Subject: SMH/E.Timor: A long struggle is over, long live peaceful democracy

Sydney Morning Herald June 9, 2001

A long struggle is over, long live peaceful democracy

Photo: Mr Gusmao ... praises CNRT's courage as he prepares to become an ordinary citizen.

From rebels to nation-builders ... East Timor's leaders are thinking anew. Mark Dodd reports from Dili.

As its final act, the organisation that united ordinary East Timorese in the struggle to end Indonesian rule called for all political parties contesting the August elections to sign a national unity pact.

Its leader, the independence fighter and former guerilla commander Xanana Gusmao, praised as courageous the decision of the National Council of Timorese Resistance to dissolve, saying he also would step down from public office to become an ordinary citizen.

Alongside the Falintil pro-independence guerillas, the CNRT was the other major player in the East Timor conflict.

Formed in 1998, it forged a common front from anti-Indonesian groups and rival political parties in the battle for independence, a goal that is now within months of attainment.

Its name and flag were chosen by the United Nations to be used on the ballot paper to represent the independence vote in the 1999 referendum to end 24 years of Indonesian rule. Hundreds of its supporters were hunted down in the bloodbath that followed.

In his opening speech at the start of a three-day special conference to close the council on Tuesday, Mr Gusmao hailed the heroism of its members drawn from all walks of Timorese life.

"As a human being it is hard sometimes to accept reality and to close everything down. It is hard as an organisation which was so highly motivated to lead the people of East Timor towards independence and that now faces a new context," he said.

That new context is national elections for an 88-seat Constituent Assembly scheduled for August 30. The dissolution of the council will allow the membership to join or form political parties, many of which will compete against each other.

Jorge Trindade Neves de Camoes, one of the younger generation of council members and an official on its judicial commission, said it was an appropriate time to dissolve the umbrella group because its role was diminishing. "No, I don't think there will be problems," he said. "Most of the CNRT members are committed to support all political parties.

"We have urged the political leaders to sign a national unity pact to show their commitment to ensure stability and security and to start this democratic process we have aspired for so long."

The council evolved from another anti-Indonesian front called the National Council of Maubere Resistance. Maubere is the name given to the original inhabitants of East Timor.

The CNRM was set up by Mr Gusmao and his colleagues in 1982 in the wake of the near obliteration of organised resistance to Indonesia in the late 1970s.

As a broad political forum, its roots tapped deep into traditional East Timorese society.

Its legacy endures, with CNRT leaders often being sought as arbitrators, social welfare providers and primary sources of information for remote mountain communities.

As a test of its credibility in the absence of a properly functioning legal system, local council leaders are still called upon to resolve disputes at a district and village level. Its word is usually final.

Former CNRT head of security and veteran resistance fighter David Ximenes, said the passing of the CNRT was an emotional moment for him.

"But this is an event that happens to most organisations. The reality is we have to allow the parties here to now involve themselves in the political process of the transition.

"We don't want the CNRT to go on as an umbrella for every party. We want to show everyone that we want to set up democracy in our country."

So popular and familiar is the CNRT to most East Timorese that many people believed the organisation could transform into a single political party.

In its closing declaration, it demanded the state assume responsibility for CNRT war veterans, widows, orphans and the disabled, and called on the Constituent Assembly to form a commission to report on the number of East Timorese who perished in the fight for independence and to erect a national monument in their memory.


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