Subject: Former East Timorese militia leader to run for office


The World Today - Former East Timorese militia leader to run for office

The World Today - Thursday, 2 April , 2009 12:30:00

Reporter: Margie Smithurst

ELEANOR HALL: He was jailed by the Indonesian Government for his role in a massacre of 12 East Timorese protesters in the pro-independence uprisings of 1999. Now Eurico Guterres, the former leader of a pro-Indonesian East Timor militia, is running in the Indonesian national elections seeking a seat in the province of West Timor.

He's counting on the support of about 100,000 pro-integrationist East Timorese who fled over the border after East Timor won its independence.

Margie Smithurst spoke about the move to Timor analyst, Dr Clinton Fernandes:

MARGIE SMITHURST: Dr Fernandes, you travelled recently to Kupang in West Timor and saw for yourself Eurico Guterres' campaigning efforts for the Indonesian election, didn't you?

CLINTON FERNANDES: Yes, I did. Eurico Guterres is standing for election with the National Mandate Party. His election posters are deployed quite prominently all around Kupang and elsewhere. The slogan he uses is 'It is time for Timorese to speak up, to be strong, consistent and responsible' and that is an obvious allusion to the fact that there are 100,000 East Timorese living in West Timor.

These are people who were implicated in militia violence and other crimes and their families. So he is appealing to them and that is why his election posters have that slogan on them.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Guterres is quoted as saying to a Fairfax journalist recently that he wants to make sure that the East Timorese refugees living in West Timor who want to return to East Timor will be accepted well. Now how would you view a statement like that?

CLINTON FERNANDES: Well, I think that he is trying to present himself as a representative of their interests and trying to put himself in a position where he wants to deal on a one-on-one basis with the Timorese Government. In other words he wants to negotiate directly with the Timorese Government. Certainly I know for a fact that he has been making overtures to Xanana Gusmao himself using indirect means.

These are not refugees who have fled because they are somehow in fear of their lives. They fled because they were part of the forced deportation, ethnic cleansing campaign against the Timorese and when the Australian military and the international force went in, in 1999, they left because they were the ones committing the brutalities.

So yes, they are living in West Timor and what he wants is to organise them into a constituency to negotiate directly with the Timor-Leste Government.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Well what are the implications? If Guterres does win and using this voting block, what are the implications in your opinion for East Timor and in particular on that border area?

CLINTON FERNANDES: It is almost certain to me that if he were to become electorally significant, even if he didn't win but delivered enough votes in his name, he would be in a position to exert strong influence with the border police on the Indonesian side and to accelerate the human trafficking, drug trafficking and smuggling activities that are going on in between East and West Timor.

You see the border between the two halves of the island is very porous and it is quite easy to smuggle drugs into East Timor.

MARGIE SMITHURST: But what about the idea that a man who was jailed for his leading role in the killing of 12 people in the house of a pro-independence activist in East Timor in 1999, could be the man in power just over the border?

CLINTON FERNANDES: It would be galling to many people in East Timor but it would also be a threat to the country. Not just personally bad for the people who suffered but it would be a threat to the country.

The thing is he doesn't actually need to win his seat in order to be a threat. Simply being able to be a representative of 100,000 East Timorese in West Timor gives him significant negotiating clout because they would then be in a position to control things like smuggling rackets, gambling rackets, petty crime and so on.

MARGIE SMITHURST: Eurico Guterres is one of many candidates. What are his chances in your opinion?

CLINTON FERNANDES: Look, I don't know precisely what will happen on the 9th of April but he has a very significant voting bloc. Whether they vote as a block or not will determine whether he wins. If they all vote for him then definitely he is going to go to Parliament as one of the representatives for West Timor.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Dr Clinton Fernandes from the University of New South Wales speaking to Margie Smithurst.

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