Spring 1998
Congress Bars Use of U.S. Weapons in East Timor

Indonesian Military Training Continues Despite Ban

Constâncio Pinto Joins ETAN Staff

APECT III Meets in Bangkok

ETAN Hosts Activist Training Conferences

José Ramos-Horta Inspires St. Louis Activists

Massachusetts East Timor Bill Update

Member News

Indonesia - On the verge of change?

Torture and Fear of Torture Actualized

Postcard from Timor

Review- Women’s Rights in East Timor

U.S. Should Help East Timor

Estafeta -
Spring 1998
Spring 1997
Youth Resistance in East Timor
by Sonya Hurston

On July 17, 1976, Indonesia officially declared East Timor its newest province. While I was in East Timor in July 1997, I attended an event celebrating this anniversary, called "Integration Day" by the occupation government.

An East Timorese college student befriended me at the ill-attended and artificial ceremony. As we listened to official speeches about development, she said, "Indonesia has built more schools, but no one teaches or learns inside these schools. There are more roads to tote military troops from one end of the island to the other. This is not development. This is an illegal occupation."

Before we parted company, this young woman gave me a message to carry to the US stating "Viva Xanana" (the jailed leader of the Timorese resistance), "Viva Ramos-Horta," "Viva Bishop Belo" (the two East Timorese 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureates) and "Support a UN referendum for East Timor."

Later, in the crammed public bus in Dili, the capitol, my ears adjust to the loud electronic pop music. This same song, similar to the hip hop currently so popular in Indonesia, is played all over Dili. "Are you from Australia?" a young East Timorese asks me over the music. "I’m from the US." "Are you a journalist?" "I am a tourist," I say, knowing that journalists were recently expelled from East Timor. "Yes, well, no one can speak the truth here," he says so softly I must strain to hear.

The song on the radio is in Tetum, the indigenous language of East Timor. The hip hop beat masks the sorrow of the words, which the young East Timorese translates to me: "I went to town with hope, but came home to great sorrow. All of the men in my town have been killed; the women sit crying for their pain and loss. East Timor is our home, but it has been taken from us. With good faith in the Lord, we will find peace; we will find justice."

The US ambassador to Jakarta in 1975 hoped the Indonesian military would invade "quickly, efficiently." But 22 years later, the East Timorese continue to resist the annexation. Today, a new generation of resistance activists is keeping alive the dream of an East Timor free of Indonesian rule.

In fall 1996, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and Special Representative of the East Timorese Resistance José Ramos-Horta raised East Timor’s international profile. But inside East Timor, the level of killings, rapes and torture is, according to high Catholic Church officials and other human rights observers, worse than it has been for five years. The number of arbitrary arrests and disappearances has increased dramatically in the past year. One priest in Baucau told me that "the military often arrest youth late at night. They take them from their homes without any information given to their parents. They interrogate them for hours, sometimes days, boys and girls as young as 10 years old."

During my time in East Timor, I didn’t have to ask many questions. Local people were anxious to expose me to what I couldn’t see. Anywhere away from the eyes and ears of Indonesian Intelligence there were disturbing stories. Every East Timorese I met had lost some family member to the occupation. A taxi driver told me how his parents were both killed in front of him and his sister raped by Indonesian soldiers. A woman in Dili told me of the hundreds of dead bodies thrown into this port by the Indonesian military. On a mountain overlooking Dili, a group of young women told me how East Timorese women are sterilized against their will. A young man in Dili told me that he will not marry because he knows that if he is caught doing resistance work, his wife will be raped and tortured. Several people told their versions of the Santa Cruz Cemetery massacre on November 12, 1991, all including the same basic horrific details.

The Santa Cruz massacre broke the international silence about East Timor. What made this mass killing different from many previous ones was that Western journalists witnessed it.

The day after the massacre, General Try Sutrisno called the Timorese demonstrators "disrupters." "Delinquents like these have to be shot," he said, "and we will shoot them." I was teaching at a college in Java, Indonesia at the time of the massacre. Subversion trials of student activists in Java who protested the massacre led to prison sentences ranging from 5 years to life. Indonesian student activists told me that East Timorese young people inspired and educated Indonesian youth to resist Suharto. In 1997, youth movements in Indonesia and East Timor have even closer ties. One East Timorese student in Jakarta told me, "We hate Suharto and his military regime, not Indonesians. We must learn from one another and work together to topple this regime."

There is a desperate sense of urgency in East Timor. Young people constantly renew their commitment to resistance, but they depend on international awareness and support. "All we ask for is self-determination," one young man told me. "This is a basic human right. The Nobel Peace Prize legitimizes our struggle, but we need much more than this." While Indonesia claims that most Timorese want "integration," they will not allow a UN referendum, for which they would need to evacuate the 30,000 military troops from the island.

As I left East Timor, my thoughts returned to the upbeat song with the heart-breaking lyrics that I heard throughout Dili. I couldn’t help be overwhelmed by the needlessness of the suffering these tough, resilient people experience on a daily basis.