|Subject: Former foes seeking truth and
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
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
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 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
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
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
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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