Subject: Naldo Rei: Giving Voice To The Silenced in East Timor
The Jakarta Post
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Naldo Rei: Giving Voice To The Silenced in East Timor
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Naldo Rei, 32, was a baby when he and his family fled to the jungles as
Indonesian troops invaded East Timor in 1975, starting a 24-year period of
His formative years were spent in the jungles, where he used to ask his
parents why they were living in the jungle like wild animals. His questions
would bring tears to his parents' eyes, causing him to stop asking.
He grew up fighting for East Timor's independence from Indonesia, joining the
clandestine resistance movement at the age of nine after the Indonesian military
killed his father, who was a resistance fighter.
Constantly hiding, facing intimidation and torture, he was uncertain of
whether he would survive the struggle. But he was sure of two things: One, that
East Timor would gain independence; and two, if he did survive, he would write
Almost a decade after East Timor's independence he published his
heart-rending memoir Resistance: A Childhood Fighting for East Timor.
"I fought without thinking that I would live to see victory. However, my
conscience said that the trees and the land belonged to East Timorese. I
believed that my ancestors would protect me and the whole struggle for
independence," he said.
"I've written since I was little. I wrote down every tragedy, every
event, the things that happened to my friends and my family. I hid the documents
and I told myself *I believe that one day I will write a book'," he said.
In his book he names himself kaer fatuk, a story teller for his people.
"I carry their stories like heavy stones, forgetting nothing," he
wrote in his book.
He survived despite being captured and imprisoned 15 times by the Indonesian
military. He began working as a courier for the resistance movement when he was
just nine years old.
"I had no choice. My father and his friends were murdered. If I didn't
fight the killings would go on," he said.
"I wasn't afraid. I was captured when I was nine years old. I was
electrocuted and slashed with razor blades. Overcoming that made me strong and I
overcome fear," he said.
"Every morning I woke up, I faced life crueler than a nightmare. But I
started to build courage. It's better to die than live like a dead person,
that's why I fought," he said.
He left East Timor for Jakarta in 1995 to continue his struggle, and two
years later he left Jakarta for Sydney to study international communications. He
watched from Australia as East Timor gained independence and returned home in
He finished the book in 2005 after five years of writing and eventually
published it this year."I wanted to be sure of every fact in my book,"
He was in Bali last week for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. On the
sidelines of the festival, Naldo shared with The Jakarta Post his experience
growing up as a resistance fighter, the unfinished grim chapter of relations
between Indonesia and East Timor and his hopes for his country, while sitting on
a couch in an open-air restaurant overlooking the valley and the hills in Ubud.
He wore a black shirt emblazoned with the symbol of East Timor with Timor
Loro Sae written upon it. His long curly hair, a symbol of the resistance
movement, was tied behind his back.
His tall and burly features were softened by his smile and warm eyes. He
spoke calmly, without anger. He recounted the harrowing stories of the death of
his father, of witnessing the human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian
military against East Timorese, and of the torture he endured.
His book is a rare firsthand documentation of what happened during the
occupation. "I want to tell the story so that people know what
happened," he said.
Not many Indonesians know of the brutality with which their government
occupied East Timor for 24 years.
In 1975, with the backing of the U.S. and the encouragement of Australia,
Indonesia annexed East Timor and turned it into the (then) youngest -- the 27th
province of Indonesia -- after 450 years of Portuguese colonization. According
to a Security Council report, international and Timorese sources estimate that,
of a population of less than 1 million, between 100,000 and 180,000 individuals
died from conflict-related causes between 1974 and 1999.
These included the bloody Santa Cruz massacre in 1991, which Naldo recounts
in his book. In this incident, the military fired on civilians attending a
memorial service of a resistance fighter, killing 270 people.
The lack of knowledge about the incidence at the time may have been a result
of the effectiveness of Suharto's regime at suppressing information and
generating propaganda. These days, many are unaware purely through ignorance.
Indonesia seems to have closed the dark chapter of its relationship with East
Timor with the release of a report this year from a bilateral truth commission.
The report concluded, without naming individuals, that Indonesia had carried
out gross human rights abuses during East Timor's 1999 break for independence.
President Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono acknowledged this, but stopped short of
offering a full apology for murders, torture and other crimes.
Yudhoyono said the intention of the report was only to uncover the truth so
that the two sides could move forward in promoting friendship and
"It's a twisted way of thinking. How can we have reconciliation without
justice being upheld? What about justice for the victims?" Naldo said.
For Naldo there will be no closing chapter until there is justice.
The future of his young independent country, which is marred by political
unrest and infighting, lies in the hands of its leaders, who must "sit down
together and solve the problems," he said.
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