Subject: Irish Times: Tensions begin to emerge among East Timorese

Also: Chat-show democracy a gallant start for East Timor

Irish Times [Dublin] Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Tensions begin to emerge among East Timorese

Today will be a national holiday in East Timor as it celebrates a year of independence, writes Conor O'Clery in Dili

EAST TIMOR: There is the aroma of organic coffee brewing. The morning sun is pleasant, not yet too hot. A rooster crows outside the door. The scene at the home of Mr Jose Ramos Horta on the fringe of the East Timor capital, Dili, is idyllic, almost timeless.

Yet just a year ago today the Nobel laureate was in exile, waiting anxiously for the outcome of a UN-sponsored referendum which would end Indonesia's quarter-century occupation of his homeland. In the ballot, 78 per cent declared in favour of independence, and pro-Indonesian militias proceeded to wreck Dili, leaving dead bodies outside the villa where he now lives.

Today will be a national holiday for the East Timorese, when the nascent little nation-state rejoices in achieving peace and remembers those who died. But leaders like Mr Horta are finding that a year on, and 12 months before elections for a new East Timor government, tensions are emerging among the once-united people which if allowed to fester could pull East Timor apart.

They simmered this past 10 days at the first congress of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), the all-inclusive vehicle for national unity. The CNRT was formed in April 1998 from the pro-independence parties to co-ordinate the struggle for independence, but now its existence is being questioned.

When we spoke on Sunday morning, Mr Horta was preparing to step down later that day as deputy CNRT president. "I'm not getting involved with any political party, not now, not in the foreseeable future," he said. "I have had enough of bickering, of jealousy, rivalries among individuals and often I'm the victim of those jealousies and envy, but also because I actually believe I can continue to serve the country as effectively as I can without being involved in any political parties."

The hostility towards him apparently came from factions in the CNRT which resent the dominance of returned exiles. The CNRT president, Mr Xanana Gusmao, wanted to maintain a prominent role for Mr Horta in the country's leadership, and Mr Gusmao resigned first when he encountered opposition, leaving Mr Horta to follow.

Fretelin, the governing party when Indonesia invaded, is the biggest component of the CNRT and easily the most popular party in East Timor, but it, too, is in danger of coming apart. A faction has broken away to campaign for a return of the 1975 Democratic Republic of East Timor rather than a multi-party democracy.

It is drawing support from nationalist-minded youths and students who feel they are being ignored by the CNRT leadership. They have taken to raising the 1975 flag in CNRT strongholds knowing CNRT leaders regard attempts to usurp its new flag as almost treachery.

In the political ferment, eight parties have emerged, among them the UDT, which tried to overthrow Fretelin in an anticommunist coup on August 11th, 1975, and Apodeti, which campaigned for integration with Indonesia and is now compromised by its association with the militias.

Fretelin leaders, who have complained privately that Mr Xanana tried to reduce the party's influence at the CNRT congress, also fear losing members to a new Social Democratic Party. But Fretelin hardliners have also stirred the pot.

"You have radical elements in Fretelin that still have the same mind-set of 1975," Mr Horta said. "They feel that Fretelin should have a direct say, power, and that it's hard for them to share with others."

A senior CNRT figure, Mr Manuel Carascalao, said: "The political process is still at a very early stage, and some Fretelin families who came from Mozambique are very extremist. I hope they realise that they must behave in a democratic manner."

But he was optimistic after a week of healthy debate. "I see here the potential to be one of the most democratic and clean democracies in the world," he said.

Despite the leaders' dramatic resignations from the CNRT, withdrawn after an impassioned plea, Mr Horta said there was a consensus that the body remain in place, as people feared "dismantling the CNRT now would destabilise the country because the political parties are not yet fully prepared."

The UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET) is happy the CNRT survived: it is the national body it deals with in setting up a shadow administration. Mr Xanana, however, has become an enigma to UN officials. He stated in no uncertain terms last week that he would never seek the presidency of East Timor.

"I would say don't take it too seriously, because we don't have a better person," said Mr Horta. "Xanana is uniquely qualified both for his moral and political stance and authority, and his incredible leadership qualities."

Should I take his own dismissal of personal political ambition seriously? I asked. "Yes, you can," Mr Horta replied with a laugh. But few would be surprised if another year on he was returning to the outside world as East Timor's first foreign minister.


South China Morning Post Thursday, August 31, 2000


Chat-show democracy a gallant start for East Timor


For a first try at democracy, it was deemed a success. About 500 delegates of the East Timorese political umbrella group, the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT), gathered for 10 days of political debate in the capital Dili for the first CNRT congress which ended on Tuesday.

Under the partially destroyed roof of the old Dili gymnasium, delegates crowded on to the debating floor, with observers on concrete seating blocks. On the agenda were issues ranging from establishing the new constitution, defence policy, democracy and the future of the CNRT.

But being a first attempt at a democratic forum, it didn't always go smoothly. At the beginning of the congress there was some uncertainty about how the procedure should be managed. At first the leaders dominated. CNRT President and popular leader Xanana Gusmao took the microphone and compered the discussions like a talk-show host encouraging guests to speak. "We are making it up as we go along," said CNRT official Joao Carrascalao. "We are getting good at improvising."

Towards the end of the 10 days, delegates became used to taking the microphone themselves and expressing their feelings. Their responses were not always positive. There was criticism of the translation of the speeches, the majority of which were in Portuguese. Simultaneous translations were available in English and the local East Timorese language, Tetum, but headsets were not always available.

Women's groups complained about being sidelined by the majority of male delegates, who brushed aside problems such as legislation to prevent domestic violence.

But everyone was allowed a voice, and often the voices were emotional. At one point, a girl of 12 took the microphone and asked for help for orphans of the violence that followed last year's vote on independence in East Timor.

"Usually you hear of so many leaders dying as heroes, but we children die like animals," she said, her voice breaking with emotion. As delegates wiped tears from their faces, Xanana Gusmao walked over to offer her his handkerchief. A Timorese band played bittersweet traditional music during gaps in proceedings, in which dignitaries and celebrities were also wheeled out. This led some to express cynicism about a possible manipulation of emotions.

"Every time there is a problem, they bring out a symbol," said one observer. Such symbols included Ian Martin, the former head of the United Nations mission responsible for overseeing the independence referendum. His welcome was warm, if not overwhelming, as delegates remembered the weeks in which the UN was held under siege unable to halt the destruction wrought by militias and the Indonesian military.

The loudest cheer was reserved for British film-maker Max Stahl, who in 1991 filmed Indonesian soldiers firing on East Timorese protesters in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili. The footage, which he shot from behind a gravestone, brought international attention to the struggle in East Timor. As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Jose Ramos Horta, began his introduction of the man he called "Mad Max", delegates rose to their feet in applause led by the commander of the guerilla army Falintil, Taur Matan Ruak, who stood with tears streaming down his face.

Although there was not time to discuss everything on the agenda, even with the final days running into the early hours, the prognosis of East Timor's first attempt at democratic debate was positive.

"Everything that happened here is normal in democracies," said one Western analyst. "It is an adjustment process, but everyone has been given a chance to speak and the leaders are not dominating . . . not a bad start".

Joanna Jolly is a Dili-based journalist.

August Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from