Subject: AU: Guerillas take battle to ballot
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 12:21:01 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Australian 24 July 1999

Guerillas take battle to ballot

After 24 years of fighting, East Timor's Falantil guerillas want ballots not bullets, writes SIAN POWELL in Dili.

"THEY kill our people", he said. "But we cannot shoot them; if we shoot them, they kill more people."

Fuik, the deputy commandant of a cadre of Falantil, the East Timorese resistance fighters, has known the frustration of staying his hand while militias and, he says, the Indonesian army, terrorise and intimidate the people of the mountains west of Dili.

A thick-set man dressed in ordinary trousers and a T-shirt, he appeared out of the darkness late on Thursday night to sit in a smoky, candle-lit hut and tell Falantil's story.

Fuik means animal of the jungle in the East Timorese language of Tetum and, although he did not want to give his name for obvious reasons, his nom de guerre is oddly appropriate.

Like many of the other 700 members of Falantil in his region, which covers most of the western part of the province, he spends a great deal of time living rough in the bush, eating cassava and, occasionally, when times are particularly hard, leaves from trees.

Times have been hard lately: Fuik estimates that 2300 refugees are now living with Falantil in the forest in the western region, driven from their homes by militia threats and outright violence. Malaria is rife and food is in short supply. The people of the local villages do their best to help.

"Sometimes we have many problems with food, but our local people support us. The aid agencies are not here," he said.

The fear of punitive retribution on villagers and the edict from Xanana Gusmao, the imprisoned hero of the resistance, has kept Falantil from wreaking revenge. The last substantiated Falantil killings were in May, when three members of TNI, the Indonesian army, were executed near Viqueque. It is the TNI that draws most of Falantil's wrath, despite the havoc wrought by the militias.

Both the Besi Merah Putih and Naga Merah militia groups have strongholds in nearby villages. Yet Fuik said many members of the militias had no choice but to sign up. It was join or be killed.

"A lot of the militias are not bad people, they are our people," he said. "Some of the militia are my friends."

Fuik said a local ceasefire, agreed to by the Falantil, the police and the TNI on Tuesday, might finally allow some members of the local brigade to return to a more normal life.

They want to register for the vote on independence, which is now scheduled for August 21 or 22, and some of them at least, want to come down from the forests and campaign for freedom. "We want to campaign to fulfil the rules of UNAMET (the UN mission in East Timor)," he said.

"But I don't think we need to campaign, because the public already knows what we think."

Fuik is 36 and he is one of the lucky ones. He sent his wife and three children to Melbourne three months ago to stay with his grandmother, to keep them from the militias' violence. The families of others in the resistance movement, who are often known to militias, are routinely terrorised. "They must survive," he said.

The battle, of course, is for the future of East Timorese children. Fuik is reasonably sure that, after an initial shaky decade of independence, East Timor, sustained by oil reserves, could maintain some form of stability.

If independence is not won, Fuik, along with most of his comrades, will carry on the battle. "Before Indonesia invaded, we were free, and for the past 24 years we have learned a lot of lessons from the Indonesians; 250,000 of our people have been killed," he said. "Independence is our only choice."

A vote for independence would by respected by Indonesia, he thought, for purely pragmatic reasons. "We believe in the international community and we think that Indonesia has already experienced a huge problem, and they won't be brave enough to make an open war. But we are always cautious because for 24 years we have come up against the Indonesian army."

He said he could not imagine that the majority of East Timorese would vote for autonomy within Indonesia: "It is impossible, it is impossible."

Yes, he said, the people were afraid but they would vote for freedom when the crunch came. "For 24 years, our people have suffered. This is a golden opportunity that will not be repeated."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to decide on Monday whether conditions in East Timor will allow a vote on its future next month, UNAMET spokesman Hiro Ueki said yesterday.

He said UNAMET began its own progress review yesterday, which could be crucial in determining whether the vote will proceed as planned.

"A series of (review) meetings are scheduled for this weekend," he said, adding UNAMET chief Ian Martin would then forward his assessment to Mr Annan, who will make the final decision.

Mr Annan said in New York on Wednesday that, despite some "positive developments", he was still dissatisfied, urging Indonesia to make further efforts to rein in anti-independence militias.

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