East Timor

João Paulo Monteiro jpmonteiro at SPAMmail.telepac.pt
Tue Sep 7 16:43:14 MDT 1999

Gary MacLennan wrote:

> Thank you for this post.  I went to a small demonstration outside the Aust
> Gov headquarters here in Brisbane today. What is going on now in E. Timor
> is truly shocking. There is anouther demonstration planned for Friday.  So
> far the Christians have taken the running, and I am sorry to say that the
> Left is largely powerless.  Still in Sydney and Meobourne something might
> happen within the next few days.

Yes, it is shocking in the extreme. Though we don't have much reliable
information on what is going on, two things seem to be certain. There is
generalized arson and looting of pro-independentist neighborhoods in many
East-Timorese cities, conducted by the militias in cooperation with the
indonesian special forces KOPASSUS (who arrived last week and were supposed to
restore law and order). Now martial law has been declared in the territory but
if it is to be enforced by the forces currently on the ground, this could mean
still more trouble for the populations.

A more puzzling development is that the indonesian forces are apparently
forcefully deporting tens of thousands of east-timorese to the western part of
the island. At least that's how this has been presented here by the press. The
indonesian army says it is merely relocating some of its own nationals and
pro-indonesian timorese, at their request and for their own security. Many
indonesian nationals (that is, indonesian citizens who have trans-migrated to
East Timor form other islands) who could afford the passage by ship or
airplane, have in fact been leaving East Timor for some time now, with their
belongings, expecting troubles after independence.

There are some reports of mass killings, but no strong evidence so far. Public
buildings have been destroyed. The main danger, however, seems to be famine
for the hundreds of thousands of people who have abandoned the cities for the
hills, running for their lives.

The forces of FALINTIL (the independentist guerilla) are camped on the hills,
with very strict orders to stay quiet and not respond to provocations. There
are, however, reports that they are facing a drastic shortage of food and
other supplies, as well as the encirclement and harassment by integrationist
militias and the indonesian army.

It's very hard to guess what exactly is happening and what's its design, if
any. This could be a mere explosion of fear and frustration by some desperate
people, supported by the rebellion of some units under the command of military
hard-liners who feel betrayed by their political leaders. This could also be
something much more ominous: the beginning of execution of a so called plan B
of the indonesian military hard-liners, with the design of uprooting once and
for all the sources of independentist rebellion in the territory, while taking
hostage a substantial part of the population. Either way, the best possible
outcome of this brutal episode would be if it were to signal the death throes
of indonesian militarism and the fascist Pancasila ideology. There are
unconfirmed reports of some clashes, with real exchange of fire, between
Suhartoist and more liberal minded military units on duty in East Timor. In
Jakarta, the students are again on the streets protesting against the violence
and the sending of more troops to the territory.

The cause of east-timorese independence is a national consensus in Portugal
and has been gaining a vast network of support word-wide. I do support the
right of the east-timorese to exercise auto-determination, ever more so now
that their will has been clearly stated in that direction. However, I guard
myself from excessive romanticizing of this cause. The blunt truth is that
there are no clear indigenous roots for east-timorese nationalism. They are
more accurately situated in the cultural legacy and even the basic social
structures - the catholic church, intellectuals of portuguese expression, some
distinguished families, some tribal leaders - over which centuries of
portuguese colonialism (with its characteristic laziness and neglect) have
rested. There is something obscene in the way the portuguese bourgeoisie gets
carried away by the struggle of the east-timorese people. It is very obviously
something profoundly (and unexpectedly) flattering for its ego. It makes it
sigh with barely desguised colonialist nostalgia.

Of course, this grotesque show of bourgeois "idealism" should not be enough to
make us turn our backs on a people fighting bravely against an odious regime.
I would be much happier, however, if the struggle of the east-timorese people
against military brutality would be more closely integrated in the democratic
and popular movement in Indonesia, which is fully supportive of it. Hopefully,
it will be instrumental in the build up for a second breath of the indonesian

João Paulo Monteiro

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