Vol. 5, No. 1
|Indonesia Hints Independence||ETANers Strategize for
by Kristin Sundell, ETAN Field Organizer
Over the weekend of October 30th - November 1st, fifty ETAN activists from around the country gathered in Freedom, New Hampshire for a National Strategy Conference. East Timorese activist Fernando de Araujo, Indonesian campaigner Yeni Rosa Damayanti, Indonesia specialist John Roosa and other recent visitors to both countries provided first-hand perspectives on the rapidly changing situations there. Allan Nairn and ETAN Washington representative Lynn Fredriksson analyzed U.S. political developments regarding East Timor, while ETAN staff member John Miller outlined recent developments at the United Nations. Simon Billenness of Franklin Research and Development and Jeff Ballinger of Press for Change spoke on economic strategies and targeting corporations. In addition to representatives of most ETAN chapters, we were joined by activists from Peace Action, the Asia-Pacific Center for Justice and Peace, Amnesty International, Medical Aid for East Timor, and other groups.
Each speaker stressed that although Suharto has been driven from power, Indonesia and East Timor remain under the thumb of the Indonesian military (ABRI). In the face of increasingly strong movements for democracy in Indonesia and self-determination in East Timor, ABRI is working to break civilian power. As evidenced by recent killings in both countries, the army is desperate to maintain control.
In stark contrast to claims by the Indonesian government that East Timor would dissolve into civil war if ABRI was not present to maintain order, Fernando and Yeni identified ABRI as the main source of instability in East Timor and Indonesia.
In Indonesia, ABRI continues to use "divide and rule" tactics to maintain control. Among these are sparking confrontations over ethnicity (including anti-Chinese racism), religion (Muslim vs. Christian), and ideology (anti-communism). Such violence is usually portrayed as spontaneous unrest, but the systematic way in which it is carried out indicates military and para-military gangs are behind much of it.
The vast majority of Indonesian people want an end to dwi fungsi the "dual function" (civil and military) of the Indonesian army. But ABRI is strongly opposed to the creation of a democratic system and backs restrictions on upcoming elections that will preserve the militarys role in society. Indonesian democracy activists many of them students have been bravely working to oppose ABRIs efforts.
The Indonesian press has opened up somewhat under Habibie, allowing Indonesians a more accurate picture of East Timor, and East Timorese are countering Indonesian government propaganda about potential "Balkanization" by stressing reconciliation, dialogue, and unity. As a result, Indonesian support for a referendum in East Timor is growing.
Many of the speakers noted a marked increase in open political activity in East Timor in recent months, including mass demonstrations. However, this increased freedom exists only in Dili, which is more visible to the international community. In the countryside, army terrorism continues (see Reports From East Timor, p. 6).
The Asian economic crisis has made the Habibie regime vulnerable to international pressure. Conference participants discussed how changes in East Timor and Indonesia should affect chapter priorities and how ETAN should effectively respond with national campaigns. The discussion was extremely wide-ranging, with groundwork laid for many future projects.
We identified the U.S. Congress, the State Department, the IMF and the United Nations as key institutional targets for ETAN campaigners. Congress and the State Department remain our priorities. ETAN chapters and staff will continue to push Congress to end all U.S. arms sales and military training assistance to Indonesia, and to actively support self-determination and inclusion of East Timorese representatives in all negotiations. Pressure can be increased on the State Department through a variety of means, from lobbying its officials to staging public demonstrations.
Many activists expressed interest in national direct actions pressuring U.S. and Indonesian targets that would attract media attention to repression in East Timor. Planning for emergency rapid- response activities and a national day of action is underway.
If UN negotiations between Indonesia and Portugal result in a form of autonomy for East Timor, there is a risk that some will view this as a final solution to the "East Timor problem." Such a possibility can only be countered with an aggressive public education program that puts voices of East Timorese and their supporters into local and national U.S. media. One step to make such efforts more effective will be a day-long media training workshop in Washington, DC on Saturday, June 5th, the weekend before June lobby days (see back cover).
The Habibie regimes desire to cultivate a moderate image has made it easier for foreign visitors to travel to East Timor. Its clear the presence of such outsiders deters ABRI from cracking down on East Timorese activists and the general population. An effort is already underway to facilitate such solidarity visitors in a more systematic fashion. Various possibilities along these lines were discussed contact ETAN if you would like more information. We are exploring ways for Americans and others to visit East Timor, both for their own education and to help East Timorese organizations.