ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 5, No. 1
Winter 1999

Albright on Troop Reductions

ETANers Strategize for Action

New Chapters/Resolution

Chapters Keep Up Pressure

Relief Seeks Contributions

Weavings Available

Peace Brigades

Staffer Neededr

Tainted by Repression

New Hopes, Old Terror

Movements in Timor

Activists Tour U.S.

Aceh Conference

Action Alert

Lobby Days Again

About Timor and ETAN

Estafeta -
Spring 1998
Spring 1997

Summer 1998

Violence Escalates in East Timor as Self-Determination Looms

Xanana Leaves Prison for House Arrest; Indonesian Government Hints at Independence

On February 10, East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmão was moved from Cipinang Prison in Jakarta (where he has been since 1992) to "house arrest" nearby. Although Xanana is confined to the house and his visitors will be screened by Indonesian authorities, many feel this move indicates a new willingness by the Indonesian government to consult with East Timorese leaders on the future of the occupied territory. ETAN is encouraged by Xanana’s new status, although we continue to press for his unconditional release and full participation in negotiations on East Timor’s future.

After his transfer, Xanana told reporters "I feel that I have been given a very heavy task, and I have to do it. That’s why I am here. I feel that with talks with East Timorese from all sides, I can create an East Timorese nation. ... In my opinion, the priority now in solving the problems of East Timor is to create a peaceful climate."

But the current climate in East Timor is far from peaceful. The Habibie government is stirring up violence among the East Timorese people by infusing the occupied territory with weapons and provocateurs to create bloody conflict. In recent weeks, paramilitary vigilante groups have killed dozens of people and forced thousands to flee their homes. These "civilian militias," armed and trained by the Indonesian military (ABRI), are generating conflict which would make a referendum or a peaceful political transition impossible. The havoc they create provides a pretext for ABRI’s claims that their occupation of East Timor is necessary to prevent a civil war.

In late January, the Indonesian government recognized for the first time that independence may be the choice of most East Timorese people, and indicated they might grant that wish. Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said that if the East Timorese people refuse Indonesia’s offer of autonomy, President Habibie’s cabinet would recommend to the Indonesian parliament (after June elections) to "let them go." Although this shift was celebrated as if independence were imminent, it raises as many questions as hopes. Indonesian officials refuse to say how they will gauge East Timorese opinion on autonomy, except to rule out a referendum, the only truly democratic option. But it is the legal and moral right of the East Timorese to vote directly on independence - it is not up to the Indonesian parliament, which sanctified the illegal annexation in 1976.

In February, Alatas met with Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York to negotiate an autonomy plan. Indonesia insists that autonomy must be permanent - not an interim phase leading to self-determination, as favored by the East Timorese resistance and ETAN. The UN talks were cut short by King Hussein’s funeral and will resume in March. There is still no formal participation by East Timorese representatives in the negotiations, although the UN and Portugal consult them frequently.

Die-in at Santa Cruz demonstration

November 12, 1998 - East Timorese youth shout "viva" at a commemoration of the 1991 Dili massacre.   (Large print)

Most U.S. media coverage has missed the level of cynicism at which this regime operates. The paramilitary groups are described as "pro- integration forces" or a "faction," implying they have an East Timorese constituency. In fact, they are an Indonesia invention, analogous to the U.S.-sponsored Contras in Nicaragua. Although Indonesia denies directing these vigilantes, accounts from many sources document that they are created, controlled and equipped by ABRI.

If the Habibie government is sincere about respecting the rights of the East Timorese people, it can show its good faith by immediately implementing the following.

1) Withdraw its troops and set a timetable for a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, including the options of autonomy and independence. This is the only legitimate way to determine East Timorese public opinion.

2) End human rights abuses, disband local militias and paramilitaries and stop distributing weapons to these groups.

3) Allow a permanent United Nations presence to monitor human rights, guarantee Indonesian military withdrawals, and supervise the disarming of paramilitary forces. Non-governmental organizations, media and independent human rights monitors should be allowed free and full access to the territory.

4) Free all political prisoners, including Xanana Gusmão. Xanana and other East Timorese political prisoners must be freed unconditionally to participate in UN negotiations and take part in the political development of their homeland. Among the hundreds of East Timorese activists still in jail are several whose "crime" was to organize a peaceful vigil in Jakarta a week after the 1991 Dili massacre.

Foreign Minister Alatas acknowledged that pressure from the U.S. Senate and State Department was one reason for his government’s shift. We in the U.S. take heart from that, and continue to wield the significant power our government has by encouraging our State Department and elected representatives to support peace and self-determination. Please read the action alert on page 9 and let them know how you feel.