Subject: AGE: East Timor to air 1975 war errors

East Timor to air 1975 war errors

By Jill Jolliffe Dili

December 16, 2003

In the hope that the seasonal spirit will prevail, East Timor's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is asking former political leaders to seek forgiveness for triggering the civil war that paved the way for Indonesia's bloody 1975 invasion.

President Xanana Gusmao was the first witness to testify yesterday at what will be a four-day hearing, saying: "Timor's political parties owe an apology to our people for the suffering they imposed."

Political observers consider the hearings as timely, given fears that East Timor may split into warring political factions when the UN withdraws in May.

Mr Gusmao admitted his errors as a junior member of the nationalist Fretilin party. He said that after Portugal's 1974 revolution granted freedom to the East Timorese "our parties began dividing people in an irrational way. Brothers and sisters turned against each other. We slandered each other until we no longer knew what was true".

But he also pointed to external interests that fanned divisions and limited the choices of Timor's immature politicians 30 years ago. Among them were the Soeharto dictatorship's virulent anti-communism, the Australian Government's refusal to help Portugal decolonise, and the communist victory in Vietnam, which hardened American attitudes to leftist governments in the region but inspired impressionable young Timorese.

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