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Subject: RadAustralia: report on June 6 in Dili
Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 16:21:30 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Student describes weekend forum debating Timor's future Radio Australia external service, Melbourne 8 June 98

[Presenter Peter Mares] In Indonesia today, disgraced former President Suharto turned 77, his first birthday out of power for more than three decades - one of the few things he can celebrate at the moment after being forced to step down last month, a humiliating end to his New Order regime... The ripples of those changes were felt in the East Timorese capital, Dili, over the weekend when thousands of people attended an extraordinary seven-hour-long public meeting. For possibly the first time since Indonesia's invasion in 1975, people from different political viewpoints came together for an open discussion about East Timor's political future. In a government building draped with banners calling for independence and the release of resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, the Jakarta-appointed governor of East Timor, Abilio Soares, tried to convince the meeting to accept greater autonomy for the territory within the Indonesian republic. But he was shouted down, with participants demanding a referendum to determine their future.

Jose [no surname given] is a student who attended the forum, and he described the event to me.

[Jose] There was an explosion of political ideas of East Timor and there is also a kind of explosion of anger. And there was also political education to the people, at least those participating in the forum, in the sense that they start to learn how to accept each other.

[Mares] How many people were there?

[A] I don't know the capacity of the building of the governor's office, but I can say [there were] nearly 3,000 people in the forum.

[Q] Who organized the forum?

[A] The forum was organized by Mr Mario Viegas Carrascalao, the former governor of East Timor, as a coordinator to organize the meeting.

[Q] What was the outcome of the meeting? Did the meeting reach agreement, did they come up with a proposal?

[A] There was a team in order to summarize the outcomes of the meeting and they probably will throw out some general ideas of the meeting, demanding for the creation of good conditions to dialogue, including to release Mr Xanana Gusmao, and then also other Timorese prisoners, and demand also a referendum and then, something like that.

[Q] So this team is taking those demands to Jakarta?

[A] They say that they will study this and then try to move forward and to see what possibilities to do for East Timor, but they say that it was not organized by the government. But I think they will report it to Mr Habibie, probably.

[Q] And I understand that the governor, Mr Abilio Soares, proposed that the meeting should call for greater autonomy rather than independence and that the meeting disagreed with him. Is that correct?

[A] Yes, it's perfectly correct. Mr Abilio indeed proposed an autonomy. And that's why I said it was a drama and a build-up, also, with an explosion of anger, you know, when Mr Abilio started to talk [laughs] and they shouted at him. And [it was] very noisy in the room and then everybody disagreed with the idea.

[Q] And I understand that there were banners calling for independence, calling for the release of Xanana Gusmao?

[A] Yes. At least there were 27 slogans raised up, written in English also, "Release Xanana Gusmao" . And there was one that they brought, "We want independence, not autonomy"

[Q] Are you surprised that a meeting like this can take place in Dili?

[A] I'm really surprised about that, in the sense that the governor was really taking the risk, to hold the meeting.

[Mares] Jose - not his real name - a student in the East Timorese capital, Dili.

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