[Interview with Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin secretary for external relations. Lisbon, Byline: Abel Coelho de Morais. Original Language: Portuguese.]
DN: According to recent reports, the situation in Timor has worsened. How would you describe Indonesia's activities in the territory?
Mari Alkatiri (MA): Indonesian acts of aggression against civilians in the central and eastern zones have really intensified, and their attempts to locate guerrilla positions and capture their leaders have been stepped up. They're doing everything they possibly can to find them.
DN: It seems clear that opposition (to Indonesian occupation) emerges from the population itself. Does this mean that the guerrilla movement is no long the centre point of resistance activity?
MA: What may be said is that, in recent years, efforts to create a political front of opposition in the occupied zones have been very successful indeed. However, that does not make the guerrilla movement any the less important, not least because that is where the entire leadership of our struggle is to be found. A diplomat asked me recently why we do not conduct an entirely political battle, with an underground leadership. I told him that such a solution would be impossible in Timor.
Timorese resistance must be viewed in its entirety. If we start to departmentalise it, then guerrilla warfare in isolaton would seem unimportant, opposition in the occupied zones alone would seem unimportant, and, in isolation, the diplomatic efforts would also appear not to be important.... We must not make the mistake of saying that the guerrilla movement is no longer important or (as some would like us to say) that there is no longer a reason for it to exist. Having said that, the guerrilla movement is currently more on the defensive.
DN: What do you think about the appointment of Monsignor Basilio?
MA: The fact that Mnsgr. Basilio has been ordained a Bishop is, in itself, significant... because we all know that he is Timorese and is a nationalist - there are no doubts on that score, and the Vatican is well aware of it too. Furthermore, the appointment means that there will be another Bishop in East Timor and, being the kind of person he is, the role of the Church will be reinforced by his presence there. Obviously, there will have to be understanding between the two Bishops, and I see no reason why that should not be the case. What does all this say about the Vatican's position? In my view, this appointment is meant to be a clear message to Indonesia from the Vatican that Timor is a separate being.
DN: Yet another session of the UN Commission on Human Rights is soon to start in Geneva...
MA: Our aim is to break the deadlock of consensual statements and to go for the adoption of a strong resolution. Of course, this depends a lot on Portugal, which is somewhat tied to the EU. However, there are elements which could lead Portugal to take a strong position and force its European partners to go along with a resolution. We are going to mobilise the support of other, non-EU countries. We intend to give vitality and visibility to our presence there, and get other countries to deal with us (and not just with Portugal) on the content of the resolutions.
DN: On the subject of the EU, what happened in Singapore is evidence of concern about, and greater attention being paid to human rights...
MA: But it is a shame that Portugal's political partners and allies happen to be Indonesia's economic partners and allies. That makes the task for Portugal, and for us, difficult.
DN: What about the inter-Ministerial negotiations?
MA: I am convinced that Indonesia is trying to postpone the next round. I think a date should be set quickly. I am not very hopeful about this round of talks, but as there is a new UN Secretary General, a new leader of the team working on the issue of Timor, it will be interesting to see how this team differs from the previous one...
DN: Does the intention of putting Timor to another UN General Assembly vote still stand?
MA: The time is right for the issue to be put to the General Assembly (GA) this year, but it is important that the inter-Ministerial round should take place in March so that the pros and cons of such a move may be better assessed. We will also have to start groundwork to prepare friendly nations for the battle at the GA. We know that the administering power sees such a move as dangerous, but we do not think it is as risky as all that.
DN: What would a favourable vote means for East Timor now?
MA: It would mean a new resolution - the first in over 10 years. There are those who believe that the fact that no resolution has been adopted in all that time is in itself proof that the international community is giving its tacit approval to occupation. With regards the practical effects of a resolution, that would depend on the wording thereof. Timor has already been the subject of several resolutions but, if we take a good look at the wording, we see that the UN has exercised no coercive pressure on Indonesia. There is no coercive content in any of the resolutions. If we could manage to get a resolution adopted that contained an element of coercion, then naturally it would make a political impact. It is also important that the resolution renews and strengthens the Secretary General's mandate, and confers on him a role which is not limited to good offices alone, but which extends it to embrace mediation too.
DN: Has a date been set for the inauguration of the Peace and Democracy Foundation?
MA: The Foundation will probably be registered in March, although there are still points in its statutes which have to be settled. One of my proposals was that an international advisory board should be set up.
DN: Contacts are in progress in an effort to find a way for East Timor to become a member of the CPLP (Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries). Could linkage to the Lusophone community help to project the Timorese issue internationally?
MA: If the leadership of each country in the CPLP were to state clearly what the advantages would be for the Community, then I would be able to say what advantages there would be for Timor in joining. However, so far, nobody has said what the CPLP is going to be. In the short run, membership would raise East Timor's political status, and make Timor part of a community, even though it is still somewhat ill-defined.
We have quite clear thoughts on this matter, and believe that our proposals could provide ideas on what the CPLP could become. On the other hand, through Brazil the CPLP could serve as a bridge between East Timor and Latin America.
DN: There was talk recently about forming a shadow government, as being the best way to accompany the Timor question... At the time, you made some critical remarks. Would such an initiative be useful in the present context? Aren't there already enough bodies representing the resistance?
MA: After hearing some of the names that were suggested for the shadow government, the first thing I did was to exclude myself from it. Furthermore, judging from the names that were connected to it, it would not be a shadow government, but rather a government in the shadow - in the shadow of the resistance and other things. There were several people mentioned who, really, have always been in the shadow of everything....Furthermore, what exactly would be the purpose of a shadow government? What would its relationship be with the administering power? These are fundamental questions that ought to be well thought out.... When we talk about shadow government, we are talking about something permanent, with a lot of responsibility.