Subject: CNY: C. Pinto says "No More Fear"
Date: Sat, 20 Feb 1999 09:08:41 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Catholic NY Feb. 18, 1999

'No More Fear' Exiled resistance leaders says East Timor independence inevitable By STEPHEN STEELE

While being tortured by Indonesian soldiers in 1991, Constancio Pinto at first begged his captors to kill him.

The military wanted the names and hiding places of East Timorese resistance leaders, and they told Pinto they would kill him if he did not provide the information. For 16 hours, soldiers took turns pistol-whipping and beating him.

Bleeding from his nose, mouth and ears, his face swollen beyond recognition and with a belief that his death was imminent, Pinto no longer begged his captors to kill him; he dared them.

"After you've been tortured and feel that you will die, you have no more fear. You no longer fear death," he said. "I knew that if I revealed anything, many people would die. It was better that one person die than many."

Eventually, his captors released him. His high profile status as a student leader may have saved his life. "They may have realized that killing me would have hurt them more than help them; I donšt know," he told CNY.

Pinto was interviewed in his upper West Side apartment. He serves as the U.N. representative for the National Council of Timorese Resistance, where he is monitoring talks between Indonesia and Portugal concerning East Timoršs future, and is also a first-year graduate student at Columbia University.

Since arriving in the United States in 1993, he has led speaking tours to raise awareness of human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian military in East Timor.

He was instrumental in influencing Congress to ban the use of U.S. weapons in East Timor and sharply curtailing U.S. training of the Indonesian military. Congress last year also passed legislation supporting an internationally supervised referendum by the East Timorese concerning the islandšs future.

"Hešs very modest in the way he presents himself. But his ability to combine the U.S. role in the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and the telling of his personal story was big in influencing members of Congress," said Lynn Fredriksson of the East Timor Action Network.

Pinto, 34, fled his homeland in 1991 shortly after Indonesian troops slaughtered 271 East Timorese gathered for a peaceful demonstration in Dili, the island's capital. Living underground at the time, he organized the demonstration at the Santa Cruz cemetery and would have faced execution had he been arrested.

Under an assumed identity, he fled to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, obtained a fake passport and went to Portugal for a year before coming to the U.S. He graduated from Brown University in Providence, R.I., last year.

East Timor, a heavily Catholic country, was invaded by predominantly Muslim Indonesia in 1975, a year after East Timor gained independence from Portugal. The United Nations still views Portugal as the administrative power of East Timor. As many as 200,000 people, or roughly one-fourth of East Timor's population, have been killed or died of starvation during Indonesia's occupation.

Pinto points to the political unrest and economic instability in Indonesia as signs that independence for East Timor is inevitable. He said he and other East Timorese quietly pine for a revolution in Indonesia, in the belief that such a distraction would allow East Timor to gain its autonomy.

"Every Timorese envisions one solution-independence for East Timor," he said.

Independence, he said, will come. It's now a matter if the various Timorese factions, loosely joined over the past 24 years, will work together to develop the country. His Ivy League courses have taught him how civil wars destroyed former colonies in Africa and Asia that had gained independence.

His education also revealed how naive he and other resistance leaders were about world politics.

"After the Santa Cruz massacre, we all thought that the U.N. would send troops to save us. I mean, 271 people were killed for no reason. Did our lives have any value?" he asked.

"We didn't realize that the U.N. was such a powerless institution," he said.

He said he also didn't realize how economics often trumps human rights in political decisions. "East Timor is a small country, but rich in oil and natural resources. Countries weren't going to undermine their relationship with Indonesia by making East Timor an issue," he said.

Upon arriving in the U.S., he said he was angered by the ignorance of American citizens about his country.

"I was very, very angry. I lost relatives, friends; 200,000 people were killed and no one knew about it," he said.

Public attitude started to shift when he and other exiled resistance leaders embarked on an aggressive speaking tour. East Timor was further buoyed in 1996 when Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes of Dili and exiled resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Pinto, who was a catechist under Bishop Belošs supervision and head of the Catholic Boy Scouts in East Timor, said the Nobel laureate often risked his own life by offering sanctuary in his residence to persecuted East Timorese.

"He's one of our strongest human rights advocates who was brave enough to speak out on the situation in East Timor even before East Timor was open to the international community,šš he said.

The Church was the only East Timorese institution allowed to operate after the Indonesian invasion. Pinto, an active Catholic, recalled churches being packed with thousands of people each Sunday.

"I think East Timorese people pray more than any other people. When we pray, we ask mostly for protection from Indonesian persecution and an end to our suffering," he said.

"We survived in East Timor because of our faith. If we didn't have the Catholic Church in East Timor I think the resistance would have collapsed."

He said he's puzzled why East Timorese leaders have not been invited to participate in the Portugal-Indonesia talks. Without East Timor's involvement, the talks are "one colonial power talking to another," he said.

"No solution will be achieved without East Timor in the discussion," he said.

Resistance leaders inside East Timor still report persistent human rights abuses, including killings and disappearances.

Fernando Araujo of Renetil, a student-led resistance group, told CNY that 50 people were killed in a small village outside Dili in mid-November. Another 100 have disappeared and are assumed dead. "The area is still closed to an outside investigation," he said during a New York visit. "There are still many abuses occurring in East Timor that Indonesia doesnšt want the world to know about."

Araujo was staying in the Manhattan apartment where his friend, Pinto, lives with his wife, Gabriella, and two children.

Gabriella was at Santa Cruz on Nov. 12, 1991 when Indonesian troops opened fire. Two fatally shot victims fell on top of her, shielding her from the shooting. Six months pregnant and covered in blood, she eventually escaped by leaping a four-foot wall that encased the cemetery.

Tears belied a beatific smile as she recounted the incident: "I thought, why did I have to be married to a political leader. I didn't want this kind of life. I wanted a simple life," she told CNY.

Pinto was not at the demonstration because police would have arrested him on sight. He later stood in stunned silence as trucks piled with bodies drove the victims away.

"My people have suffered beyond any human understanding," he said. "But we believe this is the price we must pay for this struggle. We're convinced that our struggle will not be in vain. We will live to see a free East Timor."

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