Subject: GLW: Thousands of students return to East Timor
Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999 09:25:04 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Green Left Weekly - August 11, 1999

Thousands of students return to East Timor

By Sam King

Dili -- As the massive Indonesian passenger ship the Dobonsolo left Jakarta on July 23, thousands of people filled its seven tiers. Hundreds more set up sleeping places on the open deck.

Among them were hundreds of East Timorese returning home to vote in the referendum. The majority were students, mostly from Jakarta and Lampung, but there were also many refugees from the violence of anti-independence militias in East Timor.

In Surabaya, the number of passengers was swelled by another 1000 East Timorese, mostly students from Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Malang, Semarang and other parts of central and west Java. Sleeping bodies blocked the decks, corridors and stairwell landings, and covered seats and tables in the cafeteria and the luggage.

The clothes and luggage of those filling the decks were decorated with East Timorese and Falantil flags, independence slogans and pictures of Xanana Gusmao and sometimes Che Guevara.

In Bali, hundreds more East Timorese boarded for the journey home. It is fortunate that the Dobonsolo didn't sink between Bali and East Timor because the 10 life boats were filled with luggage and people who couldn't find a better place to sleep.

When the ship arrived in Dili, the East Timor flag was raised and passengers sang the struggle song "Ami isim Maubere, klamar mos Maubere" ("My body is Maubere, my pulse is Maubere").

The majority of East Timorese studying in Indonesia have now returned home, having suspended their studies to vote in East Timor. Many of those remaining in Indonesia are also pro- independence.

In central Java, almost all East Timorese students have returned home. Those who have remained in Indonesia have stayed to observe the voting, by mainly young workers unable to leave their jobs to go home to East Timor.

In Bali, only 10 to 15 East Timorese students remain. Others staying in Indonesia are providing a skeleton staff for pro- independence organisations.

Throughout Indonesia and its occupied territories, students make up only a tiny percentage of the population and, as a rule, come from privileged backgrounds. Most East Timorese students, like other students, can carve out a relatively privileged life for themselves.

Well over half of all East Timorese students in Indonesia are given scholarships from the Indonesian government. Many students believe the scholarships are an attempt by the regime to create a privileged and politically compliant layer of East Timorese. Certainly, the large number of scholarships for East Timorese students contrasts starkly with the government's lack of interest in developing East Timor in any other way.

If the regime's scholarship policy aims to form a politically moderate layer of East Timorese, it is failing miserably. The students are the first to point out that living conditions for the vast majority of East Timorese are shocking and the mass exodus of students from Indonesia to campaign for an independence vote in East Timor is a clear indication of their preparedness to fight for justice for all East Timorese.

The regime's attempt to form a mass pro-government student organisation has also failed. In 1988, the regime set up the pro-Indonesia high school and university student group Impettu. By 1994, due to overwhelming pro-independence sentiment among students, the government was losing its grip on Impettu. After the student-led uprising in Indonesia in May 1998 which forced President Suharto to resign, Impettu was dominated by pro- independence students.

Impettu now plays a key role because, as a body originally set up by the government, its legal status gives it the space to coordinate many movement activities. Its secretariat in Dili is organising the thousands of students passing through Dili on their way home to East Timor.

All pro-independence students in East Timor, except those working for Impettu and campaign organisations in Dili, have been instructed by the East Timorese leadership to go to their homes if the local area is not too unsafe. There they are to campaign within their communities for an independence vote and to counter the anti-independence militias' terrorising of locals.

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