Vol. 6, No. 1
|We Can't Stop Here
East Timor in Transition: A View From the Ground
[Adapted from testimony by ETAN's Washington Representative Lynn
Fredriksson and East Timorese activist Gabriela Lopes da Cruz Pinto to the
House-Senate Joint Asia and Pacific Subcommittee Hearing on February 10,
East Timor is now a land of paradox -- utterly devastated yet on the verge of independence, mourning but full of hope for the future. It is certainly politically and economically viable, but its needs will be great during the two to three year transition to full independence.
Institution building has only just begun, particularly in education, health care, banking and other financial bodies, small enterprise, civilian police, an independent judiciary, press, and an overall political governing structure. UNTAET (the UN Transitional Authority), the CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance, led by Xanana Gusmão), the National Consultative Commission, the World Bank, the International NGO forum, and the East Timorese NGO forum are all pushing development in these areas. However, coordination among these groups is complex at best, and requires much better organization and increased Timorese participation.
That said, given the last 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation and the horrendous aftermath of the overwhelming vote for independence in August, it is amazing to see what has already been accomplished; the East Timorese people have shown an impressive commitment to rebuild their country from the bottom up. Dili is swarming with activity, and the vitality and hopefulness of most East Timorese we encountered is inspiring.
NGOs, youth groups and many educated individuals are running conflict resolution programs and workshops. Several groups are working together with the legal aid organization Yayasan HAK to spread information about reconciliation to the youth. The East Timor Human Rights Commission has been taking testimonies on human rights violations, and working on reconciliation since before UNTAET arrived. José Ramos-Horta is planning to open a peace and mediation center and a diplomatic school.
We were most impressed by the level of professionalism, respect and effectiveness many of the East Timorese NGOs have achieved despite extremely challenging circumstances and very few resources. Especially noteworthy are the women's organizations ETWAVE and Fokupers, the legal aid foundation Yayasan HAK, and the development agency ETADEP.
In town after town within East Timor, we met people who named large numbers still missing from their villages and families.
Of those who were forcibly removed from Timor island altogether, Refugees International recently reported that "there may be 11,000 to 30,000 such refugees in ten regions of Indonesia."
In refugee camps in West Timor, over 100,000 of an estimated 250,000 East Timorese driven from their homes in August and September remain virtual hostages to ongoing Indonesian military-supported militia activity. Access to these camps for humanitarian relief and accompanied repatriation has not substantially improved; in February and March there were threats and attacks against prominent humanitarian organizations and beatings and harassment of several reporters. Though an estimated 20-30,000 refugees in the camps do not wish to return to East Timor because of fears of retaliation against them for their militia or pro-autonomy affiliations (though no such revenge killings have been confirmed), the majority are being held against their will (militia disinformation spread through the camps instills fear in both anti-independence refugees and the pro-independence majority). If this problem isn't addressed, the recent estimate of 700 deaths (mostly children) due to malnutrition and illness in the camps will undoubtedly worsen, and the risk of further relocation of East Timorese to other areas of Indonesia will increase.
East Timor is not yet secured against militia and TNI threats. In West Timor, thousands of militia members and large numbers of Indonesian military personnel are still active, organizing cross border raids, infiltrations, and full attacks on East Timorese territory, including the enclave area of Oecussi.
A suspected Kopassus intelligence officer was recently arrested in Suai. There is little doubt, say informed sources, that Kopassus is inside the border areas, collecting information and trying to destabilize the situation. In one recent cross-border attack, militia or Indonesian military (often one and the same) killed an East Timorese man.
We interviewed CNRT leaders and representatives, East Timorese NGO representatives, international NGO officials, and others throughout the western half of East Timor about the reconciliation process, the UN and Indonesian commissions of inquiry and their investigations, and the potential for Indonesian trials and/or an international tribunal. Everyone called for an international tribunal (see article).
We found officials and workers with the International Office of Migration, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, International Committee of the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, and other institutions very competent and hard working. Yet there are several key problems that they have not overcome:
East Timorese political and NGO leaders and workers are frustrated by many problems involving the large number of international groups operating in Dili. UNTAET is an impressive undertaking operating with inadequate resources and personnel. Better coordination with and inclusion of East Timorese workers and advisors would go a long way to help solve their problems. Job training and employment opportunities (with decent salaries) for East Timorese workers should become immediate priorities.
The problem of food distribution, medical care, and housing is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. For East Timorese activists to successfully handle this crisis, they will need more access to and influence over the international agencies now in East Timor.