Subject: IPS: Timorese plot future but violence gets in the way
Date: Sat, 10 Apr 1999 09:38:16 -0400
From: The AustralAsian <>

EAST TIMOR: Timorese Plot Future, But Violence Gets in the Way

By Andrew Nette

MELBOURNE, Australia, Apr 6 (IPS) - In the largest ever gathering of its kind, more than 250 East Timorese professionals, academics and politicians from around the world are meeting here to map out plans for what they hope soon becomes their independent homeland.

Attending the five-day conference are East Timorese from Portugal, the former colonial ruler which the United Nations recognises the territory's administrator, as well Mozambique, the United States, Indonesia and Timor itself.

But overshadowing the meeting is concern over the deteriorating security situation in East Timor.

Observers worry this could frustrate any for chance for a peaceful transition to independence, and derail implementation of any plans for the economic and social development of East Timor.

On Monday, resistance forces claimed as many as 17 people were killed when pro-integration militia units backed by the Indonesian military opened fire on pro-independence civilians in Mauboke town, west of the capital Dili.

Detained East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, who for months has been urging patience by resistance forces in East Timor, declared he had little choice but to make preparations for renewed war.

''I now wish to inform the international community that the situation has reached an intolerable limit in East Timor,'' Gusmao said in a statement Monday.

He authorised East Timorese guerrillas ''to undertake all necessary action in self-defence of the population of East Timor against the unprovoked and murderous attacks of armed civilian groups and ABRI (the Indonesian armed forces)''.

''We receive many promises of aid and cooperation for a future independent Timor, when what we need is unequivocal and immediate support to put an end to the bloodshed and violence in the territory,'' argued Gusmao, president of the National Council of East Timorese Resistance (CNRT).

For many at the Melbourne meeting, which began Monday, planning for independence cannot really happen without an end factional violence.

''The Indonesian military are playing a game,'' said Zaccarias de Costa, CNRT representative to the European Union.

He explained: ''They know that Gusmao is in Jakarta, and that everyday the East Timorese people are saying to him, 'you are living in Jakarta but we are here and we are dying so you have to do something, the resistance has to react, you have to react.''

Thus, many say an international peacekeeping force has to be deployed in East Timor immediately.

''The fears of those who say the UN troops are needed in East Timor are real,'' added de Costa.

''The situation on the ground is deteriorating day by day. There are no guarantees that Indonesian forces will withdraw, so it's important not only to have UN presence in East Timor, not just monitors but armed peacekeepers,'' he said.

Despite fears about continued violence, already being seen by many in the outside world as 'proof' that East Timor would have difficulty with self-rule, East Timorese leaders say they must persist with planning ahead.

''This is the first time in the history of East Timor that its children are gathered together for a real analysis, and to plan a development strategy for the first years which will mark the beginning of a new future, toward the direction of independence, full of our yearnings and toil,'' Gusmao told the meeting in Portuguese in a pre-videotaped message aired Monday.

''We are practically starting from zero in all areas,'' he said. ''Let us not be captivated by the methodologies of solving social emergency problems with which we are lately preoccupied.''

''We are here to discuss the future of East Timor,'' Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta said. ''How will we feed the people of East Timor? How will we survive economically?''

Organised under the CNRT, the Melbourne meeting is the second of a series of international consultations on East Timor's future.

The first, held in Algarve, Portugal in October 1998, saw the creation of working groups for areas including health, education, women, economic development and other sectors.

Solidarity groups, international experts, World Bank and other donor officials are also attending the conference.

Organisers say the meeting will try to formulate a concrete policy blueprint for everything from the status of women to mass communications, and the provision of infrastructure in an independent East Timor.

It is also billed as an opportunity for East Timor to discuss and learn from the experiences of other nations that have gone through decolonisation.

''Decolonisation is a two-step process. The first step sees the physical withdrawal of a colonial power and the organisational takeover of power,'' said Robert Wolfgramm, a lecturer at the Australian National University.

''The second stage is more complex. This involves the redefinition of the self from colonised to freedom, from victim to victor,'' he added.

High on the resistance's agenda is some sort of economic vision for East Timor. ''We need to come up with a plan that will reassure our neighbours, especially Australia, that just as we can fight for independence in the jungles, we can survive economically in peace time,'' Horta said.

He said there is a need, after 23 years of civil war, to bring not just peace but restore ''some measure of prosperity'' to East Timor.

Another priority, say organisers, is to heal divisions within the East Timorese diaspora of 20,000 to 30,000, so that their skills and resources can be channeled into rebuilding the country after decades of Indonesian occupation.

''This conference is an attempt to include all East Timorese people regardless of their political affiliation,'' said Milena Pirez, a London-based expert on gender.

But for Da Costa, the immediate support East Timor needs is the pullout of Indonesian troops.

''If there is an agreement that the Indonesian military forces withdraw from East Timor, then we have some sort of climate to develop our plan,'' he said. ''The problem is that it is very difficult to think about our future without stability.'' (END/IPS/ap-ip-hd/awn/js/99)

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