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Dr George Quinn
pro-Indonesia thugs entered the Dili offices of the Indonesian language daily Suara Timor Timur (The Voice of East Timor), assaulted members of its staff and trashed equipment. Surprisingly perhaps, the owner-editor of the paper, Salvador Ximenes Soares, was a well-known supporter of East Timor's integration with Indonesia and was a member of the MPR, Indonesia's People's Consultative Congress.
But Salvador was too liberal for the hard-line militias. For some months before the attack his paper had been cautiously testing the waters of post-Soeharto press freedom. While generally supporting the campaign for East Timor's continued integration with Indonesia the Suara Timor Timur attempted some balance by carrying reports of the activities and views of the pro-independence National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) headed by resistance leader Xanana Gusmao.
It took some weeks for the Suara Timor Timur to recover from the attack and resume publication. In the run-up to the referendum of 29 August, the paper played a significant role in publicising the announcements of the UN's UNAMET administrators and it carried campaign material from both the pro-Indonesia and pro-independence sides.
In the mayhem that followed the announcement of the referendum result, the offices of Suara Timor Timur were again attacked by the militias. Its computers, printing machines and records were smashed or stolen, and its staff forced to flee. Salvador Soares lost not only his newspaper but his Dili home and all his possessions. He too fled to Jakarta with his family.
Salvador Soares was one of the 20 per cent of East Timorese who exercised their democratic right to record a vote in favour of integration with Indonesia. He, like most of that 20 per cent, was not a member or supporter of the hard-line, violent pro-Indonesia militia units. The militia rampage was as much a catastrophe for him and other pro-Indonesia voters as it was for the majority who voted for independence.
Today, in West Timor, some 150,000 East Timorese refugees remain in camps. Many of these are pro-Indonesia, most of whom have no voluntary links with militias. Their only 'crime' was to have voted for integration. Some remain unwilling, fearful hostages to militia remnants, unable to return home because they cannot afford the bribes needed to negotiate their way out of the camps. Others are afraid of what awaits them if they do return home. They fear that their homes have been destroyed or appropriated and that they will be found 'guilty by association' of the crimes committed by militias and their Indonesian army allies. To compound their plight, in three months time the Indonesian government will cut off its special assistance to West Timor's refugee camps. Occupants of the camps will have to choose between the uncertainty and danger of a return home, or the equally painful choice of permanent residence in Indonesia, possibly in a place far from their East Timor homeland.
Already there are disquieting signs that those in East Timor identified as 'pro-Indonesia' may be made scapegoats for the inevitable tensions and shortcomings that will develop in the new state. At the least, they are likely to suffer job discrimination or social rejection.
WATCHPOINT: : Most of those who freely voted for Indonesia in the referendum now face an uncertain future, whether they choose to live in Indonesia or return to East Timor.
About our company:
AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.
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