Subject: IPS: E Timor's Freedom Fighters Move to the Airwaves

MEDIA: East Timor's Freedom Fighters Move to the Airwaves

By Sonny Inbaraj

DILI, Dec 2 (IPS) - Falintil resistance fighter Akhita seems happy in his new job. He now broadcasts messages of peace and reconciliation from a radio station in East Timor's capital Dili, minus his AK-47 rifle -- a stark contrast to the days he fought Indonesian troops in malaria-infested jungles in the territory's mountainous central region.

A small room, whose walls are adorned by a large portrait of Falintil's commander-in-chief Xanana Gusmao and posters depicting Radio Falintil, serves as Akhita's studio.

''It's quite modest here,'' he said pointing to the transmitter powered by a car battery, a mixer, two microphones and a cassette- tape deck. ''We certainly need more equipment but we have to start somewhere, rather than wait for hand-outs,'' added Akhita taking a swipe at aid agencies.

''Several promises have been made by UN agencies to help us with equipment and training. But we've yet to see them. Maybe they're scared of the name Falintil.''

Radio Falintil, broadcasting on FM88.10 for two to three hours everyday, is the only other station in Dili besides Radio UNTAET operated by the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor, whose broadcasts include a variety of public education and entertainment segments.

But Akhita, who like most Falintil commandoes, uses only one name, is not new to the world of radio. ''I helped operate the transmitter in Falintil's base camp in Waimore (east of Dili) which was used to transmit Falintil Commander Taur Matan Ruak's orders to the regional commanders,'' he said.

Radio Falintil was born when the resistance moved into a new base camp in Remexio district east of Dili in preparation for the return of Xanana Gusmao, who was travelling to East Timor from the northern Australian city of Darwin, 500 kilometres from Dili.

Xanana and an entourage, including three bodyguards, fled to Darwin in mid-September to escape death threats in Jakarta. He had taken refuge at the capital's British Embassy when Indonesian authorities released him after seven years in prison.

This followed the orgy of killing and destruction by pro- Indonesia militias in East Timor on Sept 4 after the outcome of a UN-held ballot on the future of the territory.

The results of the Aug 30 poll favoured separation from Indonesia by an overwhelming 78.5 per cent, against 21.5 per cent opting to remain with Indonesia but with broad autonomy.

Akhita said the initiative to start Radio Falintil came from young Falintil commandoes who felt that the resistance had now a new role to play following the withdrawal of all Indonesian troops from East Timor and the presence of an armed international peacekeeping force.

''Many Falintil fighters have now decided to come down from the mountains to be with their families in Dili and this radio station helps them keep in touch with their commanders and Falintil's plans for a transition to peace,'' said Akhita.

The Falintil commando also pointed out the radio station will play an important role in getting pro-Indonesia militia members, still hiding in Dili, to surrender themselves to the Australian- led international armed forces.

''Radio Falintil broadcasts messages everyday urging these militias to give themselves up. We also give them assurances that they won't be harmed if they surrender. After all they are also East Timorese and Commander Xanana has urged all of us to forgive one another for peace and reconciliation,'' added Akhita.

With three full-time broadcasters, Akhita also helps coordinate 13 volunteers at the station.

''The broadcasters can also double up as technicians and one of them is a communications graduate from Indonesia,'' said Akhita. ''The volunteers are mostly students who have returned home from Java and Bali in Indonesia and mostly help out in news gathering and writing.''

''These students are the hope of the new East Timor. We want Radio Falintil, ultimately, to be the voice of the young.''

Indeed, a Radio Falintil poster on the wall describes the radio station using the Portuguese words 'Vos de Esperanca' or the ''Voice of Hope''. East Timor was formerly a Portuguese colony before it was invaded by the Indonesians in 1975.

According to Akhita, the radio station will soon move into a new phase in the year 2000.

''Taking into account that East Timor will be the newest nation in the 21st century, we, too, will evolve. We plan a top-of-the- hour news bulletin, more interviews, modern music and hard- hitting, no-nonsense radio features,'' he said.

''But for these to happen,'' explained Akhita, ''we have to be independent.''

''Sometime next year, we hope to drop the name 'Falintil' from the station and replace it with 'Radio Vos de Esperanca'. With so many parties in East Timor now, from the United Nations to NGOs and multinationals, we want the radio station to act as a watchdog,'' he added.

To a limited extent, the radio station has already begun moving in this direction.

Added Akhita: ''When the World Bank mission was in Dili, we managed to do a live interview with one of the members in the assessment team. Our listeners wanted to know how much money the international community was willing to commit to East Timor, and we had a duty to inform them.''

The Falintil commando admitted the radio station was run like a military operation with the commandoes overseeing it. But he added that was about to change.

''When we move beyond the peace and reconciliation stage we will disband the current operational structure and make the radio station into a corporate entity -- with the students playing a bigger role,'' he said.

''In order to make the station financially viable we will be soliciting advertisements to keep the radio running and pay salaries,'' added Akhita.

But he was still disappointed with the aid agencies, whom he accused of being biased against Radio Falintil. ''None of them have approached to help us with training or equipment. We are already broadcasting with the little we have. But motivation alone is not enough, we need extra equipment and some resources to help meet our expenses.''

''Don't be afraid of Falintil. We've moved from being freedom fighters, with AK-47s, to broadcasters with microphones in front of us.'' (END/IPS/ap-cr/si/ral/99)

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