Subject: JP: A traveler's tale: East Timorese learn to be free

The Jakarta Post February 18, 2001

A traveler's tale: East Timorese learn to be free

JAKARTA (JP): A free country means no more hiding, no more running and no need to keep your identity a secret from family and friends for fear an informant, or mauhu, may report you to the authorities.

For years, the wife of Manuel dos Santos only knew her husband was a normal civil servant at the Balibo district administration in the Maliana regency.

When you're a member of an underground resistance movement, he said, the knowledge is virtually only shared by "yourself, God and Satan." Now he is openly known as the head of Balibo's chapter of the former resistance movement, the Timorese National Council of Resistance (CNRT).

In Timor's "Indonesian era," a phrase Indonesians must now get used to, thousands were clandestine members of the resistance movement, whether within or outside of the CNRT.

Death was the price to be paid by entire villages when authorities suspected that there were supporters of the separatist movement among the villagers.

Habits are hard to kick; freedom is only a year old after 78.5 percent of those who cast valid votes, or 344,580 East Timorese, rejected Indonesia's offer for autonomy, on Aug. 30, 1999. Another 94,388, or 21.5 percent, voted in favor.

"I still have my bag packed and ready to run," an activist of a women's group said. Her office had been in the building of the vocal Hak (Rights) Foundation which was attacked and set fire to in September 1999.

Now that no one is a a member of the resistance movement, there are some things to get used to. Previously one would have his or her own specific assignments, often only knowing one's immediate superior in a cell system.

Journalists were also under suspicion, working with the constant feeling of there being a mauhu present among colleagues.

Students would quietly organize demonstrations in Indonesian towns where they studied, risking arrest, and publish copies of news from magazines giving voice to resistance supporters and sharing information about their homeland among Timorese scattered in Indonesia, Australia, Portugal, Canada and other countries.

"They were so good, so well organized," says one exasperated volunteer from Indonesia. "And now there is this sense of listlessness, this lack of initiative and disorientation, now that no one is giving orders."

The discreet widespread support of the freedom movement in rural areas and in cities was the success contributed to by community based programs of the proindependence Fretilin organization such as the literary programs, observers say.

But more is needed in a free country preparing for self governance.

Some popular eateries have closed down, losing to foreign-owned competitors, not necessarily because they are bigger but because they are better managed, says one visitor.

"The foreign ones are better managed in their division of labor," she said.

The survival of the Timorese has amazed many an observer. There has hardly been time for anything else. Visitors suggest that the souvenirs of traditional cloth, the tais, could now be developed into various products like bags and maps which could sell well among the international staff, but novel ideas have yet to catch on.

Sometimes, perhaps people just need a break.

In the market of Bobonaro town in Maliana, little Marciana could go to school; it's still free. But "even if you beat her," her mother says, she won't go. She would rather accompany her mother selling beans and corn.

"Maybe she's just plain tired," a resident said, "of walking and walking." (anr)

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