Subject: Ex-Army members to farm in E. Timor

The Jakarta Post September 22, 2001

Ex-Army members to farm in E. Timor

By Yemris Fointuna

KUPANG, East Nusa Tenggara (JP): Of their own free will, hundreds of thousands of East Timorese who have been living in refugee camps in Indonesia's West Timor for the past two years, have now decided to return to their homeland following the successful general election in East Timor, held in a free, orderly and safe manner on Aug. 30, 2001.

Along with these East Timorese refugees, some 600 members of the Indonesian Military (TNI), once notorious for its involvement in cruel, scorched-earth policies in East Timor pursued after the self-determination referendum in 1999, have decided to leave military service and return to their homeland and work together with their former political foes in building a peaceful, democratic and harmonious East Timor.

Udayana Military chief Maj. Gen. Willem T. da Costa said that some 200 of these former soldiers of East Timorese origin have returned to East Timor and that the remaining 400 will do likewise after the administrative process of their early retirement and honorable discharge from the military service is completed.

When interviewed by The Jakarta Post at Naibonat refugee camp in Kupang regency on Sept. 19, some of the military personnel of East Timorese origin who have filed an application for early retirement said that they had decided to return to their homeland of their own free will. They also denied allegations emerging from some quarters in Kupang that they had betrayed their motherland by giving up their TNI positions to return to East Timor, now known as Timor Lorosa'e, which the East Timorese explain as meaning 'Timor, the land where the sun rises'.

One soldier, Alfonso da Silva, 43, a chief private hailing from Viqueque, said that he had just filed an application for early retirement from his unit, Infantry Battalion 744, and that he and his family would have returned to East Timor had it not been for rumors that former TNI members would be killed upon their return.

"We were ready to return home quite a while ago, but rumors were spread in our camp that if I went back to East Timor, I would be killed by the pro-independence group. Later Bishop Basilio Nascimento of Baucau came to Kupang and told us there were no more killings and no more violence in East Timor. He also said that all refugees whose hands were not bloody could return home. It's true that I'm a member of the TNI, but I have never killed anybody," he said, adding that his entire family had agreed to return to their homeland.

He expressed hope that the East Timorese people, who were once embroiled in civil war, would stand ready for a peaceful reconciliation. If this happens, he said, many more refugees will be willing to return to East Timor.

"My family and I must return to our homeland. We have a plot of land there and I will be a good farmer," Alfonso said.

Another member of Infantry Battalion 744, Francisco Ferandes from Dili, agreed with Alfonso, and maintained that he had no special reason to return to East Timor except that he and his family longed to enjoy their freedom in peace and safety with their siblings and relatives.

"Whatever happens, we must return home. East Timor is where we were all born. Perhaps, some people will nurture some envy or hatred against us but we are all ready for this as we believe it will soon pass. I'll work as a farmer or just do anything to support my family," he said.

Another TNI member, Louis Sarmentho Amaral, 37, said that his decision to return to East Timor was prompted by a desire to reunite with his family, the loved ones he had left behind when there was a massive exodus out of East Timor two years ago.

"I left East Timor then because I was a member of the TNI. My wife and two children sought safety in a mountain area. Security has been restored in East Timor now and the East Timorese live in peace, so I have decided to return home and be reunited with my family. East Timor is everything for us," he said.

Some East Timorese and a number of prominent East Timorese figures, such as Dili bishop Mgr. Carlos Filipe Ximenes Bello, East Timorese independence figure Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Minister Ramos Horta, have said on different occasions that the East Timorese had never harbored any envy or revenge against the refugees, including former pro-integration militiamen and former members of the TNI.

Instead, they have continually called on their fellow countrymen still in refugee camps to return home and work hand in hand to build the Timor Lorosa'e state and eliminate poverty.

"Allow me to call on the East Timorese still in West Timor to pack up and return home along with their children," Bishop Belo said at the Dili Lecidere diocese palace, East Dili, recently.

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