Subject: Text: 'Acts of Faith Will Rebuild My Nation', by Jose "Xanana" Gusmao

The Age [Melbourne] Friday 5 May 2000

Xanana: Acts of faith will rebuild my nation


In my first contacts with people when I returned to Timor, the overwhelming feeling was one of sadness ... at so much systematic violence and destruction, all orchestrated by the Indonesian military, which was unable to accept that such a small and defenceless people could defeat them in such a humiliating way.

But the people did not dwell long on the pain caused by recalling the lives of loved ones lost and the irrationality of the Indonesian generals who had deprived them of everything they had managed to acquire throughout those 24 years of resistance to bitter repression. Instead, the people joined forces once again to celebrate that hard-won victory, a victory that proved to all the "high price of freedom".

Today we witness an almost universal repugnance at the violence and destruction that swept East Timor. In this era of globalisation, the media play an extremely vital role in the forming of world public opinion. Thanks to this fact, we have been compensated for our losses by an extraordinary flood of external assistance amounting to $322 million over three years. This is over and above a large sum already expended on humanitarian assistance since the entry of international organisations at the end of last September.

There is a tidal wave of sympathy and willingness to contribute to East Timor's reconstruction.

We are, however, concerned that, six months after the establishment of the UNTAET in East Timor, the transitional administration continues to be afflicted by problems of financing for its activities. Such finance is vital to start the transitional administration, which will be the vehicle through which the East Timorese people prepare themselves to take over management of the new independent state.

Understandably, all attention is focused on the urgent need to begin reconstruction of basic infrastructure as a first step in the process of transition to independence. The two-year period mandated to UNTAET by the UN Security Council may well turn out to be too short, given that all depends on the UN's ability to carry out its responsibilities, without delay or impediment, for methodically and efficiently preparing the East Timorese people for self-government.

The physical reconstruction of East Timor is bound to be as lengthy and drawn-out a process as that of gaining independence. Development, if thought of as the need to physically rebuild all of East Timor's infrastructure as a condition for declaring independence, is not, therefore, UNTAET's responsibility.

The international community and governments need to show greater faith in the CNRT. After all, in two to three years Timor will be fully independent and it will be with the Timorese people that agreements and contracts are signed.

Today, we regret the pressure being brought to bear upon us to adopt the English language, which strikes no chords with us in terms of our history and culture and which will have the eventual effect of distancing us from our East Timorese identity, an identity developed over centuries. In a region that is so heterogeneous in terms of cultures, ethnic groups and histories, we feel the need to reaffirm our national personality and identity.

Even so, we are acutely aware of our small size and fragility and we know, too, that in this era of globalisation, independence may mean little more than keeping in check one's political, economic and cultural dependence on other nations of the world.

That future of independence for which more than 250,000 lives were sacrificed at times threatens to overwhelm us with the sheer magnitude of the task it represents.

To quote Klaus Rohland of the World Bank, the world now has the opportunity to help rebuild East Timor, "after 25 years of neglect and compromise".

Responding to a humanitarian emergency and to the longer-term development needs of a new nation is as difficult and complex a task as was that of keeping the attention of the world focused on the war in East Timor and our people's right to self-determination over 24 long years. However, today's challenges do require a more coordinated approach than that which was employed by the solidarity movement, and here local government has a vital role to play, while at the same time providing a vehicle for ongoing involvement of long-term supporters of the East Timorese struggle.

Jose "Xanana" Gusmao is president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance. These are edited extracts of the Maurice Blackburn Oration, delivered at the Moreland City Council last night.

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