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Campaigning for a free East Timor

Green Left Weekly - November 26, 1997

Stuart Munckton and Arun Pradhan, Perth – On November 12, East Timorese and their supporters attended a protest at Parliament House to commemorate the 1991 Dili massacre. Amidst crosses bearing the names of those killed, and under the attentive gaze of the local Counter Terrorist Intelligence Unit, Green Left Weekly's ARUN PRADHAN spoke to DOMINGO OLIVERIA, secretary general of the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT).

Along with the National Council of Maubere Resistance and Fretilin, UDT is one of the major political groupings within and outside of East Timor. It formed in May 1974, favouring a federated relationship with the colonial power, Portugal. Since Indonesia's occupation in 1975, the UDT has united with a range of East Timorese and other groups to fight for East Timor's independence.

Oliveria noted that it has been an eventful year for the struggle. "East Timor is receiving greater support from people and governments internationally", he said. "Nelson Mandela made an appeal to free Xanana Gusmao [the East Timorese resistance leader jailed for 20 years]. Several British ministers have supported our cause. Bill Clinton and the US government wrote a letter to the Indonesian government calling on them to reach a peaceful solution in East Timor."

Oliveria refuted the idea that there is a time limit on East Timor gaining its independence because of Indonesia's genocidal and transmigration policies. "The Indonesian government has put effort into 'persuading' East Timorese to accept its rule and it has systematically moved people into our country. But I have reliable information, particularly from church organisations in East Timor, that the bulk of the population is still determined to fight."

Oliveria is very sceptical about potential compromise plans that propose limited autonomy for Indonesia. "The Indonesian government is very corrupt and it is likely that any such deal would be unreal and not improve our position. Our main demand is and must be for independence and self determination."

The UDT is holding a four-day internal conference in Perth, December 3-7. The conference takes place every four years and involves up to 100 UDT members from around the world. As well as electing a new leadership for the organisation, Oliveria hopes it will help set some strategic goals to increase pressure on the Indonesian government.

Oliveria also explained that one of UDT's ongoing aims was to work closely with Fretilin and other East Timorese organisations. "We have different ideologies, but common aims: the goal to free our people." According to Oliveria there have been ongoing discussions to increase the coordination between groups. "I hope there will be a joint conference some time next year where we can launch an official East Timorese umbrella group."

Oliveria also acknowledged the allies of the East Timorese. "We have welcomed the growth of the democracy movement in Indonesia and thank the Indonesian people and organisations that are helping us with our goals. I would also like to thank the Australian people for their support."