Subject: CSM: Report from E. Timor's Deserted Outpost; and Gusmao's longawaited return

Also CSM front page/today's top news: Long awaited return to E. Timor

Christian Science Monitor [Boston] Monday, October 25, 1999

East Timor's deserted outpost

On Friday Australian troops entered Oecussi. Only 2,500 of the area's 57,000 people have been found.

Cameron W. Barr Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor


The town below is utterly empty, almost all its buildings destroyed. Nothing moves on the streets. The United Nations helicopter circles several times, but the only people in sight are a few shadowy figures who appear to take cover under some trees.

A handful of others come into view on a hill overlooking the town. Jumping up and down, they wave wildly and hold up a blue-and-white sign that says "UN." But the helicopter does not land, because the area is considered too dangerous for civilians.

This is Oecussi, the last part of East Timor to be entered by the Australian-led forces restoring order here. Bordered on one side by the sea and on all others by West Timor, the enclave is cut off from the rest of East Timor.

Australian troops entered Oecussi on Friday, and yesterday this reporter was the first journalist to see the enclave since militia members angry over East Timor's vote for independence began a destructive rampage in early September.

"It's one of the worst areas," said a UN worker on the flight. "There's no sign of life at all." During the five weeks that the international force has been in East Timor, towns like Oecussi have raised a disturbing question: Where are all the people?

PHOTO: HOME AGAIN: An East Timorese woman sits in the remains of her house after crossing into Memo, East Timor, from a refugee camp in West Timor. Aid agencies expect as many as 100,000 of her compatriots to return soon. DAVID GUTTENFELDER/AP

In the early days of the operation, humanitarian workers worried aloud about the possibility of mass killing. Out of a population of 850,000, about one-half remained unaccounted for earlier this month, according to a UN spokesman. But nowadays officials here are much more willing to believe that the missing East Timorese are simply in hiding or in refugee camps.

"While a number of nasty things have certainly happened here, we are not suggesting that people are missing because there has been a genocide or anything of that dimension," says Ross Mountain, the UN's director of humanitarian assistance here.

A number of recent events are making it easier for East Timorese to believe that it is safe enough to return to their homes, or what is left of them. For one thing, independence leader José Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmão returned to the territory late last week, just after Indonesia's People's Consultative Assembly revoked its 1976 annexation of East Timor. (See Mr. Gusmão's return, page 1.) TOM BROWN - STAFF

The international forces are gradually extending their reach throughout the territory as are humanitarian agencies. In some cases, Indonesian officials and troops in West Timor are aiding the return of East Timorese.

Emboldened by these events, people are reappearing in Dili and some other towns in ever greater numbers, each day dispelling worries about mass killings.

There is also a shortage of evidence to substantiate such fears. For more than a month, troops, aid workers, and journalists have attempted to find evidence of large-scale killings - without much success. Yesterday Col. Mark Kelly, chief of staff for the Australian-led forces here, said international troops so far had recovered a total of 95 bodies that are under investigation.

Local human rights workers report finding additional bodies, but the discoveries do not yet indicate that the militias set out to murder a large number of East Timorese.

To be sure, the militias and their backers in the Indonesian military destroyed property and moved people out of homes with considerable efficiency. In Oecussi town, the hub of the enclave, a hundred or so buildings are in ruins, including the administrative offices, the police station, the electric utility, and several schools. Only a handful of buildings - the church, a government guest house, and a hotel - remain standing.

Despite being surrounded by West Timor, the enclave remains a part of East Timor because the Portuguese colonizers initially landed in the enclave's town of Lifau. When Indonesia's Dutch colonizers and the Portuguese decided on a border dividing Timor island in the early 1900s, the Portuguese demanded that their historical landing spot and the area around it be part of East Timor.

The Australian-led forces that arrived last week have reported finding 2,500 people - a far cry from the enclave's earlier population of some 57,000. The town of Oecussi itself was home to 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Because it is the last place to see the international cavalry come over hill, the militias have had more time to pursue their campaign of deprivation. Members of East Timor's pro-independence Falintil guerrillas report that as many as 70 people have been killed in the enclave in recent days, but such figures are impossible to confirm.

Some reports indicate the militia groups, now based in West Timor, may attack the enclave and claim that it should be made part of Indonesia. They may also consider the enclave the best place to attack the better-equipped Australian-led troops, who would be somewhat cut off from their main forces.

Mr. Mountain says he expects humanitarian workers will be allowed to land in the territory "very soon." The international force has erred on the side of caution in preparing for aid workers.

A UN official yesterday said he believed the militias and the Indonesian military had forced the enclave's residents into surrounding West Timor. Still he was disturbed at the emptiness of the place. "There were a lot of children, a lot of kids," the official said, recalling earlier visits to Oecussi and requesting anonymity. "Now there is nothing."

Christian Science Monitor [Boston] Monday, October 25, 1999

Long awaited return to E. Timor

A cross between Mandela and Castro, 'Xanana' reunites with followers in Dili, then guerrilla fighters in the hills.

Cameron W. Barr Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor


At long last, Xanana is home.

José Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmão is the leader of East Timor's independence movement and in all likelihood its first president. For the East Timorese who are slowly rebuilding their lives after Indonesia's destructive departure from this island territory, his arrival is the surest sign yet that they are truly free.

"It will definitely make things better," says Agostinha dos Santos, presiding over her makeshift stall in Dili's rubble-strewn main market. "Because we have gained our independence now."

But for Mr. Gusmão and many of his supporters, the joy of this homecoming - after seven years in prison and exile - is tempered by the memories of the thousands of East Timorese who died or disappeared during 24 years of Indonesian rule. Because he has led the struggle for independence, his presence here seems to evoke its sacrifices.

Yesterday, Gusmão traveled to a mountain town outside Dili to embrace the Falintil fighters he still commands. Many of the camouflaged guerrillas - veterans of years of jungle warfare against Indonesian forces - wept openly during their reunion. "Our war is not finished," Gusmão told them. "Our people are hungry, our people are crying, our people are dying. We must wage war not with guns but to care for our land and look after our people."

Wearing camouflage fatigues over a crisp white T-shirt, the bearded Gusmão manages to combine an occasionally Mandela-esque message of reconciliation while carrying himself with the revolutionary swagger of a Fidel Castro.

Roughly 5,000 people gathered in Dili on Friday for his first public appearance - a speech in front of the whitewashed colonial-era building on Dili's waterfront where Portuguese, and then Indonesian-appointed governors once ruled.

Gusmão's supporters hopped up and down, whooped with joy, and punched the air chanting "Viva Timor Leste." And when Gusmão spoke of the dead and missing, the people wept.

At the rally Ms. dos Santos cried because, "I remembered my brother and father." She says Indonesian soldiers killed her brother João, a guerrilla fighter, in the early 1980s. And one day in 1984, her father left for his shift on the local neighborhood-watch patrol and never returned. He also was in the resistance, and she says he was "kidnapped" by the Indonesians.

Speaking from an outdoor podium watched over by Australian sharpshooters, Gusmão forcefully proclaimed Friday "the day of freedom for East Timor. All of our suffering, we can leave behind. Today we see our future. This land is ours. We will be independent forever."

He quickly honored the fallen. "Because of their suffering, East Timor will be a nation, like other nations of the world. We spilled our blood for East Timor. So many of us have died to be here today." Many in the crowd began to weep. It was as if happiness and grief overwhelmed people who had suffered in silence for decades. Their clearly beloved Xanana sobbed too.

Timorese losses

Frederico Almeida Santos da Costa, an elderly man with a flowing beard, says he thought of the two sons he had lost. Anatalino was a guerrilla fighter who was killed in 1990. Freddy went off to school on Nov. 12, 1991 - the day Indonesian troops massacred hundreds of people, including students, at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery. "I didn't say he was dead," Mr. da Costa cautions. "He is missing."

Paulo Justinho Mendonca, an office worker, cried for his brother Armando, killed during Indonesia's 1975 invasion following Portugal's withdrawal. But he also felt very happy to see Gusmão at last. "Because he is our father," he explains. "For more than 24 years we have fought to reach this final destination: freedom."

The cost of East Timor's freedom is not just human. A few days after voters in the territory overwhelmingly favored independence in an Aug. 30 referendum sponsored by the United Nations, anti-independence militia groups began a spiteful campaign of destruction.

These armed civilians, often operating with the support of Indonesian soldiers, killed an unknown number of people, drove hundreds of thousands from their homes, and torched or removed much of the territory's infrastructure.

Gusmão was arrested at a hideout in the outskirts of Dili in November 1992, and later tried and sent to a prison in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital. He was placed under house arrest in February 1999, and released a few days after the Aug. 30 vote. The city to which he now returns is full of charred, shattered buildings and families living under plastic sheeting.

Since Sept. 20, an Australian-led multinational force has worked to restore order, allowing humanitarian agencies to help the East Timorese rebuild. Security and sovereignty concerns have kept Gusmão away until now. Because he remains the ultimate target for anyone interested in furthering the destruction of East Timor, the Australians are protecting him closely. His appearance on Friday was advertised only a few hours in advance.

And it took until last week for the Indonesian government to acknowledge formally the results of the referendum.

Now the rebel leader must transform himself into a politician, although in a press conference Saturday he rejected the suggestion that appearing in battle dress might not be appropriate for the man who will almost certainly become East Timor's first president. "Absolutely not," he said, adding, "I was arrested as a guerrilla fighter, and I return as a guerrilla fighter."

He and his fellow freedom fighters will now work alongside a UN transitional authority, which will run the territory until new elections are held in an estimated two to three years' time. Any administration at all will come as precious relief for East Timorese, some of whom have been wondering why it has taken so long for their leaders to return.

"The most important thing is for us to have a government as soon as possible," says one East Timorese who would only identify herself as an "activist." "Otherwise there will be chaos."

Mandela-like goals

On Friday, Gusmão stressed the need for discipline and unity, qualities that will be needed as East Timorese leave their hiding places in the island's hills and mountains and head to towns and cities ill-equipped to receive them.

"Gusmão's return," says Ross Mountain, the UN's coordinator of humanitarian assistance here, "is one of the major factors that will inspire people to believe that the nightmare is over." But he worries as well that Dili is "becoming a magnet for the whole country," since this is where relief efforts have been concentrated.

Back to October Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Search this site                 powered by FreeFind

If your browser does do not support forms use: Search   Site Map   What's New

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter V3.5.8, is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from