Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Journalist Recalls East Timor Violence in Book

Journalist recalls East Timor violence in book

By Karen Michelmore, South East Asia Correspondent

UBUD, BALI, AAP - Naldo Rei's thick, wavy hair trails down his back.

He has worn it this way for much of his life, for protection, and as a symbol of resistance.

Although the fight to free East Timor is long over, the 33-year-old continues to wear his hair this way, perhaps as he battles his own lingering personal demons.

"It's not over but at least some of the burden that I carried has gone away," he says.

"I think slowly, slowly I'm going to be a normal person."

Rei was just an infant when Indonesian forces parachuted into East Timor like "white winged angels" in 1975, forcing his family to flee into the thick jungle of the half-island for three years.

He was nine when his father was killed by the Indonesian military, and when he himself began work as a child soldier of the clandestine resistance movement.

Soon afterwards Rei - named by his comrades Puto or Oan Kiak Funu, orphan of war - experienced the first of many horrific spells in prison, enduring attacks with razor blades, electrodes and fists, after which he would cry himself to sleep, until, one day, the tears stopped.

He vowed, if he survived, he would record the experiences of his family and country, for history.

Resistance: A Childhood Fighting for East Timor is the result of that promise.

"At that time I promised myself I would stand up for my rights, my people, my land even if I died, no problem," he explains.

"I started thinking that one day, if I survive this war I will write down everything of tragedy that happened to me.

"That's how it started."

Resistance is the first personal account of the violence that racked the tiny nation written, in English, by an East Timorese national, Rei says.

He says the process of writing was cathartic - although at the time it felt like another nightmare that lasted five years.

"After the referendum in 1999 and 2000 I decided to write this book, but every time I wrote about the torture or imprisonment, I (had to) just walk away and then disappear for two or three hours," he says.

"It was really, really hard, it was like a nightmare writing a book especially a memoir.

"Then I decided it has to come, it has to come, because it's really important for myself.

"If not I will be staying and living in the nightmare. Every day, every night, every time I saw someone (who looked) Indonesian, I just wanted to escape because I felt that they were going to follow me everywhere I went.

"After I wrote this book I had so much relief (from) all the pain that I've been carrying for so many years."

The book offers an insight into the clandestine network the East Timorese established during Indonesia's bloody occupation, along with personal emotions many experienced - loneliness, isolation and mistrust from within their own communities.

He says that many East Timorese were like walking dead.

"We were alive but we were dead as well," Rei said.

"If you saw our eyes we were dead ... because (we were) watching all these horrible things happening."

Rei travelled to Jakarta in 1995 to try and raise awareness and support for the East Timorese struggle in Indonesia, and eventually escaped to Australia with a business visa and fake passport.

"I went there and I sought asylum in Australia but I was never recognised by the Australian government so I had a bridging visa," Rei said.

"I never had medical care, I had no right to study...I had no right to get a job.

"Australia was really a big prison for me because I could not go anywhere, I had no money so ... my life really depended on the solidarity of people who were helping me, from 1997 to 2000."

Rei returned to East Timor after the independence referendum, but returned twice to Australia on study scholarships.

He now considers himself "the luckiest man in East Timor" because he was able to work through his pain by writing, in a country where many are still traumatised.

While the book provides a powerful personal account of Rei's journey, it is oddly uplifting in parts. Rei is no victim - his is a story of courage and survival.

Rei's book will be released in East Timor on December 7 - the anniversary of the invasion - and he is translating it into Indonesian for its eventual release there.

It was released in Australia earlier this year.

Last week (October 15-19) it was also highlighted at the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, where Rei spoke publicly about his experience as a child warrior.

"I think Indonesia should recognise what happened in East Timor ... this is their story too," he says.

"I never fought against the Indonesian people. We only fought against the Indonesian regime."

Rei, a freelance journalist, says he is frustrated East Timor's leaders have been unable to maintain the tiny nation's stability - following the long independence struggle.

"My country's future, I'm really optimistic, but I'm really upset with our leadership as well," he says.

"They should sit down together and solve the problem - we have to prioritise the national interests not other political parties.

"We can do it - in the resistance time we were all together and fighting the one enemy.

"Why can't we do it now, just sit down together and solve the problems.

"I think we are free, but the problem is that we have been through all the horrible things, and how can you change your mentality from (one of) resistance to development because it's really hard.

"I managed to do it through writing a book. If I didn't write the book I think still now I would become crazy."

* Resistance: A Childhood Fighting For East Timor, by Naldo Rei, is published by University of Queensland Press.

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