Subject: SMH CNRT office back in business
Date: Fri, 02 Jul 1999 09:03:03 +0000
From: (TAPOL)

Tuesday, June 29, 1999


Timor office back in business

(Photo) Thumbs up for peace ... José "Xanana" Gusmao, centre, Ramos Horta, left, and Joao Carrascalao during the East Timor peace talks. Photo by AFP.


There was a renewed spirit of optimism yesterday at the opening in Dili of an office to represent the movement seeking East Timor's independence from Indonesian rule.

The last such office was closed in mid-April amid a surge of violence in the provincial capital.

Upbeat singing of nationalistic songs by young women in colourful traditional Timorese costume was balanced yesterday by references to continuing intimidation and violence in outlying areas.

But the fact that the office was able to open contrasted sharply with the anarchy of April 17 when militiamen attacked the home of independence activist Mr Manuel Carrascalao.

More than 100 refugees had fled to the house and one of Mr Carrascalao's sons was among 12 people murdered.

The office of the National Council of Timorese Resistance, known by the Portuguese acronym CNRT, was forced to close and key independence activists went into hiding.

The Internal Political Front - a co-ordinating body for the CNRT and other independence groups such as the military wing, Falantil - opened a new office yesterday.

Among more than 100 people who attended the opening were young men with long hair and beards who spent years in remote mountain camps fighting Indonesian soldiers.

Also present was Mr Colin Stewart, an official from the political office of the United Nations mission that is helping to prepare for an August independence referendum.

His presence could attract criticism from anti-independence groups who have accused the UN of exhibiting an independence bias.

But Mr Stewart said it was part of the UN's mandate to help ensure that all parties enjoyed freedom of speech in the lead-up to the vote on whether East Timor breaks away from Indonesian rule.

"The is a very significant moment," Mr Stewart said. "This office has an important role in explaining its views on the choice facing the people."

There was further evidence yesterday of continuing anti-independence militia activity in areas near the provincial border with Indonesian West Timor.

The United Nations' official spokesman in Dili, Mr David Wimhurst, said a visit late last week by UN special envoy Jamsheed Marker to the township of Suai was cancelled following a security scare.

"There was some untoward, quite large militia activity in Suai leading up to his planned visit," Mr Wimhurst said. "We did not want an incident."

In Jakarta yesterday, pro-independence leader José "Xanana" Gusmao urged the leaders of rival East Timorese groups attending church-organised talks to agree on peace. Gusmao, allowed out from house arrest, was one of seven speakers to formally open the talks attended by 60 people at a Jakarta hotel.

The talks are focusing on ways to disarm opposing groups in the former Portuguese territory where violence by pro-Jakarta paramilitary groups backed by the Indonesian police and military has forced the UN to delay the autonomy ballot for at least two weeks.

One of the organisers of the talks, Bishop Carlos Belo, the head of the Catholic Church in East Timor, said it was the task of the Church to free the East Timorese from the conflict.

"It is the task of the Church, indeed its obligation, to release its children from the grip of ceaseless conflict that now enslaves them," Bishop Belo said.

Gusmao and another independence activist, Mr José Ramos Horta, are expected to emphasise at the talks that their supporters would not seek revenge over Jakarta's often brutal 24-year rule if East Timor is given independence.

The talks are scheduled to end tomorrow.

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