Mon, 10 Oct 1994

Reconciliation paves way for united E. Timor

By Dino Patti Djalal

This is the first of two articles on East Timor based on the recent reconciliation meeting.

LONDON (JP): The meeting between local Timorese and their leaders from abroad on Oct. 1, 1994 here yielded a joint declaration containing a number of significant points, two of which stand out prominently.

The Timorese agreement to "develop a new chapter in their relationship in order to promote peace, stability and harmony within the East Timorese society" is the first big step. Secondly, those at the meeting declared a "readiness to participate, either directly or indirectly, in the cooperation and development of East Timor in all its aspects."

This is the second meeting of its kind after the ground- breaking reconciliation meeting in December 1993 at the outskirts of London.

The list of participants this time included a greater number of Timorese dignitaries from Indonesia. In the end they were also able to agree on a positive sounding joint declaration which was co-signed by Ambassador Lopez Da Cruz and Dr. Abilio Araujo.

To put the reconciliation in context, one must comprehend what these people experienced two decades ago and what they did to each other. One Timorese from the diaspora side grieved after 20 of his family members and relatives had been killed. He insisted, however, that they were killed by rival East Timorese. Another Timorese, an integrationist, was captured by the Fretilins and was so severely tortured that he was left for dead. Even the young Jose Tavarez, now an Indonesian diplomat in Brussels, vividly recalls being a little boy running for his life barefooted to the Indonesian border 70 kilometers away to flee the violence, with bullets flying from behind him.

To be sure, each Timorese in the meeting has his or her own story of horror or agony to tell, one topped by another.

Those who still find it difficult to accept reconciliation ought to remember that it was much more difficult, and courageous, for these Timorese to come to the reconciliation table for a face to face gathering after what they had experienced. The sight of all the Timorese embracing, singing and praying together at the closing reception, after once seeking mutual annihilation, was truly a touching sight beyond description.

Start with this premise: the East Timor conflict is first and foremost a conflict among East Timorese. When hell broke loose in 1975, the East Timorese were fighting neither the Portuguese nor the Indonesians, but each other.

It is tragic that the civil war should have happened, for East Timor's society was by and large a viable, closely-knit and stable community. In many ways, the half-island was once a single large village in a state of relative equilibrium.

How human relations could take such a sharp turn, from stable amity to lethal enmity, is a mystery that sociologists need to study and explain. In retrospect, the tragedy that fell upon East Timor was no different than the fate of the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. These again were cases of a poorly executed decolonization process where everything that could possibly go wrong, did.

The process of societal disintegration in East Timor began in early 1974 when the winds of political change and turbulence in Lisbon forced the East Timorese to start thinking about their future nationhood. The islanders were 95 percent illiterate and had been largely indifferent to politics. Lisbon's referendum plan, however, later subjected them to a process of intense politicization and polarization. Political parties were formed, masses were mobilized, emotive issues came to the fore, sides were chosen and, before long, guns were pointed in all directions. A few shots effectively ignited the powder-keg into a full-scale civil war. Any hope of reversing this process was dashed when Portugal's colonial administration abruptly departed, making it clear to the warring parties that their differences could only be settled on the battlefield.

It is important to remember that the formation, crystallization and explosion of conflict among the Timorese had all occurred well before the integration process took its course in 1976. By the time the pro-integration forces began their offensive in December 1975, the social order in East Timor was already broken down to a state of near paralysis.

Both in terms of scope and nature, the conflict which emerged in the mid-1970s was unlike any other ever known in the half- island's history. The impact was unmatched by any previous tribal warfare or anti-colonial clashes that had ever taken place in centuries. The scale of violence, killings, destruction, suffering and mass exodus was such that they deeply scarred the collective memory of all Timorese for years to come.

The conflict was so pervasive that it ripped apart regions, towns and villages, down to the smallest social units - families. Even the leading anti-integration figures in the "troika" (as they are called) are products of politically broken households. Ramos Horta, the leader of the Conselho National Resistencia Maubere, is at odds with his younger brother, Arsenio, who is a supporter of integration. Australia-based pro-independence leader Joao Carrascalao is the brother of Mario Viegas Carrascalao, who served as provincial governor of East Timor for two consecutive terms and is now Indonesia's ambassador to Romania. Marie Alkatiri, a third "troika" figure, has a younger brother, Ahmad, who is a staunch integrationist and now leading a youth organization in Dili.