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9 December 1999 Edition

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`East Timor took its independence from Indonesia'

The public face of the East Timor-Ireland Campaign, Tom Hyland, is back from East Timor once again, but this time the country he visited is independent. There were no Indonesian soldiers on the streets of Dili, although the reminders of their presence were still there in the form of destruction. ``Two things struck me,'' explains Hyland when telling about his last visit to the territory. ``The first thing is the absolutely joy on the faces of the Timorese people who have rid themselves of their Indonesian colonisers, and second was the total destruction of Dili, the capital. Total destruction of the complete infrastructure.''

On 30 August 1999, the population of East Timor rejected an Indonesia proposal for autonomy and voted for independence. The Indonesian-sponsored militias and the Indonesian military then began their campaign of destruction which, in Hyland's opinion, was not spontaneous but carefully planned, because as he says, ``to take 300,000 people from East Timor into West Timor in the matter of a couple of days was not a spontaneous action. It was planned months ahead, the camps were planned months ahead.''

For all those involved in the solidarity and resistance campaign for East Timor, it is still difficult to believe that the international community decided to stand by, allowing the Indonesians and the militia to kill, destroy and rape. For Hyland, there are no excuses, because everyone knew what was going to happen if the result in the referendum in East Timor was independence. ``The UN knew they were doing this and they knew what was happening. They were there and they did absolutely nothing... But everyone knew about it, so for Koffi Annan or everybody else, even the man in charge in East Timor, Ian Martin, to say they were surprised by the level of militia violence after the vote is totally unacceptable.''

The delay caused by the indecision and what is most important, the UN Security Council's unwillingness to ``upset'' the Indonesian government, allowed the militia and military to take around 140,000 hostages to so-called ``refugee camps'' in West Timor, camps controlled by the militia. Another 14,000 people were forcibly displaced to other parts of Indonesdia and 80,000 have disappeared. ``Indonesia is the fourth or fifth largest country in the world and no one wants to upset it, because in terms of trade, investment, and cheap labour, it has all the ingredients a government is looking for when looking for where to do business'', points out Tom Hyland.

``There are still 80,000 East Timorese people missing. The UN forces have been carrying out a lot of missions and still seem not to be able to locate these people. East Timor is a small territory and if they are in sort of large groupings one should expect that they would have been located by now. It is deeply disturbing that they have not been located. A lot of them could have been taken to West Papua, Borneo and other places, but I would be very concerned and I would be of the opinion that a lot of the East Timorese were taken out to sea in ships and were killed and thrown overboard. And indeed, bodies are being washed up now''.

But as Tom Hyland explains, the international community does not seem to have any interest in clarifying what has happened in East Timor. He feels it is very possible that those responsible for the planning of the genocide, the Indonesian commanders, ``will be let off the hook.

``The chief in command of the Indonesian army, General Wiranto, who orchestrated the whole operation, is still very powerful. One of the main instigators, General Kiki, who was in charge of the overall security for East Timor and who was heavily involved in the violence, has been promoted to be in charge of the whole of Eastern Indonesia''.

At the moment, East Timor is facing some new problems. There is disappointment with the work of the UN on the ground. ``The East Timorese are saying that they are not being consulted by the UN or the international institutions in the rebuilding of East Timor or the mechanism to hold elections and for the transition of power from the UN to the East Timorese people,'' says Hyland. ``It may be just tidying problems, or maybe something more sinister... And the East Timorese have not survived 24 years of genocidal occupation by Indonesia to be talked down to by these people.

From now on, says Hyland, the East Timor-Ireland Campaign will work in the establishment of a more concrete exchange of solidarity between the two countries, assisting the student movement in East Timor, setting up a twinning system between Irish and Timorese schools, between Irish Hospitals and Timorese Medical Centres. He believes that the example of East Timor provides ``great hope for places like Tibet, Burma, and other such countries all over the world''.

Dino returns to a land where everything is destroyed

On Thursday, 8 December, Dino Gandara and Jose Lopes left Ireland for their homeland, East Timor, after six years of exile.

Dino has been in Ireland since 1996. He came at the invitation of the Irish Solidarity Campaign to make people aware, through his own personal testimony, of the situation in East Timor. ``There is hardly a place in Ireland that I have not visited,'' he says. ``We spoke at universities, colleges, secondary and primary schools, to workers' groups, women's' groups, political parties and representatives.''

In fact, Dino has been all over Europe: Spain, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, England. ``The people in Ireland, especially, had an awareness, understanding of the situation in Timor. I think it is because of their own political history.'' Ireland was the first government in the EU to support the Portuguese on the East Timor question.''

Dino hadn't wanted to leave East Timor. He went to study science in Jakarta. He was involved in student organising and in political work. He was arrested, held for two weeks of continuous interrogation, during which he was tortured. He was released but could not continue studying in university. ``All the teachers were military personnel''. He came to Portugal, where he stayed for two years and then to Ireland, where he has been pursuing his science degree at Trinity College.

``I am going back to a country which is 95% destroyed after 25 years of war,'' he says. ``No schools, hospitals, infrastructure, industry. Really, nothing is left. We have to start from zero. The first phase of the liberation struggle is finished. Now we have to go to the second stage, to rebuild the country politically, economically and culturally. There is help being given, but often those looking to help do not want to consult with the people, or involve them in the rebuilding of our country, and that cannot be allowed.

``I am excited to go home and to play a part in the second phase of our liberation struggle, and I am grateful to the Irish people for the support they have given us in our struggle. I have many friends here. So does my country.''

An Phoblacht
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