Subject: AT: Tiny enclave's quest for peace

Asia Times

Timor: Tiny enclave's quest for peace By Jill Jolliffe

PANTE MACASSAR, East Timor - The 45,000 inhabitants of East Timor's tiny enclave of Oecusse have suffered isolation and economic disadvantage as a result of independence in 2002, but this has not altered their passionately nationalist views.

After independence, their borders were sealed, leaving them surrounded on three sides by Indonesian territory classified as more dangerous than Iraq by the United Nations. Customary trade with West Timor essential to the Oecusse economy also ended, and contact with East Timor's main territory was reduced. Jakarta's stubborn refusal to grant a land corridor between the enclave and the border, 80 kilometers away, means that sea transport, which few can afford, is the only effective way to connect.

"The creation of a land corridor to the border is our main problem," Oecusse administrator Francisco Marques claimed. "We have an agreement in principle with Indonesia, but there are still many refugees, including ex-militiamen, living in West Timor, and Jakarta claims it can't guarantee our safety."

The continued concentration of militia groups close to the main border is one reason the UN retains a Phase 5 security alert for the Indonesian half of the island (higher than that for Iraq and Afghanistan, which are Phase 4). It was imposed after three UN employees were murdered by militia gangs in the town of Atambua in June 2000. It remains in force although there has been no violence in West Timor since. Most locals would like to see it lifted because it stokes tensions on both sides, impeding normalization.

Administrator Marques sees the refusal of a land corridor - still under negotiation between the Indonesian and East Timorese foreign ministers - as motivated more by bad faith than security concerns. "Indonesia created the [militia] problem - why can't it control them?" he asked.

These lingering tensions flared in December when the Indonesian military staged war games on an uninhabited island five kilometers offshore from Oecusse. Known as Fatu Sinai in East Timor and Batek in Indonesia, both countries are laying claim to the land. A UN-led joint commission began mapping all contiguous borders before independence and agreement on claims has not yet been reached, but Jakarta didn't wait for the outcome.

According to a UN military observers' report, it turned on a show of force that terrified Oecusse residents watching from a nearby beach, strafing and rocketing the island with an F-16 jet, a helicopter and a warship.

Dili issued a formal protest, and West Timorese commander Colonel Moeswarno Moesanip upped the stakes by announcing he would station soldiers on the island. East Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta deplored his attitude as "aggressive", saying it would complicate bilateral relations.

Old-fashioned dignity

Pante Macassar is the capital of Oecusse, where people live much as they did centuries before. Unlike their Dili counterparts, most men wear locally woven sarongs instead of trousers, striding around the town with an air of great dignity. Cigarettes are made from home-grown tobacco rolled in palm leaves and local lighters sometimes consist of two stones skillfully struck against each other to produce a spark.

The town is just a few rows of houses set against a crystal-clear, palm-fringed beach. There is no television, no bank and almost no crime. The only radio station is dependent on an occasionally functioning transmitter, while electricity is restricted to five hours in the evening. But simplicity is happiness: people talk to each other, sharing problems, and the whole town comes to watch the daily soccer match, played beachside as the tropical dusk sets in.

Life in the dry, mountainous interior is even more spartan but, once again, there is a cultural richness lacking in more developed societies.

From Pante Macassar, a ferry plies the 12-hour voyage to Dili twice a week. An economy ticket for a human passenger costs US$7 - a week's wages - while a ticket for a cow costs $11. Cattle-raising is key to the local economy, and before independence farmers sold their stock profitably in West Timor. Since the border was sealed, however, they must either sell within the enclave, at about $50 per head, or transport the cattle to Dili, where they fetch $100.

Trials and travails of the 'Black Portuguese'

At Lifau, a kilometer or so along the beach, there is a cairn marking the spot where Portuguese navigators and priests first came ashore on Timor in 1505. It was to be 1702 before they established a permanent foothold, thanks to the tumultuous ways of the Oecussians. Known as the "Black Portuguese", they were famed throughout the South Seas for conducting wars against rival tribes on behalf of the Portuguese one day, and fighting them the next.

In 1653 the Dutch entered the Timorese fray, seizing a Portuguese fort at Kupang, capital of present-day West Timor.

British mariner William Dampier passed by Oecusse in 1699 and observed that its inhabitants "speak Portugueze and are of the Romish Religion; but they take the Liberty to eat Flesh when they please. They value themselves on account of their Religion and descent from the Portugueze ..."

Despite being constantly attacked, Lifau continued as the capital until 1769, when the besieged governor, Antonio Telles de Menezes, transferred to Dili.

The Dutch and Portuguese settled colonial boundaries in the early 20th century, dividing the island in half with the exception of the enclave. Ethnically, the people of Oecusse are closest to the West Timorese, with whom they share a language, but their distinctive personality has bloomed with isolation.

They resisted being absorbed by Sukarno's Indonesia after independence in 1949, and remained loyal to Dili during the Suharto dictatorship's 24-year occupation. At the time of the 1975 invasion they had no option but to surrender quietly, but pro-independence feeling remained as strong as that of the mainlanders.

Francisco Marques recalls that many suffered for their views: "There was no military conflict here, but Fretilin [independence party] supporters were beaten and imprisoned ...There was a lot of repression."

Further, Oecusse was not spared the violence of 1999, after the UN entered East Timor and held an independence referendum. Sixty-five unarmed independence supporters were hacked to death by Indonesian-backed militiamen, and 90 percent of its buildings were torched. Perpetrators are currently being tried for crimes against humanity by the UN's special court in Dili.

Praise for a forgotten land

Although this forgotten land has been prejudiced in many ways by independence, its loyalty also has been rewarded. In 2002 the new constitution granted the enclave special autonomous status. Given East Timor's poverty, it will be some years before all the benefits are realized, although Oecusse residents are already enjoying income tax exemption.

"We need to run our own household," Marques observed. "We are economically disadvantaged by isolation. Our human resources are poorer - poverty means people's health isn't so good, and they are educationally disadvantaged."

The big concern remains security. Marques believes that, despite the saber-rattling, Indonesia will do the right thing. "We worry about security, but we believe it is unlikely to invade East Timor again," he said. "Now that we are independent, a UN member, it is difficult. There might be small problems of destabilization, but not invasion."

Arsenio Bano, East Timor's youthful secretary of state for labor and solidarity, describes himself as "very proud to be a guy from Oecusse", adding that people from the enclave "feel special, because East Timor was born from Oecusse".

He has long championed the idea of declaring the enclave a special demilitarized zone, pointing out that its isolation and insecurity also affect West Timor. "A military approach is not viable," he asserted, adding that the idea could be incorporated in a treaty between Jakarta and Dili. He believes a phase-by-phase move to total demilitarization, taking in Indonesia's special needs and Oecusse's friendly ties with the West Timorese, will create an exemplary zone of peace, where borders could be relaxed and mutual trade resumed. It would, he thinks, be a fitting tribute to his colorful people.


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