Im sure you shared my great personal joy, and that of the people of East Timor,
when President Suharto was forced to resign last May. His resignation offers an important
window of opportunity to achieve a peaceful settlement for East Timor. I hope that you
will work with me to encourage the United States to seize that opportunity to rectify the
enormous wrongs they have contributed and done to my country.
As you know, Suharto was the architect of the invasion of East Timor in the tenth year
of his 32-year reign. His now sidelined ruthless son-in-law, Gen. Prabowo Subianto, headed
the notorious special forces that abducted and murdered East Timorese, while
Suhartos children exploited our natural wealth.
It saddens me when I recall that the United States has armed and trained those
Indonesian soldiers throughout the 22-year occupation. As a teenager in Portuguese Timor,
I was called "O Americano" because of my admiration for the United States. But
your country has played a leading role in the destruction of my people three of my
brothers and one sister were killed by American weapons.
Fortunately, there are many Americans like yourself and the other activists with the
East Timor Action Network who are working to right this wrong. Through ETANs work,
more and more Americans are learning the ugly truth of East Timors ruthless
colonization. With the increasing freedom of discussion in the new Indonesia, Indonesians
too are learning with horror and disbelief what their country has done to its neighbor.
The time has come for the United States throw its weight behind a UN-sponsored
referendum for self-determination, which is our legal and moral right.
Five years ago, I proposed a peace plan, on behalf of our leader Xanana Gusmão and the
East Timorese resistance movement. We offered Indonesia a way out of their dilemma. They
should release all political prisoners, substantially reduce their military presence, and
end arbitrary arrests and torture. A local East Timorese legislature could then be
democratically elected as a transitional arrangement lasting a few years, followed by a
UN-supervised referendum in which the people of East Timor would make the final decision
for the future.
Last month, President Habibie and other Indonesian leaders proposed half of that plan
but they are not serious about the bottom line. Habibie has asked the international
community to accept Indonesias illegal annexation of East Timor in return for some
prisoner release and troop withdrawals, and a wishy-washy "special status." They
are rehashing an old proposal, and we unequivocally reject it.
Since then, the brief relaxation of repression against the East Timorese people has
come to an end. Several East Timorese people have been killed by Indonesian soldiers in
the last few weeks. The Indonesian military has bussed and coerced hundreds of people to
participate in staged "counter-demonstrations" to rebut the tens of thousands of
East Timorese who have been peacefully demonstrating for self-determination.
Indonesias economic crisis, compounded by drought, is causing famine in several
parts of East Timor. But the momentum is on our side and we hope that people around
the world will stand by us in these difficult times.
The Indonesian regime is not only financially bankrupt, but it is are losing political
support as well.
Even in the United States long unwilling to challenge the Indonesian armys
rule over East Timor there are signs of change. Recently, Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright called on Indonesia to reduce its military presence and engage in
"a genuine dialogue" with the East Timorese. Dozens of Senators and
Representatives from both parties are supporting resolutions in both Houses of Congress to
affirm East Timors right to self-determination. High U.S. officials have visited
Xanana in prison several times, and Richard Holbrooke, who has a long history with East
Timor and has been supportive in recent years, will be the new U.S. Ambassador to the
The progress in American policy is a direct result of the grassroots work of the East
Timor Action Network. By keeping the issue in the media and keeping policymakers aware
that voters are watching, ETAN has helped to shift Washingtons perspective.
ETANs work with Congress, in particular, has developed a constituency which does not
let Pentagon officials and State Department desk officers proceed with business as usual.
The progressively tighter restrictions on U.S. arms sales and military training over the
past six years have put both Washington and Jakarta on notice that there is a price to pay
for continued repression of my people.
Now is a crucial time. I urge you to support ETAN
both financially and by taking action. The United
States can and should provide moral leadership to right the wrong in East Timor. But true
leadership in your democratic country comes from the grassroots people like
yourself who must actively ensure that your elected government acts so that my
people, too, can have an elected government.
East Timor stands as a moral test for the new Indonesia if it wishes to regain
international respectability. It is a test for the United States as well.
Thank you for your past and future support. I am confident that with your
help, East Timor will find peace and freedom in a few short years.