Che Guevara once said that a crucial problem for armed guerrillas was the ability to survive and keep a check on their bevahiour. This humane aspect of the guerrilla struggle is an integral part of the 23 year struggle of the Falintil guerrillas.
With a handful of weapons and a small number of men, Falintil has been able to confront offensives by an army with the backing of land, sea and air forces and equipped with advanced weaponry. A major aspect of guerrilla warfare is support from the people.
So how has Falintil been able to survive?
Until now the Indonesian media and pro-Indonesia foreign journalists have depicted Falintil as "security disturbers" (GPK) – the term used by the Indonesian military – and not an armed movement struggling for freedom and independence. This is very one-sided and subjective. The fact is that no Indonesian journalist has ever reported their struggle in the bush. Suara Pembaruan therefore decided to visit Falintil. The negotiations were lengthy and complex but after spending a week in Dili, and with the help of the Timorese resistance council, the CNRT and Solidamor, our journalists received permission to proceed.
Early one morning, we set out for Los Palos accompanied by a CNRT board member, a courier and others. After a five-hour journey by car, there was a one-hour walk to a village through thick jungle. We met many villagers along the way, guiding us and informing us of the security situation. These people, who support the guerrillas with food, medicine and carrying letters, knew all about the recent movements of the army. After another three-hour journey on foot, we reached our destination, not a regular Falintil base but a temporary position.
There we met Tito da Costa, 49, deputy chief of staff, known by his nomme de guerre, Lere Anan Timor whose area of command includes Los Palos, Iliomar and Laga. He and his twelve-man had been in this location for two days.
They had set up their tent on a steep, strategially-located hill, armed with M-16s and M-15s. There was a woman there too, to cook the food. They hardly looked as if they were fighting a war. They had plenty of food, a tape-recorder and a radio to listen to broadcasts from Portugal, Australia and the BBC as well as Indonesian broadcasts. They even had a very advanced satellite phone, enabling them to communicate with all parts of the world. No need to know where this equipment came from, but this is what enables them to keep contact with other Falintil units spread out across the country.
All their clothes, footware, watches, everythingthey have has been taken from Indonesian soldiers who were killed or taken captive. Their weapons and ammunition are also almost all from the Indonesian army.
As we got chatting, it was obvious that they were not the fierce people we had imagined. Their hair was long and their faces unshaven, but they were not physically intimidating. To describe them as inhuman is simply unfair.
"We're just ordinary people, with our own fears. We want to be friends," said Lere, when asked why the Indonesian government calls them "disruptors".
Most of them have been in the bush for many years, some for as long as 23 years and during all that time, they have never left the bush. They called us "comrades" and said that the Indonesian people were not their enemies. "All we want is freedom and independence," said Lere.