Subject: SMH: Fretilin admits its bloody past to ensure East Timor's future

Sydney Morning Herald May 15, 2000

Fretilin admits its bloody past to ensure East Timor's future

The former guerilla group wants to set the record straight, Herald Correspondent Mark Dodd reports from Dili.

It is one of the darkest chapters of East Timor's independence struggle, Fretilin's purges and murder of several hundred dissidents and political prisoners in the aftermath of Indonesia's bloody 1975 invasion.

As East Timor makes the transition to United Nations-supervised independence, Fretilin is preparing a historic acknowledgement and apology for past crimes committed against its own people.

The appeal for forgiveness includes the December 1975 execution of about 150 political prisoners, mostly from the pro-Indonesian party Apodeti, but also the rival UDT (Timorese Democratic Union).

One of three surviving founders of Fretilin, Mari Alkatiri, said an apology would also extend to victims of a series of bloody internal purges carried out in the early years that followed the Indonesian invasion.

"Now the war is over, it is time to rehabilitate a lot of names and particularly put an end to the suffering of their families," he said. "Sometimes they are still being discriminated against by Fretilin. We must put an end to this."

Mr Alkatiri, 50, a Muslim who has spent half his life fighting in the cause of independence, said the call for a full investigation into past political abuses comes from Jose Xanana Gusmao, the former guerilla leader now president of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), which includes both Fretilin and UDT.

At a national conference in Dili this week, the issue of redress for victims of political violence will be a major theme, Mr Alkatiri said.

In contrast to members of the Indonesian armed forces who have had to be hauled reluctantly before a government-backed investigation into military abuses, Mr Gusmao's call has the strong backing of party cadres, including former commanders, who believe there can be no democracy in East Timor without a full examination of Fretilin's own past sins and omissions.

One of the tasks of the conference organisers will be an investigation into a precise death toll during the years 1975-78, Mr Alkatiri said. Apart from the 150 prisoners, he thought up to 200 others, mostly Fretilin dissidents, may have been executed on the orders of hardliners who supported an all-out war for independence.

"In every war people die but the reasons have to be considered seriously when there is no reason for them to pay with their lives. This means something wrong was done," he said.

Asked if the investigation into Fretilin's internal purges was a difficult decision, Mr Alkatiri, said: "For me personally, it would be harder not to."

Mr Alkatiri dismissed claims that Fretilin was responsible for the deaths of more than 1,000 political opponents and so-called traitors during the late 1970s.

"This is nonsense! We [Fretilin] were not the Khmer Rouge," he said, referring to Cambodia's fanatical Maoist rulers, whose reign of terror from 1975-1978 left more than a million people killed from execution, disease or starvation.

Among those whose names will be formally rehabilitated is the first Fretilin president, Xavier Do Amaral, expelled in 1977 after he was accused of being a traitor. "We realise there was no need for him to suffer so much. He is still alive, a very old man now, 65 years old. He is a good example of how we are going to rehabilitate people," Mr Alkatiri said. Mr Do Amaral will attend the conference.

To understand the reasons for the bloody violence and subsequent purges, Mr Alkatiri said Fretilin and its armed wing, Falintil, was fighting a battle of survival against more than 40,000 Indonesian troops who within days of landing in Dili on December 7, 1975, had massacred as many as 2,000 East Timorese.

Fretilin, a Portuguese acronym for Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, drew on the Marxist rhetoric of Frelimo, the leftist party that had just taken control in another former Portuguese colony, Mozambique.

In January 1975, Fretilin formed an uneasy coalition with UDT, a party whose aims were not altogether dissimilar to Fretilin. The only other political party of any size in East Timor was Apodeti, which advocated union with Indonesia.

Fretilin's leftist leanings sounded alarm bells in Jakarta, and in August 1975 UDT launched a coup against Fretilin based partly on propaganda supplied by Indonesian intelligence agencies that its partner, infiltrated by communists, was planning its own coup.

By mid-September, after fighting which saw atrocities committed on both sides, Fretilin had gained the upper hand and controlled most of East Timor. It had also captured about 2,000 Apodeti and UDT prisoners.

Mr Alkatiri said the massacre of UDT and Apodeti prisoners in Aileu was not officially ordered but was a response from several Falintil commanders, many of whom are now dead, to the violence instigated by Indonesia and its East Timorese allies following the invasion. "The Fretilin Central Committee had decided to release all of them. Some Fretilin commanders did not accept this. However, there was a clear decision by the Central Committee to release them," he said.

The former Australian Consul in Dili, James Dunn, yesterday recalled how he had visited the prisoners before the invasion and appealed to the Fretilin leadership to uphold the Geneva Convention regarding their welfare.

Mr Dunn believes a Fretilin commander named Alarico Fernandes was responsible for giving the orders for some of the executions.

Among the prisoners shot was Osorio Soares, the brother of the last Indonesian-backed governor in East Timor, Abilio Soares. Another was the former Portuguese Chief of Police, Brigadier Maggioli Gouveia, who had joined forces with UDT. "I spent a bit of time with Maggioli. He passed me a letter to give to his wife. At that time they [prisoners] did not know what was happening," Mr Dunn said.

"If the Indonesian invasion had not been so bloody and murderous they [prisoners] would probably not have been killed [but] I was aware of their danger and I asked the Fretilin leadership to spare their lives."

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