Subject: SMH: Jill Jolliffe on Princen

Sydney Morning Herald

March 14, 2002 Thursday

Dutch 'traitor' Became A Pro-Timorese Indonesian

Jill Jolliffe,Jill Jolliffe Is The Herald's Correspondent

BODY: Johannes Cornelis Princen, Human rights activist, 1925 - 2002

Johannes Princen, who has died in Jakarta, was an extraordinary figure who played a fearless role in upholding human rights in Indonesia. Born in The Hague, he was raised by free-thinking parents and influenced by anarchist ideals in his youth.

During World War II "Poncke" Princen was captured by the Germans and spent time in a Nazi concentration camp. He later enlisted in the Dutch army and was sent to Indonesia to fight in the so-called "police action" to restore Dutch colonial rule against Indonesian nationalists.

He quickly sympathised with the Indonesian nationalists, and in 1948 deserted to fight with them against his compatriots. Indonesia's founding president, Sukarno, decorated him with the Guerilla Star, Indonesia's highest honour, as a result. He took out Indonesian citizenship, converted to Islam and was elected to the Indonesian Parliament in 1956.

His stand caused great bitterness in Holland, where he was branded as a traitor and banned from returning to his homeland until the closing years of his life.

In death, however, Dutch cabinet minister Jan Pronk paid a cautious tribute to him. "Poncke Princen was no hero, martyr or saint, but first and foremost a human rights activist," he told Radio Netherlands.

Unlike many opponents of the Soeharto regime who had never criticised the populist Sukarno, his record on political freedom was thoroughgoing. He was imprisoned by both Sukarno and Soeharto for his defence of human rights, serving a total of 81/2 years in prison.

In the early 1970s he was a founder of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. Despite his critical role, his prestige in Indonesia always remained high because of his role in the independence struggle, and in the early 1990s he was a founding member of the Group of Fifty, a movement for democratic reform which included conservative military figures who had fallen out with Soeharto.

But he stood out from others because of his early stand in support of East Timorese self-determination, a cause which was taboo even in the most progressive circles, where nationalism reigned supreme.

In later years he suffered mutilating surgery for skin cancer and then a series of near-fatal strokes. Yet his luminous spirit shone through his crippled wreck of a body, and he continued his work as before.

After the imprisonment of East Timor's resistance hero Xanana Gusmao in 1992, the two formed a friendship, although Princen was only able to visit him personally after the reformasi movement gained force in 1998.

After the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili he gave sanctuary in his house to five young East Timorese who had fled their homeland. A stand-off with the Indonesian military followed, but he successfully negotiated with the Jakarta military commander, General Hendro-priono then perceived as a liberal harbinger of reformasi for their safe passage to Jakarta airport, from whence they travelled to freedom in Portugal.

Gusmao, who is likely to be East Timor's first president after elections next month, said in Dili that he was deeply saddened by Princen's death. He said his first contact with him had been when he was still leading the guerilla struggle in East Timor's mountains.

They corresponded from that time, a link which continued during the Timorese leader's imprisonment in Jakarta.

"After the reformasi movement began, he visited me at the first opportunity," Gusmao recalled. "It was a very emotional meeting, and I thanked him for the support he had given to our people. He then came frequently and we usually discussed the evolution of the democratic struggle in Indonesia. He encouraged us in our struggle. East Timor owes a lot to him."

The Timorese leader's Australian wife, Kirsty Sword, also knew Princen from her work with the Timorese underground after 1990. "I can still remember him telling me the story of how he came to be in Indonesia. He told how the Indonesians proudly refused to hand him over to the Dutch during the early years of Sukarno," she recalled.

"He said 'Soeharto would be glad to hand me over today'. He was almost alone in taking up the cause of East Timor in Indonesia. Despite being a vocal critic, he had enormous respect in Indonesia, and was considered almost untouchable."


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