Subject: Xanana: Let the Past Be the Past

The Jakarta Post Friday, May 2, 3008

Let the Past Be the Past: Xanana

Riyadi Suparno and Matheos V. Mesakh, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thorny issues from the past have often derailed relations between Timor Leste and its former master Indonesia. Timor Leste Prime Minister Kayrala Xanana Gusmao, on an official visit to Indonesia, discussed with The Jakarta Post's Riyadi Suparno and Matheos V. Messakh bilateral issues and the future of Timor Leste. What follows are excerpts:

During your visit, a number of economic agreements have been signed. How do you see the prospects for economic relations with Indonesia?

We see the relationship as more than the small amount of trade volume. We have held a meeting with Kadin (the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry) where we told them to look at us as a place of investment. As a business, maybe we cannot offer Indonesia high capability to buy your products. But look at us as a place of investment.

If you invest money, we could together sell your products to some other countries. We are a member of ACP-EC (African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Community) Partnership Agreement, which is also known as the Cotonou Agreement. We can sell your products to Europe without tariffs, we can also sell the products to China and even to Australia without any tariffs.

This is the relationship. You bring your money through investment, give jobs to our people and together we sell products from Timor Leste. This is what we are trying to say to Indonesians.

We understand that there are still some elements in Timor Leste who have hard feelings about Indonesia. Do you think Indonesian investments will be safe?

Many Indonesians live in Timor Leste currently. The relationship with Indonesian is not a problem.

The Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF), which was founded under your presidency, has received lots of criticism including from the United Nations. Some critics said the joint commission offered only impunity and undermined the judicial system. What's you stance?

In December 2006, I went to New York and also to Geneva to hand over the final report of the CAVR (the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation), a similar report to the CTF report.

We talked about an international community solution. I said, “It’s yours, we do what we think the best for our country. If you want, go on. It is not my business.â€

It is the CAVR report that recommended Timor Leste bring all the countries that helped Indonesia occupy Timor Leste, whether it was politically or financially or even with equipment, to an international tribunal.

I told Timor Leste's parliament in 2005, We don't have to do this after the devastation in 1999. Do we have to do this after everything was destroyed? The international community came and pushed us to do this. I asked the parliament, the people elected by our people, to decide. The decision of the state is that the past is the past. We have to build our future. Are we strong enough to put the past in the past? We should be and we must be.

We must not avoid the past. We must tell the truth, we must say that something happened in Timor Leste and Indonesia in the past. We cannot just erase these things. This is what we are trying to educate ourselves about, that we lived together in a very dramatic situation in our history. But it was the past. Now we live together to build a better future for all of us.

But critics say that you cannot provide truth without going through a tribunal process. Your response?

But why me? When Timor Leste has many social problems, security problems, humanitarian problems, why do I have to divert my attention to this when my task is to provide service to my people?

Mozambique also had a war after their independence with thousands of people dying, but they could solve their problem internally. Perhaps some problems still exist but they don’t have to kill each other because of the past.

Northern Ireland is also in a process of national reconciliation.

Why only us? Our position is not to vacate the past but to take the past as a lesson in order to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

I can say that whoever provided the TNI (the Indonesian Military) with weapons, bullets and other equipment must go to trial. I can always say that.

But for now, my biggest concern is how to make the life of my people better. The TNI are in the process of putting themselves in a democratic system. So, the best that we can appreciate from both sides is that we are conscious that in the past it was wrong, and now we have to move to share the future.

Even in Timor Leste, lots of people criticize you and President Ramos Horta for your position on the CTF.

I met (former military commander) Wiranto before the Indonesian presidential election in Bali in 2004, and when I went back to Dili they called me a traitor and liar. I don't mind. You can define me however you like, but my concern now is how to put the interest of the people above what can happen to me.

Some say that the 2006 crisis in Timor Leste was caused by the rivalry between you and Jose Ramos-Horta on one side, and Mari Alkatiri and the Fretilin party on the other side. What's your explanation?

It will take a long time to tell. I was a member of the Fretilin central committee a long time ago. If each one said that they are the best, I can have this opportunity also to say that I am the best.

We were defeated by the TNI in 1978, all the senior leaders died and I took over the leadership. I did everything in my capability and my capacity to continue until 1986. I changed the policy, then I became a traitor at that time. I came out from Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor Leste) and put the guerrilla forces (Falintil) outside of the political party, and we became independent.

In 1999-2000, I said I finished my duty and let the parties to deal with state issues. We had confidence in Fretilin to take over the government for five years, but they made mistake.

So, I said I sm still ready to defend the interests of my people and I built a party. I let them save the country, now I âm ready to lead them again to free themselves from a condition of frustration.

There are still thousands of refugees in West Timor. What’s your policy about these refugees?

If we look at the past, from 1999 to 2001, I was along the border, meeting with many of them including some high-level leaders. We solved many things. We brought back thousands and thousands of people.

Now that I am the head of the government, first, I have to look after the stability within my country. I will continue to look at this issue and in the middle of that we will create all the conditions for them to be sure that if they return they will not meet the enemy.

Bahasa Indonesia is still spoken widely in Timor Leste. What will be the future of Bahasa Indonesia there?

In our constitution, Bahasa Indonesia is our working language. And now under our cooperation, Indonesia will help us with teachers to teach Bahasa in secondary schools so that our students will be ready if they go to Indonesian universities.

There is a joke in Timor Leste that Indonesian graduates are 'sarjana supermi"ť (instant noodle scholars). What's your opinion?

I have many of them working with me. I am also a sarjana of life, graduated from Universitas Tertutupâ in Cipinang penitentiary.

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