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: CM: The independence stand-off, report from Dili
Date: Sat, 17 Oct 1998 13:32:48 +1000
From: "tony o'connor" <ajoc@bigpond.com>

The independence stand-off

By Andrew Perrin, Dili

Courier Mail, Brisbane, October 17 1998-10-17

At 4.32pm last Monday David Ximenes and three fellow leaders from the Council of national Timorese Resistance (CNRT) stood at the crossroads

In front of them stood a familiar symbol of 23 year old Indonesian occupation of East Timor – 600 riot police, bristling in formation, weapons pointed directly at them

Behind them, thousands of their fellow East Timorese, on their way back from a day of peaceful demonstrations in Dili, tired and now angry at not being allowed through the roadblock that led to their homes. Some of them carried crude weapons, machetes and knives; some of them carried just frustration and bitter memories from a lifetime of such incidents. All of them were baying for a fight

For Mr Ximenes, a former political prisoner and now a senior member of the CNRT national political committee, this was a moment that he prayed would never happen. Ximenes knew, like many in East Timor know, that the tense peace of the last four months is only a mirage, ready to evaporate in a moment such as this. A week before this incident, Mr Ximenes had a similar resigned look on his face when the local newspaper reported the province’s governor, Jose Abilio Soares calling for the “voluntary” resignation of all civil servants in support of a referendum, or face dismissal.

It was a provocative move that ruffled feathers.

By Wednesday evening, 63 CNRT members, including representatives of the Falintil guerrillas, gathered to discuss what action should be taken.

At that point, Indonesia had promised to review its record in East Timor, encourage a more democratic society, review a heavy military presence in East Timor and gradually withdraw troops.

But by the time CNRT leaders met again on Thursday evening, the situation deteriorated further – they had received word from Falintil resistance fighters who were under attack from Indonesian troops.

The letter confirmed what many had known for weeks: an offensive was taking place, combat troops were still in Timor and the Indonesian military had kept increasing troop numbers in the province, all of which had been consistently denied by the military and Government.

CNRT’s course of action was decided. After gaining approval from jailed resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, it called an end to the self-imposed ban on demonstrations and the Falintil cease-fire. Three days of protest were called.

But the CNRT leaders knew the action they had decided upon was fraught with danger. They could sense the anger and impatience in the community and knew that even a peaceful demonstration could trigger a bloody confrontation.

When his mobile phone rang on Monday evening, Mr Ximenes’ worst fears had been realized.

He arrived when the demonstrators were within 15m of the blockade, when guns were drawn on one side and knives on the other.

Mr Ximenes and three other CNRT representatives were able to pull the crowd back from the brink. They then advanced towards the police blockade. Seeing the unarmed leaders walking towards them, the police lowered their weapons and cleared a path for the delegation.

The crowd cheered and the tension quickly dissipated.

It turned out that the police blockade had been set up to monitor another protest outside Becora jail. The police thought the approaching protestors might incite the prison demonstrators to storm the jail and decided to keep them apart.

But whether the police acted responsibly was not the issue – they were perceived by the demonstrators to be continuing the repressive work of their predecessors.

“I am sick of this,” shouted a 17 year-old boy through tears, while clutching a machete. “When is it going to end ? we just want to go home. We want to be free in our country.”

As long as a high military and police presence remains in Timor, some fear the final resolution, whatever it is, will be written in blood.

[Andrew Perrin is a Walkley award winning journalist currently in East Timor]

Back to October Menu
Back to Main Postings Menu & Site Search Engine