Connect with ETAN
Like ETAN on Facebook Follow ETAN on Twitter ETAN on Google+ ETAN email listservs ETAN blog ETAN on LinkedIn ETAN on Pinterest ETAN on Instagram Donate to ETAN!

Subject: APCET Statement for the Asean Ministerial Meeting
Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 18:18:30 +0800
From: Initiatives for International Dialogue <>

A statement, situationer and some proposals

By Gus Miclat Coordinator Asia-Pacific Coalition on East Timor (APCET)

East Timor is at a crossroads. It faces this fork with guarded feelings of hope. Of hope because the East Timorese people are on the brink of the last leg of their inevitable march towards complete self-determination

The bonding together of otherwise disparate East Timorese forces under the new umbrella of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) epitomizes this desire. The CNRT’s birthing – which will convene an East Timorese people’s congress in December, is a milestone that clearly manifests the innate readiness of the East Timorese people to unite amidst their sovereign and inherent right to govern themselves.

This is a clear reflection of what the populace of East Timor desire.

The resolute and consistent efforts of the Office of the UN Secretary - General in seeking for a peaceful and just solution to the East Timor dispute has helped animate this process. The current visit of UN Special Rapporteur Jamsheed Marker to Jakarta and his meeting with the jailed East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao is clearly a positive step in an otherwise static scenario. This is an opportunity for ASEAN to seize the day and further this process.

It has been through these efforts that East Timorese principals have met, discussed, negotiated and finally agreed to come together and subsume their respective political intents for the betterment of their long-suffering people and nation. Let it be noted too that there have been initiatives of the East Timorese diaspora together with their counterparts inside the territory and in the international community to already evolve mechanisms for the socio-economic, political, judicial and cultural development of the territory in a post-colonized era. The training of East Timor’s people especially its youth to chart their nation have already begun in earnest.

This development likewise comes at an auspicious time.

It comes while the dawn of democracy in Indonesia is becoming more possible as the stream of Indonesian masses continue to pound the remaining ramparts of Suharto-ism. Yes, Suharto may have retreated backstage, but has this fundamentally changed anything? Is Indonesia free? Is East Timor free?

Even then, the booting out of Suharto by an enraged Indonesian populace crystallizes the illegitimate rule of Indonesia’s erstwhile strongman not only over his own people but more so over another sovereign nation which he presided to brutally occupy in 1975 and these past two decades or so. Suharto's ignominious exit not only further affirms the illegitimate occupation of East Timor but also confirms the non-recognition of the United Nations of this illegal annexation. Even then, Suharto’s downfall is still a battle won by the forces of democracy and reform. We can only beseech that this proceeds to hasten the dismantling of the unjust structures that has propped up the rejected Suharto regime.

Suharto’s replacement, his virtual adopted son and favorite crony B.J. Habibie, has already announced that his government’s fundamental policy on East Timor will not change. At most, Habibie says he is open to granting a special status of the territory but within the framework of integration with Indonesia. This he asserts is his bottom line. The purpose of Habibie’s overture is to seduce a segment of the East Timorese populace in a classic divide-and-rule prank. Habibie’s formula is old hat, a recycled Suharto recipe which has repeatedly been rejected by the East Timorese. Even then, the timing and flair attending this “offer” bespeaks of a new sensitivity, nay, realization in Jakarta that the East Timorese question in not untenable.

The undisputed East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao is still languishing in prison together with other East Timorese political prisoners. Clearly, like Suharto, Habibie seems bent not to heed the clamor from all over -- including that of UN Secretary- General Kofi Anan -- to release East Timorese political prisoners unconditionally.

Just a couple of weeks ago, about two thousand young East Timorese camped outside Indonesia’s parliament demanding for a referendum in East Timor. Instead of engaging the students in dialogue, Habibie responded by sending in the troops. The world was witness to how media captured the brutal dispersal. We have reports of a number of seriously injured and missing. The scene of youths demanding for the right to self-determination was reprised inside Dili itself during a meeting called by local East Timorese leaders. Then there have been reports of fresh abductions and killings of youths in the territory.

This but re-affirms the certitude that East Timor’s freedom will not be gained at the expense of Indonesia’s. It will not piggyback on another people’s struggle. It will come, nay, be won by the East Timorese people themselves. As Indonesia’s total reformasi and democracy will also be realized by the Indonesian masses themselves.

It will not come as token expressions of freedom parceled out by the current crop of sputtering powers holed up at Jakarta’s Merdeka palace. It will not emanate from pressure by Western governments or multilateral agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Freedom will come even if the United States continue to drill Indonesian military officers on the art of torture and counter-insurgency under its Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) and International Military Education Training (IMET) programs.

Self-determination will come even if countries like the United Kingdom continues to sell weapons of mass destruction to Indonesia while betraying the East Timorese position in a complete turnaround in the last UN human rights commission hearings in Geneva despite earlier promises of support. It will come even if the entire European Union allows itself to be carted by the Blair government in their miscalculated and salivating desire for a foothold in Indonesia’s market by appeasing a dictator who would be booted out a couple of weeks afterwards by his own people.

Freedom will come even if Australia continues its de jeure recognition of Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor while it continues to siphon the Timor Gap of oil.

It will come even if the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) cling to a warped policy of avowed non-interference in internal human rights issues within its member nations and thus perpetuate a conspiracy of silence on the genocide in East Timor and in the other atrocities in the region. This avowed silence was again deafening when not one ASEAN government condemned the brutal deaths and killings of Indonesian students during the recent riots that led to Suharto’s departure. Worse, they did not even say anything.

Even then, governments including those of ASEAN are slowly buckling under the collective pressure of their civil societies on the question of human rights and that of East Timor in particular.

That is the context of the 31st ASEAN ministerial meeting going on in Manila today.

In Thailand, our third Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor (APCET III) was successfully held last March despite what we deem was the “low-intensity harassment” by the Thai authorities. Yet, the fact that the conference pushed through is a testament to the possibilities of change even within the ASEAN “big boys” club.

Last May’s Philippine elections saw the entry of a number of progressive voices in the incoming administration and we have been assured privately of possible shifts in foreign policy that may finally accommodate a more pro-active stance in dealing with the East Timor issue.

Now there is a proposal by the Thai foreign minister and seconded by his Philippine counterpart to segue their existing constructive engagement policy into one of “constructive intervention”. This should not be seen only as an opening or a crack within the ranks but more so as the result of our collective will to force our governments to be more attuned to the genuine aspirations and rights of our masses. It is a testament to our peoples’ sustained action, pressure and lobbying that has engendered the conditions for such opening. We should push the parameters further.

This new attitude is also being reprised elsewhere in the region and beyond, from Australia to Japan and even within Indonesia itself. Some Indonesian civil servants have already made tentative forays to communicate with us in the guise of dialogue to convince us with their version of East Timor’s history. Nevertheless, we view and welcome this as an opening.

ASEAN can hasten the certain coming of freedom in East Timor.

This is a most opportune time to break the cycle of compromises and accommodation, of what is perceived as realpolitik, and proceed to adopt a no-nonsense attitude in resolving the issue.

Thus we call on ASEAN, its individual governments and appropriate agencies and officers to:

1. Offer its services as a possible co-mediator in the conflict; 2. Establish a working committee of the ASEAN and related agencies to prepare the foundation for the self-determination of the people of East Timor; 3. Support the establishment of a permanent office of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) in Dili; 4. Support the extension of the terms of reference of the All Inclusive East Timorese Dialogue (AIETD) to allow East Timorese participants to discuss the political status of East Timor; 5. Call on the UN to extend their supervised Portugal-Indonesia governmental talks on East Timor to include recognized leaders of the East Timorese people; 6. Send a fact-finding team relating to various disciplines to East Timor to ascertain details of the suffering and human rights abuses of the people of East Timor; and 7. Direct immediate action to ascertain the extent of drought and famine in East Timor to include and provide necessary humanitarian assistance.

Suharto-ism’s days are numbered. And it may as well be as the winds of freedom are sweeping away the last tyrants from this earth.

Peoples are over and over again asserting their own destinies. And they are doing these together. Communities, movements, civil societies from across boundaries are linking up, exchanging, networking, inspiring, animating and accompanying each other in their respective and common struggles for justice, progress, and social -- if not-- national liberation. If globalization is here to stay, global people-to-people solidarity has likewise arrived. It is the fresh spirit that will pulverize the crumbling parapets of despots and tyrants, of avarice and greed, of indifference and irrelevance.

This, in the wake of growing cynicism among peoples especially among the most disenfranchised, about the perceived toothless role of the ASEAN in the resolution of conflicts such as that in East Timor. Whatever its shortcomings, whatever the perceptions, the principles and tenets ASEAN’s founders agreed upon are very much pertinent. It is in their application that the association is found wanting. That is why a free East Timor will definitely join the group.

Indeed, the gales of change are mercilessly hurtling down miens of subjugation and burying veneers of reaction.

ASEAN is in an enviable position to redeem itself and preside over this historical honor. We pray that it does not scuttle this chance. Even then, the peoples of ASEAN themselves -- with or without their governments, will accompany the East Timorese to their cherished quest for liberation.

Back to July Menu
Back to Main Postings Menu