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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
Back to October Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu