Subject: East Timor veteran lobby wants financial recognition

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East Timor veteran lobby wants financial recognition

Updated September 11, 2008 11:32:48

In East Timor a group claiming to represent 200 former resistance fighters is demanding financial recognition for its contribution to the country's independence struggle. They say they shouldn't have to wait until next year for government action. The group call themselves "The Petitioners" - a similar name to the group of 600 soldiers who mutinied in 2006, sparking months of bloody violence. But this new group claims to have a more honorable cause.

Presenter: Stephanie March Speakers: Anacleto Belo, former resistance fighter and spokesperson for the petitioning veterans; Mario Reis, State Secretary for Veterans and National Liberation; Jose Sousa Santos, Youth Worker at Uma Juventude Listen: Windows Media

MARCH: In 2006 the government of East Timor was faced with a problem, 600 armed soldiers demanding action against discrimination in the military. At the time 37 people died and 100,000 people fled their homes. The trouble was blamed for the assasination attempt on president Jose Ramos Horta in February. Many of the displaced people have only recently returned to their homes to rebuild their lives. The petitioners too are moving on. With the death of their self-appointed leader Alfredo Reinado during the attack on the president, each of the petitioners has accepted an eight thousand dollar government package, provided they give up their bid to be reinstated to the military. But now it seems the government has a new problem. Anacleto Belo is the spokesperson for the new petitioners.

BELO: I want to ask to government to take responsibility for us. We were the rebels against the Indonesian government during Soeharto's time, we are not rebels against current East Timor government. So why do those who rebels who act against government now have a good life? They are rebels but they get money to have a good life because they made trouble.

MARCH: The group of new petitioners claims to represent 200 ex-commanders from the 24-year-long resistance struggle against Indonesian occupation who don't qualify for the pension. Current government policy says only veterans over 55 or those who fought for more than 15 years are entitled to the pension. That can be worth up to 550 dollars a month. It's more than pay of most police officers, and public servants, who earn around three hundred dollars a month. Anacleto Belo joined the resistance in 1989 at the age of 16. Using the clandestine name 'La Sudar', which means 'not afraid', he fought as a section commander in the bloody jungle war for a decade. After independence, he and fellow resistance fighters peacefully handed over their weapons to authorities, believing the government would look after them.

BELO: We tried to follow the procedure to become recruits in the new army but did not have not enough education.

MARCH: State Secretary for Veterans and National Liberation Mario Reis says the government is working to recognise all of the nation's resistance heroes.

REIS: The government has a plan based on our constitution in article 11 which said that says we must recognize people who participated in a struggle. But many of those who can make claims are yet to because they still don't have the right documents.

MARCH: He says he is aware of the complaints of the new petitioners, but they must be patient and accept the law as it stands.

REIS: Their demands are beyond the work of government. If you choose your government it is because [you believe] they are competent. You have an obligation respect their right to get the capacity to develop to make the nation.

MARCH: The government says it's developing a plan for 2009 to recognize and give financial support to veterans who were involved in the resistance struggle for more than three years. But the government is missing an opportunity according to youth worker from NGO Uma Juventude Jose Sousa-Santos. He says the petitioners could be used to help deal with the tens of thousands of unemployed and disenfranchised youth who are often blamed for much of East Timor's violence and instability.

SANTOS: What I realize is missing in the kids in regards to identity and cultural knowledge is these role models - the examples these guys gave. Now how can I expect East Timorese youth to behave any different than the militia they have seen in '99 or the burning they have seen in 2006 if that's the only examples to them of strength of power they have seen? They don't get to see this kind of strength, this kind of discipline.

MARCH: He says the veterans could provide much better role models than the nation's politicians.

SANTOS: They fought. They walked the walk, they talked the talk while politicians were enjoying their time. There is not many politicians other than Xanana that have been in the jungle. The rest of these guys were in other countries, jet setting, yeah they were doing their bit for Timor but they were not in the jungle. They didn't have to carry their mates after getting shot. They didn't have to evade Kopassus dog tracking teams where you could not urinate for up to three weeks. They didn't do it hard like these guys did.

MARCH; The petitioning veterans say they are more concerned about receiving recognition than money. And unlike the 2006 petitioners they won't resort to violence to get what they want.

[This is the print version of story ]

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