Tue, 11 Oct 1994

Reconciliation offers path to end East Timorese division (2)

By Dino Patti Djalal

This is the second of a two part article on the former Portuguese colony of East Timor based on the second meeting between Timorese from Indonesia and diaspora.

LONDON (JP): A question can be raised as to whether the conflict was about the quest for political power or political concepts. To be sure, there was an interplay of both. My personal view, however, would put the stress on the "quest for power" more than on "political concepts."

This is because the competing concepts on nationalism had not been given enough time to sink in. Little wonder cross-alignments among the parties occurred frequently and with relative ease, both among pro-integration and pro-independence activists, depending on how strategic circumstances evolved. Little wonder why a list of top Fretilin figures -- from Alarico Fernandez to Mauhudu, to mention only a few -- easily renounced their political beliefs upon their capture by the government.

East Timor's integration with Indonesia in 1976 established a new political order in that area, but it did not fully mend the division between the warring factions (in the same way that an independent East Timor would have been achieved at the expense of the majority of integrationists). A number of ex-Fretilin members did cross over and a general amnesty was offered and granted to many, albeit with ups and downs, though the underlying fabric of factionalism was never completely erased. The conflictual configurations on East Timor have become somewhat more intricate since 1976. However, peel away the icing on the cake and beneath all the layers one would still find that the core conflict among the East Timorese remains. At times, it was merely camouflaged in different forms, and some subtle cross alignments recurred.

In short, over the last 18 years the integrationists busied themselves with consolidating integration and pursuing development programs, while across the fence pro-independence Timorese worked up an international support network and helped the local guerrillas to nurture an urban clandestine movement in East Timor. A communication wall remained between them.

How reconciliation came about is a story on its own, but at least two factors appear significant in facilitating the process.

First, is the factor of time. Eighteen years of separation is quite long. It is ample time for serious reflections, for bitter feelings to start healing, for old sentiments to return, for vivid nostalgic to come knocking back. I do not think the present reconciliation would have been possible if it was held in the immediate aftermath of the war.

The other factor is that of traditional bonds. In East Timor, kinship and politics are interwoven in dynamic synergism, a tendency not uncommon in many small, tightly knitted political societies. The Timorese who participated in the reconciliation meetings, on both sides of the table, were mostly either related by blood and clan, or were at one time longtime friends or schoolmates. Virtually any participant was able to point to another person in the room as "a cousin from my mother's side", or "an old friend from the village", or "a mate from the seminary", or even "my former teacher."

When they first met outside London in December last year, the atmosphere was an unmistakable reunion of long separated relatives and old friends; the body language was full of affectionate embraces and emotional tears. Abilio Araujo, who led the diaspora delegation, remembers well that when he departed to study in Portugal before the troubled days, Lopez Da Cruz (his counterpart from Indonesia at the reconciliation meeting) was among a group of close friends who bid him farewell on the Dili runway. Politics had not stood in their way then.

One can only hope that this "kinship factor" will serve as a fertile basis to direct the reconciliation process towards a constructive and realistic direction.

Reconciliation will be challenged by at least two groups. First, there are still elements within the Timorese community, especially those abroad, who will try to derail the process, mainly for fear that the process will politically limit them and rob them of media spotlight and political and diplomatic currency. Sadly, there are vested interests within the Timorese "resistance" community working in favor of continued division and conflict, and benefiting from it -- a fact not exactly unknown to the Timorese community but one that has tended to elude media awareness.

Reconciliation will also be disputed by a few non-Timorese political activists and certain NGOs. Some of them are simply politically anti-Indonesia to begin with and have been using the East Timor issue as a platform to attack Indonesia, but others may in fact be well-meaning idealists who have yet to comprehend the reconciliation process. Hopefully, this latter group will come around to realizing that in criticizing reconciliation they are merely being used for a narrow, sub-factional agenda.

Hence, a word of caution: as reconciliation process moves ahead, expect more theatrics, more public relations acrobats, and more smokescreens. These deceptive fireworks are tools of the trade in order to divert attention from the process and steal the limelight. Prior to the second reconciliation meeting, for instance, rumors were already circulating of negotiations between the Indonesian "military" and Ramos Horta in Rome, or between the "military" and Xanana Gusmao, a guerrilla leader who is now serving a prison term in Jakarta. When these were then categorically denied by the Indonesian government, the easy answer was given by the other side that Jakarta had simply "backed away." Expect more of these hit-and-runs, but do not be easily fooled by them.

Those who come to the reconciliation table have one important challenge: to prevent the conflict which they started from being passed on to the next generation. The current reconciliation process is taking place at a crucial time when it may or it may not assume a full trans-generational dimension. Youths two decades ago, most of the Timorese around the reconciliation table are now well into their 50's and 60's. Soon they will have to pass on the torch.

In the final analysis, the Timorese who started the war in 1974 must realize that they could not go back in time to rewrite history. But they do have the power to shape the course of their children's history so that they will be spared the sufferings of their parents, and to assure their children the dignity of a life of amity and harmony that is rightfully theirs.

The writer is a regular contributor to The Jakarta Post.