Mapping the Political Terrain

The history of post-revolution liberation movements has often been a history of the transition towards autocratic rule by former leaders of the liberation movements, through single-party states or quasi-multi-party systems without any genuine opposition party. We have seen this happening in Ghana and Guinea-Konakry (Brooker, 1995: 99–128), or in former colonies in Africa, such as Guinea-Bissau, where former guerilla commander Nino Vieira has ruled with an iron fist for fifteen years (Aditjondro, 1999a), and Sao Tome and Principe, where former independence leader Manuel Pinto da Costa has been president since 1975 (Denny and Ray, 1989). Also, in Namibia, the leader of the South-West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), Sam Nujoma, is still in power, ten years after independence.

Closer to home, we have seen a similar tendency in East Timor’s former coloniser where, after failed attempts to set up a liberal democracy in the early 1950s, Indonesia was basically ruled by two autocrats, Sukarno and Suharto. Therefore, it is interesting to observe what course Timor Loro Sa’e (East Timor) is taking, after its people decided, through a UN supervised referendum, to declare their independence from Indonesia. What has made it even more interesting is that Jose Alexandre Gusmao, also known as Kay Rala Xanana, the leader of the East Timorese independence movement, has repeatedly stated in interviews prior to his return to his home country that he did not want to repeat the historical mistake of having to preside over his newborn (or, reborn, as some may say) nation, after having led the independence struggle for seventeen years. Therefore, he will refuse to become Timor Loro Sa’e’s president and prefers to become an artist (Oposisi, 4–10 February, 1999; Tempo, 31 October 1999).

This topic is not only academically interesting but is also socially crucial, since it involves a people who have fought for a quarter of a century to obtain their own independent state, and still seem to be quite far from that goal, even after taking the very courageous step of casting their ballots when their country was still occupied by tens of thousands of Indonesian troops and their Timorese collaborators.

Political transformations

Timor Loro Sa’e is still a quasi-independent country, where foreign nationals are making all strategic decisions. For the next two to three years, the Timor Loro Sa’e people — many of them prefer to be called the Maubere people — are still to be administered by UN officials through the UN Temporary Authority of East Timor (UNTAET), which is headed by a Brazilian diplomat, Sergio Vieira de Mello, as Special Representative of the Secretary General. His administrative power is supported by the economic muscle of the World Bank, which has appointed a senior official, Klaus Rohland, to be the Bank’s director responsible for reconstruction of the country.

Security of the country had also been in the hands of the InterFET (International Forces for East Timor) troops under the command of Major-General Peter Cosgrove from the Australian Defence Forces. InterFET’s role has now been taken over by new troops which function under the UNTAET structure, commanded by a Filipino general, with an Australian general as his deputy.

Officially, in all these functions — administration, economic planning, and security — the UN officials have Timorese counterparts. Sergio de Mello’s counterpart is the overall leader of the Timor Loro Sa’e liberation movement, Xanana Gusmao. Klaus Rohland’s counterpart is Mario Viegas Carrascalao. And the de facto counterpart of Peter Cosgrove was again Xanana, who, apart from being the president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, or CNRT, is also the Commander of CNRT’s military wing, FALINTIL. On several occasions, though, the FALINTIL commander has been represented by his deputy commander, Taur Matan Ruak, for instance when Major-General Cosgrove met his Indonesian counterpart to solve the dispute of the Timor Loro Sa’e and Indonesian border near Motain, brokered by the US Ambassador for the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke.

Questions on representativeness

There are still some problems with this parallel Timorese structure. The three foreign officials mentioned earlier clearly have someone to whom they are responsible, namely the UN Secretary-General in New York and the World Bank President in Washington DC. Meanwhile, to whom are Xanana, Mario Carrascalao and Taur Matan Ruak accountable in co-administering their country’s civilian and military affairs?

If they are part of an embryonic government of an independent Timor Loro Sa’e, where is the embryonic parliament to which they are accountable?

This is an important political problem, which the foreign media — which until this moment, seems to be the only source of information on Timor Loro Sa’e — have overlooked, in their frequent references to Xanana Gusmao as the most likely first president, or even ‘president designate’ of the newborn nation.

Timor Loro Sa’e is still a nation without a state. CNRT, which was the umbrella organisation of the liberation movement, still has to set up a framework for a state: a democratic, not an authoritarian state, that is.

James Dunn, a former Australian diplomat in Dili and long-time supporter of the independence struggle, suggested that the UNTAET should learn from the experience of Namibia. In that former South African colony, the question of what status to give the SWAPO was resolved by the UN administration by recognising SWAPO as ‘the authentic representative of the Namibian people’, until elections could be arranged. Dunn believes that ‘CNRT has earned the right to be regarded as the authentic representative of the Timorese people until elections can be held’.

The basis of his argument is twofold. First, CNRT has brought together the leaders of all the main Timorese parties, including FRETILIN and the UDT, which in August 1975 were briefly in conflict, and even members of APODETI, which once championed integration with Indonesia. Second, CNRT is endowed with leaders of distinction, especially Xanana Gusmao, Jose Ramos-Horta, and Mario Carrascalao (Dunn, 1999a).

These arguments could be questioned on three counts. First of all, as mentioned earlier, the Timorese people would not necessarily want to repeat the history of Namibia, where ten years after shrugging off colonial rule the liberation hero has turned into an autocratic ruler of a one-party dominated state amid popular disenchantment.

Secondly, a quarter of a century after UDT and FRETILIN were established, the old party rivalries are not so relevant any more. FRETILIN’s national conference in August 1998 in Sydney, Australia, scrapped the ‘agrarian reform’ point from the party’s new manual and political programs, and replaced it with the following more market-oriented and capitalistic sounding formulation:

Defining a national Agriculture and Rural Assistance Policy which achieves equilibrium between the need to develop family agriculture and the green belt of the cities with the promotion and encouragement of the entrepreneurial capacity of private individuals in export production, creatively exploring the potential of micro-climates for the diversification of production. (FRETILIN, 1998)

This is indeed a major shift from the original ‘Economic Reconstruction’ program, which stated that:

All large farms will be expropriated and returned to the people and will be used within the co-operative system. Fertile lands not under cultivation will be distributed to the people and will be utilized in co-operatives or by State enterprises. (Hill, 1978)

On the other hand, in my interview in Darwin on 11 November 1999 with Mario Carrascalao, a co-founder of UDT, he suggested that all the large private coffee plantations should be taken over by the newborn state with proper compensations to the former owners, and then redistributed to the coffee growers. ‘In this way we could create more jobs for the farmers’, he argued, refusing to be drawn into a discussion on whether his idea mirrors FRETILIN’s original political platform, which had been so strongly opposed by UDT in the mid-1970s.

The socialist leaning of FRETILIN, meanwhile, has also been watered down among the older leaders, including among those who had spent most of their fighting years in Mozambique which was for decades ruled by a Marxist-Leninist liberation movement. Last August, in an interview in New York with one of the leaders who had lived for two decades in Mozambique, he said that the experience of living in a socialist country had taught him to prevent Timor Loro Sa’e from following such a path.

On the other hand, this son of a liurai in Viqueque suggested that an independent Timor Loro Sa’e — and FRETILIN in particular — should respect the customary laws of the different ethno-linguistic groups in the country, and take those laws into consideration in designing the new state’s political and economic systems. In other words, for him, state socialism is out but a more clan-based socialism is welcome.

Third, a new leftist group has emerged from among many former FRETILIN members, and has formalised itself into a new political party, PST (Partido Socialista de Timor). This party originally emerged as an association of socialist activists within FRETILIN, and called itself AST (Associacacao Socialista de Timor). They had left FRETILIN in protest against the formation of the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM, or Concelho Nacional de Resistencia Maubere) in the occupied country on 31 December, 1988. They also left FRETILIN in protest against the decision of FRETILIN’s diplomatic front to de-recognise the Democratic Republic of East Timor, or RDTL (Republica Democratica de Timor Leste) which was unilaterally declared by FRETILIN on 28 November, 1975.

Unfortunately, AST lost some of its credibility among East Timor supporters in Indonesia and also among fellow Timorese nationalists when the organisation sided with Abilio de Araujo. In August 1993, this Lisbon-based former FRETILIN leader was suspended from the Central Committee of FRETILIN as well as its Representative in Europe, when he responded positively to approaches by Suharto’s eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, aka Tutut, who had set up a Portuguese-Indonesian friendship association to undermine the pro-independence diplomatic campaign of FRETILIN and Ramos-Horta’s overseas CNRM network.

Meanwhile, the Timorese student resistance movement, RENETIL, has taken a non-partisan line following the example of Xanana Gusmao and the CNRM, of which it was a member organisation. Besides, RENETIL accommodates students whose parents did not come from a FRETILIN background. In fact, according to a survey of its members, 48 per cent of its members have parents with an APODETI background, 26 per cent have parents with an UDT background, and only 24 per cent have parents with a FRETILIN background (da Silva Lopes, 1996).

In the meantime, AST remained a small and lesser known organisation until 1977, when it received national attention over two major events. The first was the arrest in September of four AST members for assembling a bomb in a village in Demak, Central Java, which they had planned to smuggle into Timor Loro Sa’e. The bomb had exploded prematurely and the four AST members went into hiding in the Central Javan capital, Semarang, where they were immediately arrested by the Indonesian military.

The consequent trial of the four AST members — Ivo Salvador Soares Miranda, Domingos Natalino Coelho da Silva, Joaquim Santana, and Fernao Pedro Malta Correia Lebre — became a focus of solidarity demonstrations by other Timorese student activists, and popularised the name of AST in the Indonesian media. After a lengthy trial, the ‘Semarang four’ were eventually acquitted (ETHRC, 1998).

The ‘Demak bomb-making case’ also brought AST closer to Xanana. The imprisoned resistance leader took full responsibility for the bomb-making plan, which was meant ‘to strengthen our resistance towards the Indonesian armed forces’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1997).

AST’s secretary-general, Avelino, who often uses the pseudonym Dr Shalar Kosi, knew that the interrogations of his comrades could lead to his arrest as well. Hence, on 19 September 1997, Avelino and his wife Sobicha, their two children, Cea and Dina, and two other AST comrades, Nunu Vicente Pereira and Custodio da Costa, sought refuge in the Austrian embassy and asked to be deported to Portugal.

In early 1999, before Avelino and his family and friends left the Austrian Embassy, his comrades further popularised PST in Indonesia through several campaigns in Jakarta. On 9 March, around one hundred PST members demonstrated in front of the UN office as well as Dutch and Austrian embassies, demanding the release of Xanana Gusmao as well as their own comrades in the Austrian embassy. That demonstration was led by Flarinando Coimbra. Then, on 26 March, some members of PST’s Central Committee came to the electoral commission in Jakarta to protest against the planned Indonesian general election in Timor Loro Sa’e. This action was led by Nelson Tomas Correira, a PST political commissar and spokesperson (Detikcom, 25 March, 1999).

The emergence of this new Timorese political party received strong support from two ideological sisters, the Indonesian People’s Democratic Party, or PRD (Partai Rakyat Demokratik), and the Australian Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) through its sister organisation, ASIET (Action in Solidarity for Indonesia and East Timor).

Then, after a stay of nearly twenty months, Avelino and his group left the Austrian embassy, to regain the leadership of PST. He spent several months going back and forth between Dili and Jakarta before returning to Dili around 2 September. He was also in Dili in the lead up to the 30 August referendum, and stayed with the refugees in the hills of Dare, helping to reorganise the refugees return to Dili after the InterFET troops landed on 20 September.

Before the referendum, Avelino’s party had called for the formation of a ‘transitional Democratic Collective Government to represent all the existing political forces in Timor Loro Sa’e’ (da Silva, 1999). To a certain degree, this idea was incorporated by Xanana through the formation of a Transitional Council. These seven persons, Avelino included, are part of a National Consultative Council which has been set up by Sergio Vieira de Melo, the head of UN Transitional Administration of East Timor (UNTAET), to act as the country’s interim government (Dunn, 1999b).

PST itself has not — and most likely will not — join CNRT. As is the case with many FRETILIN militants, PST is still unhappy with the de-recognition of the Democratic Republic of East Timor (DRET), Republica Democratica de Timor Leste (RDTL), by FRETILIN and UDT’s diplomatic front in the early 1980s. Hence, it has initiated the formation of the Council for the Popular Defence of the RDTL, or CPD-RDTL.

This organisation attempts to consolidate support for the reaffirmation of the 1975 RDTL, which is part of PST’s political platform. To attract popular support, CPD-RDTL organised a massive demonstration of students that protested the 5 May 1999 agreement in New York which entrusted the Indonesian forces with security in Timor Loro Sa’e until the referendum.

Apart from those political activities, PST has also begun to initiate economic and cultural activities in their homeland. In cooperation with their Australian counterpart, ASIET, they have formed the Maubere Cooperative Foundation (KOPERMAR), which organises small coffee farmers, plantation workers and other villagers in Ermera, Liquica, Manufahi and Aileu, where KOPERMAR branch offices have been severely bruised during the post-referendum terror campaign.

This joint Timorese-Australian endeavour is also developing a fifteen hectare sustainable farm near Manatuto, east of Dili. Some 90 per cent of the town’s infrastructure was destroyed by the Indonesian military and their Timorese collaborators. The land was donated to the cooperative by a local family. KOPERMAR activists hope that this sustainable farm project will generate income for other local self-sustaining activities.

While reviving those economically oriented activities, KOPERMAR is also active on the educational front. It seeks to publish a newspaper, Tuba, and has began to conduct English language classes. Around 1500 eager Timorese, ranging in age from nine to forty, were crammed last November from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in a makeshift classroom with no in-house sanitation, illuminated by a solitary light bulb. Five teachers also helped these students to take their primary and secondary school examinations (Lane, 1999; Riggs, 1999).

Currently, while FRETILIN has still not yet reactivated itself publicly in Timor Loro Sa’e, outside the FALINTIL structure, PST has filled the need of many young people, peasants and workers for a radical avenue to organise. According to a source close to the party, PST has been able to attract a total of 23,000 members, 2,000 of them students in the city, and the others urban workers and peasants. Many of them were formerly members or sympathisers of FRETILIN.

In the first exercise to show their force in 2000, on 5 January the Socialist Party of Timor mobilised a demonstration of 400 people at the gates of the UNTAET headquarters to protest for the rights of the East Timorese people (the ‘Maubere’ people). The protestors presented five demands to the UNTAET, namely to stop the importation of foreign labour, give the East Timorese the chance to work, lower the cost of food and construction materials, lift the minimum wage, and broaden rice and other food distribution (ASIET News Update, 10 January, 2000).

Meanwhile, a third leftist group has emerged in Timor Loro Sa’e. It is not a political party with massive membership, such as FRETILIN and PST, but more of a discussion and research institute. Initially called Sa’he Study Club, the Sa’he Institute for Liberation was founded in Indonesia in early 1999 by young Timorese activists who saw the need for a deeper reflection on what economic and political directions their future country should take after gaining its political independence.

Sa’he founders were especially worried about the drive by certain CNRT leaders to promote the country to foreign investors. As one Sa’he activist wrote to me in February 1999:

Where do they [those CNRT leaders] want to take our country? Has it too become like Indonesia, or at least like Timika [in West Papua] with its Freeport mine? Will they turn Atauro and Jacko into another Christmas Island? Is it enough that decisions concerning the exploration of the Timor Gap will be taken only by the leaders, without consulting the people?

Combining action with reflection, Sa’he published their analysis on the pitfalls of the Indonesian autonomy offer, and distributed it among villagers in Timor Loro Sa’e, where they educated the people about the forthcoming 30 August referendum. Sa’he’s membership encompasses members of RENETIL and other groups as well as other Timorese not affiliated with all those organisations. Its director is a young lawyer, Aderito de Jesus Soares.

All this shows that ‘the Left’ in Timor Loro Sa’e is certainly not only embodied by FRETILIN, even as it currently seeks to reaffirm its social democratic line by joining Socialist International.

Generation gap

Meanwhile, a quarter of a century after FRETILIN and UDT were founded, other real and potential contradictions among the Timorese people have come to the forefront. First of all, there is a widening ‘military versus civilian’ gap between the 1,000 to 2,000 people who joined the armed struggle in the mountains of Timor Loro Sa’e, and the young people, ten times that number, who fought the occupation forces right on their own turf, namely in the cities of Timor Loro Sa’e and Indonesia.

Since Xanana Gusmao’s return to his home country, and his decision to reside in Aileu among his former guerilla army, these young Timorese who had not joined the FALINTIL but had faced the Indonesian troops in unarmed, non-violent civil disobedience actions in the cities of Timor Loro Sa’e and Indonesia, have felt themselves alienated. This is not only in relation to the UN and other foreigners, but also to their own leader.

This feeling of alienation may have been further aggravated by Xanana’s comments and behaviour, which show the leader’s identification more with the former guerilla army than with the young people. On 19 November 1999, Xanana took the radical step of leading a group of twenty guerillas to protest the behaviour of the InterFET troops who continued to disarm them outside their cantonment areas.

This action was taken in full daylight, in front of the foreign media and in front of the UN headquarters. Under the command of Xanana, the FALINTIL guerillas blocked Major General Cosgrove from entering the UN compound (West Australian, 20 November 1999). Then, ten days later, in an interview with a major Australian newspaper at his house in Aileu, Xanana stated: ‘I’m more the leader of FALINTIL than the president of CNRT’ (Australian, 1 December 1999).

Being the leader of FALINTIL and CNRT is for Xanana indeed not an either/or issue. Firstly, he is both the president of CNRT as well as the commander of FALINTIL. Secondly, the deputy commander of FALINTIL, Taur Matan Ruak, is also a member of CNRT’s Transitional Council. This body of seven persons represents the Timorese in the UN Steering Council. In other words, FALINTIL is overly represented in the Transitional Council, where UDT, FRETILIN, PST, and OMT all have one representative.

This preference to be identified with FALINTIL, and the lack of appreciation for the non-violent and unarmed struggle of thousands of young Timorese in the cities and towns of Timor Loro Sa’e and Indonesia, is not taken lightly by these young people, for various reasons. First of all, the struggle in the cities which was pioneered by young people — such as Constancio Pinto, who currently studies at Columbia University in New York — was what revived the international attention and solidarity with the Timor cause. The decisive moment was the massacre on 12 November 1991 that took between 270 and 400 young lives.

Secondly, members of the Timorese student resistance movement, RENETIL, had continued to serve as estafetas between the two wings of the resistance in the occupied country, namely FALINTIL and the clandestine front, with the movement in Indonesia and with Xanana himself during his imprisonment in Cipinang, Jakarta. Wave after wave of RENETIL activists jumped over the embassy fences in Jakarta. They had maintained their links with Xanana and kept consulting with Xanana in carrying out their actions; actions which continued to bring the Timor cause into the international daylight.

Finally, after Xanana returned to Timor Loro Sa’e — via Darwin, New York, Washington, and Lisbon — the thousands of Timorese students and young graduates who had to be repatriated by the UN from Indonesia to save them from military and militia terror discovered how the CNRT had already deeply buttressed itself with Portuguese and English-speaking elites from the diaspora. Most of the young Timorese who have been recruited by the various CNRT bodies in Darwin, Dili and Aileu had fled with their parents in the 1970s and grew up in Australia or Portugal.

In other words, a growing gap is emerging between the 1975 resistance leaders plus the diaspora elite and the young Timorese who grew up living under the Indonesian occupation, which they had forcefully opposed from within. Ironically, the man who had been their main source of inspiration, whose name they had shouted in all their demonstrations, and whose image had loomed large on their banners and T-shirts, seems to feel much more comfortable among his former guerilla comrades and the Portuguese speaking diaspora élite than with this upcoming Timorese intelligentsia.

Indeed, by insisting that Portuguese should become the official language of the newly independent nation-state, using Portuguese as the language of education, and by insisting that the escudo should become the national currency, the CNRT elite have further alienated themselves from the Indonesian-educated intelligentsia of Timor Loro Sa’e (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November and 3 December, 1999).

It is a great idea for Timor Loro Sa’e to join the association of Portuguese-speaking countries and to obtain export privileges into the European market through Portugal. With around 200 million speakers in Brazil, Portugal, and the five Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cabo Verde and Sao Tome e Principe), the Timorese people will have the advantage of exchanging experiences with those fellow developing countries and learning from their successes as well as mistakes.

The tendency of Brazil and many Luso-African countries to reproduce a Portuguese style of bureaucracy and formalism, as well as the tendency of Brazil to favour economic growth at all cost, are certainly negative aspects which the Timorese should avoid reproducing. On the other hand, however, mastering Portuguese would enable many young Timorese to study the progressive thought from Brazil and Africa which aided FRETILIN in the 1970s and which PST and the Sa’he Institute of Liberation are currently reviving.

The problem arises if the Portuguese-speaking UNTAET chief, Sergio de Melo, will lend his support to the top-down tendency of the CNRT elite to force Portuguese to become the language of education and commerce. This will certainly further marginalise the young Indonesian-educated people, the rural people, and the women, who are currently more at home with Tetum and Indonesian. Simply rejecting Indonesian as their former coloniser’s language is too naive, since Portuguese itself was also once a colonial language.

So a creative solution should be found, in a dialogical way, as the late Brazilian educator Paulo Freire suggested in Guinea-Bissau. And while Freire’s suggestion of adopting Guinean Creole was flatly turned down by the elites of Cabo Verde and Guinea who had become the new rulers of the country and were more in favour of Portuguese as the national language (see Freire, 1983), a similar mistake should not be repeated in Timor Loro Sa’e.

Gender gap

Women — buibere in revolutionary parlance — are under-represented in CNRT. The only woman on the seven-member Transitional Council is Felicidade Guterres, a graduate of the Indonesian-backed University of East Timor.

Outside this Transitional Council, there are four channels open for Timorese women. The first one is the Popular Organisation of Timorese Women, or OPMT (Organicao Popular da Mulher de Timor), FRETILIN’s women’s wing, which has had its members among the guerilla fighters as well as in the clandestine front in the cities and towns of Timor Loro Sa’e (Aditjondro, 1999b).

This organisation has a link with CNRT, since the highest ranking woman in FRETILIN’s hierarchy, Ana Pessoa Pinto, who is also an OPMT cadre, has been invited to sit on CNRT’s Political National Council (CPN), headed by Xanana. She has spent most of her OPMT militant years in Maputo, Mozambique, where she obtained her law degree from the University of Eduardo Mondlane and has worked in the Mozambican justice system.

When CNRT was officially established in Dili and opened its office, OPMT leaders decided to drop the ‘P’ in their abbreviation to become OMT.

The second organisation is the ‘East Timor Movement Against Violence towards Women and Children’, which kept its Indonesian abbreviation, GERTAK (Gerakan Wanita anti-Kekerasan), an Indonesian word meaning ‘verbal threat’. This organisation is led by Maria Olandina F.C. Alves-Cairo, a poet and former broadcaster for FRETILIN’s Radio Maubere, who has been repeatedly arrested, detained and harassed by the notorious Indonesian army intelligence unit, SGI, in Timor Loro Sa’e.

After being sacked from the Indonesian provincial government, she opened two small restaurants, the first one in Bidau and the other one on Dili’s beach. Both were burned down by the military and paramilitary forces during the post-referendum horror. At the time of my visit to Dili last November, GERTAK had just taken over the former office of the Indonesian civil servant’s wives association, Dharma Wanita, in the centre of Dili, and received their guests from the Indonesian human rights commission, Komnas HAM, squatting on UN-donated tarpaulin on the floor.

Olandina and Xanana are contemporaries. In 1975 they both used to write poetry in FRETILIN’s newspaper, Timor Leste (Jolliffe, 1976). She has, however, maintained her independence from CNRT, and has publicly criticised Xanana for emerging authoritarianism. In my interview in her half-burned-down house in Bidau, Dili, on 17 November 1999, she emphasised that she will maintain GERTAK’s status as a non-government organisation, independent from the current embryonic or future elected Timor Loro Sa’e government. This is while her own sister, Ligia de Jesus, works for Ramos-Horta’s office, first in Lisbon and now in Dili.

The third feminist organisation is FOKUPERS, or the Timor Loro Sa’e Women’s Communication Forum (Forum Komunikasi Perempuan Timor Loro Sa’e), which was founded in 1997 by wives of former political prisoners, former female political prisoners and other female activists, as well as some male HAK lawyers. It is led by Domingas Fernandes Alves-Bareto (‘Michato’), the wife of Jacinto des N.R. Alves, a former political prisoner in Dili and Semarang (Indonesia). Michato herself had been an OPMT militant during her years in the mountains, and had also spent time in political detention (Beer, 1999; HEKS Handeln, No. 265, March 1999).

Currently, this organisation is sharing its office and battered women’s shelter in Marconi, Dili, with the HAK Foundation, after its former office in Farol was ransacked and burned down by Indonesian soldiers and their Timorese collaborators.

The fourth feminist voice is the Young Women Student’s Group of Timor Loro Sa’e, or GFFTL (Grupo Feto Foin Sae Timor Loro Sa’e), the women’s wing of ETSSC. In November 1998, the group organised a well-attended conference on the situation of Timorese women (Conferencia Loron Rua Kona Sa Laloek Feto Timor Loro Sa’e) — the first conference of its kind during the twenty-three years of occupation. Among the speakers were two of their elder and vocal sisters — Michato and Olandina (Winters, 1999; Suara Timor Timur, 10 November, 1998).

Along with ETSSC leader, Antero Benedito da Silva, GFFTL’s leader, Atanasia Pires, was invited to Norway to receive the International Student Peace Prize in Trondheim. In the aftermath of the referendum, both of them were, with more than a thousand other refugees, evacuated from the UNAMET compound in Dili and flown to Darwin. While currently working in the UNTAET office, she is still actively raising buibere concerns in the reconstruction of her home country.

In addition to those specific women’s organisations, several Timorese NGOs have also developed their own women’s — and feminist — divisions and projects. CDHTL for instance, has developed a special division which deals with violence against women, led by Yvette de Oliviera. Likewise, Timor Aid, a Timorese humanitarian organisation which has Jose Ramos-Horta as its patron but is independent from the CNRT, has developed a Timor Women Development Centre, led by Ofelia Napoliao.

Church versus state

Finally, the Catholic Church, which had played such an important role during the occupation, has suddenly seen its role radically diminished. The foreign aid agencies, which during the occupation saw the church as the main partner in relief distribution, are currently attempting to work more and more with the local CNRT structures. The church’s past role in monitoring human rights violations seems to be increasingly taken over by non-church-linked human rights organisations set up by young Timorese lay activists, such as the Hak Foundation and the Commissio dos Direitos Humanos de Timor Leste (CDHTL), or the Timor Loro Sa’e Human Rights Commission, both of which have been very active in investigating the post-referendum killings by the Indonesian military and their Timorese compradors.

In addition to the assaults on nuns, priests and Bishop Belo himself, the Church itself has suffered tremendously from the physical destruction of its properties. Bishop Belo has lately taken the role more of a watchdog of the UN as well as the CNRT leadership.

One priest, Francisco Fernandes, the former Timorese community leader in Macao, also sits on the Political National Council of CNRT. However, according to canonical law, he does not represent the church as such.

The Catholic Church, however, is not the only church in the country. A small group of Timorese have joined the Protestant church, called in its Indonesian abbreviation GKTT (Gereja Kristen Timor Timur), led by the progressive minister and former FRETILIN and FALINTIL militant, Rev. Arlindo Marcal, who studied at a seminary in Indonesia and married an Indonesian policewoman. During the last five years, this Protestant church has also become a strong advocate of human rights in the country.

Recently, Marcal joined three Timorese women — Ofelia Napoliao, Maria Bernardino and Olandina Cairo Alves — to form a group to monitor the directions of the reconstruction of their country. They rightly called the group Rebuilding Watch, with its motto ‘Ba Direito O Povo Timor Loro Sa’e’ (For the Rights/Justice of the People of Timor Loro Sa’e). On 11 December 1999, Rebuilding Watch circulated their first letter to the UNTAET and CNRT chiefs and were invited to discussions with Sergio de Melo and Xanana Gusmao respectively. It is interesting to see that this group was initiated by a Timorese woman, Maria Bernardino (‘Laka’), who works at one of the international aid organisations, World Vision, and is also assisting PST’s media and fund-raising committees.

Seeing the need to raise the Maubere people’s concerns, Laka invited Ofelia Napoliao to join, followed by Rev. Marcal and the senior Timorese woman activist, Olandina Cairo-Alves. At the end of the year, around one hundred Timorese in Dili had joined the organisation, the first ‘development watchdog’ of its kind in the country. They were all driven by a common concern to prevent a new form of colonialism from developing in their country, after gaining their political independence from Indonesia.

So in the coming months one can anticipate that more Timorese organisations and individuals may take a more critical stance towards the UN authorities and the shadow government of CNRT. With the increasing legitimacy problems faced by Xanana and his top CNRT leadership, questions have been raised whether the original plan to hold general elections at the end of the UNTAET period should not be reconsidered. This would mean that serious discussions and debates should be started to explore what kind of presidential and parliamentary elections are most appropriate for Timor Loro Sa’e.

FALINTIL’s future

While still faced by this potential legitimacy crisis, Xanana and his CNRT Transition Council are pressed to determine the future of the between 1,000 and 2,000 FALINTIL guerillas. Contrary to Xanana’s pledge in his defence before the Indonesian court in Dili on 27 March 1993 to build a country ‘without an army’ (Gusmao, 1996), which he repeated in a speech written for a conference in Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand) on 9 September 1998 (Taudevin, 1999), the current tendency among the InterFET and the CNRT leadership is to transform a proportion of those guerillas into a police force and a French-style gendarmerie (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 December 1999). By the end of November 1999, already fifty-five guerillas had been demobbed and joined a local security force put together by the United Nations to guard public utilities (Australian, 1 December 1999). Xanana explains his change of opinion:

I just met the UN human rights delegation, and the chief, a woman from Costa Rica, she told me about her country which is without an army. We always maintained Costa Rica was the country to follow, but what happened here changed our opinion. We know that we have to guarantee security to our people to be more confident. With fears, with threats, essentially our people on the border, and in Oecussi, will not be able to work. We have to think about the future of FALINTIL, yes, but we have to reassure our people we are ready if necessary to defend our country. (Australian, 1 December 1999).

As in the case of Indonesia’s former guerilla army that transformed itself into Indonesia’s regular army, the TNI, there seems to be a reluctance among its top commanders — such as Xanana himself, Taur Matan Ruak, and those who are also FRETILIN militants, such as Luo’lo, the current FRETILIN president — to deny FALINTIL a political function in the newborn nation. This has partly been influenced by the fact that, at least during the last decade of the occupation, all the components of the movement have treated FALINTIL as the vanguard of the liberation struggle, and always coordinated their actions with the heroes in the mountains. This is certainly true of the clandestine front in the occupied country itself, which during the last five years was led by a former FALINTIL commander, Sabalae.

Then, after the arrest of Xanana in November 1992, and more so after his removal from Dili to the Cipinang prison in August 1993, all the four fronts of the movement — the armed front in the mountains, the clandestine and youth front in the cities of Timor Loro Sa’e, the student resistance movement in Indonesia, and the diplomatic front led by Jose Ramos-Horta — acknowledged the leadership of Xanana as chairperson of the CNRM (which in April 1998 changed its name into CNRT) and commander of Falintil.

Eventually, for the sake of unity, the FALINTIL flag was accepted by both the left (FRETILIN) and right (UDT) wings of the movement to become the CNRT flag. This was a huge sacrifice for FRETILIN, whose leaders had unilaterally declared the independence of ‘Republica Democratica de Timor Leste’ on 28 November 1975, and had invented the RDTL flag which used the same symbolism as the FRETILIN flag. For the sake of unity, during the last five years of the occupation the RDTL flag had been replaced by the new CNRT flag (which is actually the FALINTIL flag) in all the mass actions of the young Timorese activists in Timor Loro Sa’e as well as in Indonesia. Even UNAMET which oversaw the 30 August referendum accepted this decision and used the CNRT flag on the ballot to represent the choice of rejecting the Indonesian autonomy offer.

Nevertheless, the overlapping symbolism of FALINTIL and CNRT still dominates the popular psyche, since all the houses and buildings which are currently used by CNRT officials are decorated by the disguised FALINTIL flag. This overlap does not sit well with many of the young Indonesian-educated Timorese activists, who are very suspicious of anything that smells of parallels with Indonesia’s ruling party, GOLKAR or with the notorious ‘dual function’ doctrine of the Indonesian military, or ABRI.

In my interview with FALINTIL’s deputy commander, Taur Matan Ruak, in his new headquarters in Aileu on 14 November 1999, I asked the guerilla commander what guarantees there are that FALINTIL would not repeat the sad history of ABRI’s dwifungsi doctrine. He replied that:

Based on our own experience of having suffered for twenty-four years, because of ABRI’s dwifungsi, it is impossible for us to repeat the same mistake. And even if we do that, the Timorese people themselves will immediately correct us.

As for FALINTIL’s future role in Timor Loro Sa’e, the guerilla commander stated that he personally wants his country to be without a regular army. ‘But in this transition period, while there are still threats from militias and from abroad, we do need to have an army to defend us both from these threats.’ He explained that he still frequently received threats from the pro-Indonesia militias over his handy-talky. And at the end of the day, ‘only CNRT can decide the future of FALINTIL’. This sounds like circular logic, since in fact the two top FALINTIL commanders play a decisive role in CNRT’s Transition Council.

Talking about FALINTIL’s future role, the Rev. Arlindo Marcal, the leader of the Timor Loro Sa’e Protestant church, GKTT, and his fellow activists of Rebuilding Watch, in their petition of 11 December 1999 also recommended the need for FALINTIL to participate in upholding the rule of law in the country. He admitted, though, that it was a dilemma. ‘On one hand, we don’t want to be forever dependent on Australian or American troops, but on the other hand, there are rumours that Indonesia is building up its Army and Navy forces in Nusa Tenggara Timur [the province to which West Timor belongs]’, said Marcal in a phone interview with the author on 27 December 1999. He added: ‘So, the long-term solution is to reconcile with Indonesia, not just with the few militia leaders who are basically following orders from the Indonesian military.’ Then, he believes, Timor Loro Sa’e can reduce its troops — and thereby, its military budget — drastically.


By entrenching himself among the FALINTIL troops in Aileu and his favouritism towards the Portuguese- speaking diaspora elite, Xanana Gusmao has alienated himself from the masses of the educated young people of his nation, who had stayed behind and fiercely fought the occupation forces on their own turf. This alienation from the majority of the young people, the male-biased leadership, the favouritism towards one political party (UDT) and FALINTIL among the CNRT leadership, may create legitimacy problems for a future democratically elected Timor Loro Sa’e government. To avoid that possible future, the courageous effort towards liberation now, in an independent Timor Loro Sa’e, needs to be channelled into the formation of a representative and inclusive state. May we all have the courage and humility to make the necessary corrections, on time, so that the blood of hundreds of thousands of martyrs, fallen in the struggle to liberate the Maubere people, will not have been spilled in vain.

This is the first part of an edited version of an article which was written in December 1999, and published by the Centre for Asia-Pacific Transformative Studies, a joint project of the Universities of Newcastle and Wollongong. The second and final part appeared in arena magazine number 47.


Aditjondro, George J. (1999a). ‘Dari Cabral ke Zanana – Modifikasi Sosiologi Perang Kemerdekaan dari Afrika ke Nusantara’. Foreword in Ronald H. Chilcote. Pembebasan Nasional Menetang Imperialisme: Teori dan Praktek Revolusioner Amilcar Cabral. Jakarta and Dili: Sa’he Study Club and Yayasan HAK, PP. xvii-xxxvi.

Aditjondro, George J. (1999b). Women as Victims Versus Women as Fighters: Redressing the Asymmetrical Focus of the East Timorese Activist Discourse. Paper for Conference on East Timorese Women and International Law, organised by Associacao Portugesa da Mulheres Juristas and the International Platform of Jurists for East Timor (IPJET) in Lissabon, January 20-24.

Beer, Michael (1999). ‘Movements Growing in East Timor’. The East Timor Estafeta. No.1/Vol. 5, Winter. New York: ETAN/US, p.7

Brooker, Paul (1995). Twentieth Century Dictatorships: The Ideological One-Party States. New York: New York University Press.

Dunn, James (1999a). ‘Local Leaders Key in Timor’, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 November.

Dunn, James (1999b). ‘Great Expectations as East Timor Begins to Rebuild’, Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December, 1999.

ETHRC [East Timor Human Rights Centre] (1998). East Timorese Political Prisoners. Melbourne: ETHRC, 23 June.

Freire, Paulo (1983). Pedagogy in Process: The Letters of Guinea-Bissau. New York: Continuum.

FRETILIN (1998). Manual and Political Programs, National Conference, 14-20 August 1998, Sydney, Australia. Sydney: Organisation and Community Affairs Department, FRETILIN Representative Office in Australia.

Hill, Helen Mary (1978). FRETILIN: The Origins, Ideologies and Strategies of a Nationalist Movement in East Timor. MA Thesis at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Jolliffe, Fill (ed) (1976). Revolutionary Poems in the Struggle Against Colonialism: Timorese Nationalist Verse [of] Francisco Borja da Costa. Sydney: Wild and Woolley.

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da Silva, Avelino (1999). ‘The Transition in East Timor’, Green Left Weekly, 24 November, p.18.

da Silva Lopes, Carlos (1996). Perspectives Para O Futuro de Timor-Leste: O Papel da Juventude Timorense no Timor-Leste Independente. Paper presented at the International Conference on East Timor in Sydney, 21-27 June.

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George Aditjondro is in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Newcastle

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