nonetheless, the cleavage between the former CNRM - and Fretilin leaders apparently remains. And when alleged discrimination among former Falintil guerrilla's and regionalism were aggravated by the firing of one third of the country's military, and this subsequently linked up with factionalism within the administration, the state almost collapsed.

With the Australian armed forces securing Dili, Fretilin's PM Alkatiri was seriously challenged and two key ministers had to quit, including the maverick adventurer Rogerio Lobato, who dismissed the 573 soldiers and politicized the national police. Fretilin's dominant rule, based on democratic elections, remains legitimate, but the crisis put them in a difficult position.

Basically, there is nothing unique about this. Many Asian leaders had much less difficulties when integrating former guerrilla's into the new army, in particular when the revolutionary leader took firm control as both political and military leader (Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, Myanmar's Gen. Aung San, China's Mao Zhe-dong, all in the 1940s).

By contrast, the CNRT/Xanana-Fretilin cleavage and the subsequent crisis remind us of Indonesia's experience of how difficult it was for vice president and prime minister Mohammad Hatta in 1948 to "rationalize" the politicized army and the armed partisan groups whom, like the Fretilin, were much ideologized. It eventually led to the Madiun civil war, which was worse than the recent Dili riots.

But the Timor crisis also reflects the depth of the quagmire out of which the new state was born. Long before the 1999 vote, some leaders, notably Ramos-Horta, had contemplated a free East Timor without a military force -- like Costa Rica. How unrealistic this was was soon demonstrated -- not by the Timorese, but by Jakarta. The Cosa Rica dream was abandoned precisely because the Indonesian Army, in gross violation of the New York Agreement, orchestrated a murderous intimidation campaign and turned Dili into ashes.

A massive exodus has always been a collective protest in a cry for basic security creating a pattern with profound lessons for both the rulers and the ruled. In the former East Timor, many learned how to resist the occupiers and apparently how to generate public fear. When people joined the civilian defense (Hansip) units imposed by the Army in the 1970s, or the militia's two decades later, they learned their modus operandi, while at the same time they created networks of estafetta's to help the clandestine groups disseminate information to resist the military and the militia's.

Just as the uprising in the early 1990s demonstrated the impact of the harsh occupation among the new generation which was completely Indonesian-educated, the recent riots remind us how the roaming gangs of unemployed looters acted exactly as the militia's did in 1999. Thus, the militia's masters may have gone, but some patterns remain.

With the administration almost collapsed and the population fleeing yet again in the hundreds of thousands - repeating what they did in 1975-1976, 1978-1979, 1999 -- the country almost turned into a failed state. The cycle of mass exodus means that the state has lost much of its credibility. At the grassroots level, it was not new, but this time it reflects the crisis at state level.

Indonesia's oppression has contributed so much to Fretilin's popularity that it led Xavier do Amaral, who proclaimed East Timor's independence in 1975, to remark in 2002 that it is "as if Fretilin was spoiled by history. For their part, Jakarta's generals had used East Timor as a stepping stone for their careers. While many remain silent on how much we "owe" to East Timor and vice versa, the crisis, ironically, also brought with it "a blessing", as Tempo weekly magazine put it, for Gen. Wiranto as UN files on his role mysteriously vanished.

For a small country with a great portion of its people who had lost parents or siblings during almost a quarter century of occupation, the crisis will reflect, in some ways, the consequences of Indonesia's past presence.

But Jakarta and the international community may have been all too aware of this humiliating legacy and its possible consequences hence they continue to ignore the findings and recommendations of the UN mandated truth commission CAVR that could eventually satisfy the East Timorese people's demand for justice. The UN chief, too, ignores the report when he calls for aid to help Timor Leste rebuild the country.

Posted in History @ 16 June 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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