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Subject: SMH: interview with Ma'Huno
Date: Wed, 17 Jun 1998 18:35:43 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>


Worn by struggle, guerillas wait for fruits of new era Date: 18/06/98

By LOUISE WILLIAMS, Herald Correspondent in Dili

The former Fretilin guerilla army commander, his thick, muscular body scarred with bullet wounds, says the movement now numbers only 200 to 300 young men, who scurry like crabs from village to village.

In a rare interview on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Dili, the man known by the nom de guerre of Ma'Huno, says the East Timorese resistance army still maintains a military structure, but since the resignation of President Soeharto last month there have been no offensive actions. The guerillas have shifted to defence tactics only, he says.

He also believes the people of East Timor are so traumatised by decades of conflict that they now need time to prepare for any kind of separation from Indonesia.

"We need preparation, so many people have died, so many have been jailed, so many are sick, so many have gone mad [from the war]," he says of his people and the recent suggestion that the President, Dr B.J. Habibie, may grant them some kind of "special status", after a 23-year struggle against Indonesian rule.

It is not important, now, he says, to argue about whether or not the remnants of his guerilla army will lay down their arms.

"They are hungry people, they live in lousy houses [shacks], they are outside the mainstream [of society]; it is difficult for them even to find food in the forests," he says.

In the front line now are many groups fighting a political battle, Ma'Huno says. There are the university students who have been staging protests in Dili demanding a referendum on integration into Indonesia, which annexed the former Portuguese colony in 1976.

Equally important, too, is the Catholic Church led by Nobel Peace laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo, as well as domestic and international calls for the release of the jailed former Fretilin leader, Xanana Gusmao, who must be part of any talks about the future, he says.

The "winds of change" are already blowing too strongly for the pressure for a new initiative to be reversed, Ma'Huno argues.

Just the fact that Ma'Huno was willing to grant an interview at his modest home is significant, in a province which was closed to foreign journalists as recently as last month.

Ma'Huno took over the military command of Fretilin in 1992, after the capture of Xanana, but was himself snatched by the Indonesian special forces in 1993. For 18 months he "disappeared", dragged from one location to another by Indonesian troops, without ever being charged or formally jailed. At 49, he remains stocky and fit, a legacy of years in the mountains and forests, fleeing Indonesian operations. He is one of only a handful of guerilla commanders alive.

Fretilin sources outside East Timor say Ma'Huno is closely watched by the armed forces, but has remained politically active, and is considered one of the movement's most senior leaders.

He will say little about his disappearance, but others have spoken of routine torture with electric shocks and the sexual abuse of female prisoners at the hands of the Indonesian forces.

The fledgling discussions about a new status for East Timor have not yet produced a clear proposal but Bishop Belo has called for the immediate granting of special status as a "transition solution", as well as the release of Xanana Gusmao.

"What is autonomy?" says Ma'Huno. "If it is so-called freedom inside Indonesia, this is not what we want. But, if it brings with it the United Nations flag, that is another matter."

The introduction of UN peace-keepers and human rights officials are one of the key demands being pushed by students, who are holding regular protests in Dili and have, for the first time, been permitted to present their petition to the provincial Parliament.

"The students are the generation of our future, they have an historical duty to fight for dialogue and a referendum. We see clearly they play an important role and the guerillas support their claims," Ma'Huno says.

But, Xanana too, had to play a key role. "He is a political leader, he has the right to be in the frontline for talks, he is very important to the peace process," he says of the Indonesian Government claim that Xanana is a criminal convicted of violent crimes, and therefore not eligible for release under a post-Soeharto amnesty for political prisoners.

Ma'Huno dismisses those who argue that the prospect of freedom will bitterly divide the 800,000 East Timorese who have survived a conflict which locals say has cost 200,000 lives.

"We have democratic practices within our villages, we have experience in dealing with political differences," he says of the factionalism which preceded the 1975 Indonesian invasion.

"We are still afraid - 23 years is a long time. But the East Timorese people understand dialogue and democracy. Before it was like we had all this intense heat inside our heads, like a bomb, which has now exploded into debates and discussions."

And, perhaps more heartening than anything else, he says, was a party held in Dili last weekend, where people who were previously too scared to go out after sunset danced again.

"Some people didn't go home until 6am and there was no problem, no-one stopped them. Before Soeharto stepped down they would have been too scared even to have a party."


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