Subject: Lusa: Two Portuguese Activists Recall 20-Year Struggle

17-05-2002 17:15:00 GMT Invalid Hora local. Notícia 3668816

East Timor: Two Portuguese Activists Recall 20-Year Struggle

In the dark days of Indonesian occupation and repression in East Timor there were few who believed the territory would ever achieve independence: however, two Portuguese activists begged to differ and history has proved them right.

Barbedo Magalhaes and Luisa Teotonio Pereira both had key roles in alerting Portuguese politicians in the 1980s to the possibility of placing concerted pressure on the international community to take heed of Timor`s plight and force the issue onto the agenda of the United Nations.

Magalhaes, an engineering lecturer at Oporto University, told Lusa recently that a Lisbon meeting in 1982 with lawmakers of nine parliamentary parties was the first step in the process of raising awareness of Timor among Portugal`s political class.

Following this meeting, a Timorese lawmaker in the Lisbon parliament, Manuel Tilman, managed to form a parliamentary commission on Timor.

It was soon apparent, Magalhaes said, that at this time, the government "was not doing anything" to resolve differences over Indonesia, which invaded the ex-Portuguese colony in 1975 and annexed it the following year.

The next crucial step was to prevent Indonesia from managing to resolve the "question" at the UN Assembly General, which was preparing to approve recognition of the Indonesian annexation.

A group of Portuguese lawmakers went to new York to lobby UN diplomats and in November 1982, the Assembly General rejected Jakarta`s ambitions by just four votes. The UN body approved instead a resolution that was to be the basis of Timor`s declaration of independence this Monday.

The UN secretary general then began consultations to find a negotiated settlement between Portugal and Indonesia.

This stage was set for a series of bilateral meetings which led to the signing of the accord on May 5, 1999, which paved the way for the referendum of August 30 the following year when the vast majority of Timorese opted for independence.

Barbedo Magalhaes, who had done military service in Timor in 1994-5, continued to organize conferences at home and abroad and denounce the Indonesian military occupation of Timor.

However, he always campaigned on a non-partisan basis and insisted the question was an anti-colonial problem of national concern.

Luisa Pereira also had a background as a campaigner against colonialism, having founded that Center for Anti-Colonial Information and Document Center soon after the 1975 revolution that overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship.

She was alerted to Timor`s situation by another anti- colonialist, Alberto Costa Alves, who had served in the Portuguese military in Timor.

Alves showed Pereira letters that the Timorese independence party Fretilin had sent to liberation movements in Lusophone Africa.

Pereira told Lusa that she began making contacts with overseas rights groups and in 1982 she set up the Commission for the Rights of the Maubery People.

A long, hard battle ensued, mainly with the Portuguee political establishment which, according to Pereira, "did not believe Timor`s independence was possible".

Portugal`s foreign minister in 1983, Jaime Gama, told Pereira at a meeting that fighting for Timor`s right to self-determination was "fueling a myth".

Gama had said that Indonesia was strong and the Timorese were a defenseless and weak people.

Pereira says the turning point in raising international awareness of Timor was the 1991 Santa Cruz cemetery massacre.

The two activists are preparing to attend Sunday`s independence ceremony, as part of the official Portuguese delegation led by President Jorge Sampaio.

Magalhaes said it would be a moment "of great happiness" and the Timorese "will see a dream come true".

The independence is a "victory of moderation, good sense and political intelligence of the territory`s main leaders", he added.

For Pereira, besides "enormous happiness and satisfaction" the greatest satisfaction is to have taken part in a collective project of this nature and seen it achieved.

CJB/AMN -Lusa-

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