Subject: AT: Letters
Aug 3, 2006
Todd Crowell's article [East Timor's blighted independence http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/HH02Ae01.html,Aug 2] defies logic. He claims "the turmoil in East Timor and the subsequent deployment of Australian and other peacekeeping troops has prompted much soul-searching, especially among human-rights activists for whom the cause of an independent East Timor was an article of faith", yet doesn't illustrate this by quoting even one of them, Timorese or foreigner. Neither [Australian Defense Minister] Brendan Nelson, [former speechwriter] Don Watson nor [former prime minister] Paul Keating really falls into the category of Timor-independence activists, and they are prone to see Timor merely through the lens of Australian-Indonesian relations: the two large neighbors having the right to squeeze a small country in between if it means they will get on better together. Crowell also seems to think that, for some reason, the Timorese should not have the right to make decisions on their own policy - such as their national languages and official languages. I doubt that Crowell has been in East Timor recently - he doesn't even quote one Timorese in his article. His description of Indonesia as "dynamic and now democratic" will be disputed by many of its citizens. There are many Indonesian human-rights activists who supported self-determination in East Timor, and who now work hard for Indonesia to become a fully fledged democracy where the military no longer has so much power. They would like to see war-crimes trials against former (and even some still-serving) military men go ahead as part of a further democratization of their country, but this will not be possible until there is a government in power which feels it doesn't have to defend the crimes of previous governments. The notion that Timorese might now be wishing they had not become independent is quite preposterous; no Timorese I know of has made that suggestion, regardless of their position on the original referendum.
Dr Helen Hill Fitzroy, Australia (Aug 3, '06)
Todd Crowell's article [East Timor's blighted independence, Aug 2] was one of the most breathtakingly ignorant about East Timor's history that I have read. Nobody, not even East Timor's independence movement,expected or wanted the self-determination process to happen as rapidly as it did in 1999. They wanted a transitional period of five to 10 years, during which time the people might well have opted to remain under Indonesian rule. That was what Australia's Prime Minister John Howard had in mind when he proposed "wide-ranging autonomy with a built-in review mechanism". Instead, East Timor was given the choice of weak autonomy within Indonesia or immediate independence. Mr Crowell's comparison with the Indian takeover of Goa is a case of not comparing like with like. There was no independence movement there, and India's "liberation" was comparatively bloodless. So too is his comparison of Portuguese [language] in East Timor with Dutch in Indonesia. Leaving aside the fact that Portuguese has had far more influence on Tetum than Dutch ever had on Bahasa Indonesia, the East Timorese are a people whose flair for learning other languages puts the rest of the Asia-Pacific region to shame. As for Portugal being "far away", many of them who hold Portuguese passports are coming to work in EU countries with better pay and working conditions than anywhere in Southeast Asia. If the differences between the East Timorese and Indonesians are as superficial as Mr Crowell claims, then perhaps Papua New Guinea should become an Indonesian province, along with Singapore and Malaysia.
UK (Aug 2, '06)