Subject: Former foes seeking truth and friendship

Jakarta Post

October 16, 2007

Former foes seeking truth and friendship

Ati Nurbaiti, Dili

Mario Goncalves hides a missing earlobe below his white hair because East Timor is independent.

Goncalves' brother -- whose son was behind the injury -- told Goncalves he would pay for corrective surgery if the 1999 referendum showed that most Timorese wanted to stick with Indonesia.

Ahead of the vote, the old man was attacked because he rejected the political views of his nephew, a member of a militia group struggling to keep Timor a part of Indonesia.

It "was thrown to the ground and I was told to eat it", Goncalves said of the bloody act.

The Timorese voted against continued integration and now, when he lifts his long white mane, Goncalves' disfigured right ear becomes visible.

The former village chief, who says he supplied logistics to Timorese guerrillas, related the bitter family dispute and showed his scar during the latest public hearing of the Indonesia-Timor Leste Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF).

His account was one of several heard amid the chirping of birds and whirring fans at the fifth series of CTF hearings in the shady backyard of Dili's former prison from Sept. 25 to 27. Previous hearings have taken place in Denpasar and Jakarta.

If he met his nephew today he "would embrace him and forgive him 100 times", he said through an interpreter.

"I'm old. I'm not capable of anger anymore. I just want the best for Timor Leste."

The best for the country, its leaders have said, is to try to move on -- but not before Indonesia acknowledges what happened before and after the 1999 referendum that lead to Timor's independence.

The CTF has a January deadline for issuing a final report and CTF members are sounding rather desperate.

"What do you expect of the CTF, Mr. Goncalves?" a member asked.

The deadpan reply: "Man lives and dies, that is nature. But it is also very rare that a man has his ear cut off and is told to eat it."

His message: yes, he would forgive, but no, he could not forget.

Johny Marques, a young leader of the Alfa militia group who was convicted on various counts of murder and is serving 33 years in jail, said certainly he was paying for his deeds -- but he wanted to know who else was.

"For the sake of friendship between the two nations, why should it be only Alfa members like myself who are singled out for accountability?" he told the public hearing.

Marques pointed to Indonesia, whose special forces troops, he said, had been involved in forming his militia group.

Amid messages that crimes cannot be forgotten, and that accountability cannot be limited to mere foot soldiers, commissioners have said they are at a "crucial stage" ahead of the deadline.

Even while they are about to put pen to paper, they still differ on exactly how to approach their task, which is to seek the truth and strengthen friendship between Indonesia and Timor Leste.

Their mandate is "not to find who is guilty", but instead to answer questions about how it happened and how similar crimes can be prevented in the future.

The tricky part: since both parties want to be friends, the villain must not be made to look too bad.

As Indonesians, we have grown to believe that our troops parachuted into Dili in 1975 to defend against communism and help build up a poor neglected former Portuguese colony; and that we received nothing in return but international scorn.

Critics say the CTF is an attempt to whitewash acts of the Indonesian security forces. The UN boycotted the process, refusing to allow UN personnel who had served in Timor to testify.

But commissioners draw strength from those who disagree.

War crimes researcher David Cohen, a CTF advisor, points to the fact that South Africa's truth commission also resulted in amnesty for many perpetrators. "But I don't see the international community condemning South Africa's commission," he said.

The CTF, he said, is an "interesting experiment", given the failure of the legal process in both Indonesia and Timor Leste. Referring to the trials for crimes against humanity, he put partial blame on "the miserable failure of the UN" which, he said, did not support the process.

Commissioners express commitment, but also consternation. They're even unsure of what to say in the section of the report that describes the background to the violence.

To strengthen friendship, commissioner and former UN diplomat Syamsiah Achmad says, one must be mindful of what language one uses.

Members say they are still unsure whether they can use "occupation", or must chose a "more neutral" term.

Just imagine -- as Indonesians, would we allow the history of colonialism to be described in terms of Dutch "administrators" or a Japanese "presence" in Indonesia?

Our elders still vividly recall the sirens, scurrying to the bunkers and parents who were taken away and never came back.

Perhaps it is simply the distance between the experience and the recollection has allows friendship to exist between Indonesia and its former rulers (although issues remain, of course).

The CTF however, does not have time on its side.

Some of the Timorese commissioners still have fresh memories (only 10 years old) of fleeing from destruction and shooting, with the dead lying around. Of course, the Indonesian members of the commission have no such memories.

The CTF members are struggling to overcome their differences -- the difference between representing a people who witnessed and experienced decades of suffering, and representing a nation whose citizens are miffed to learn that anyone thinks they ever oppressed, let alone occupied, anybody.

One commissioner, Indonesian Bishop Petrus Turang, sums up what must be done -- at the very least. "We'll complete this report by January" and the two governments can decide, once the storm has passed, on what follow up actions to take and when.

Among the report's likely recommendations, commissioners say, are reparations for victims (including hundreds of refugees stuck on the border), more houses, family reunions and efforts to rewrite official histories.

One gets the sense that the CTF is a mission impossible.

Then again, says one of the people behind the idea -- former Timor Leste prime minister Mari Alkatiri -- "Who would have thought Indonesia could reach a settlement with Aceh?"

Despite the criticism, the commissioners have no choice but to hunker down and work to reach the deadline.

The author is a staff writer with The Jakarta Post


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