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Wednesday, August 30, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: US Aid or Colombian Blood?
2000-08-30

East Timor Celebrates Independence Vote a Year Later

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One year ago today, in a historic referendum, the people of East Timor voted to be free, voting an end to the quarter-of-a-century occupation in which the Indonesian military had killed one-third of the population. As the Indonesian military razed the country, destroying 80 percent of the housing stock of the country and driving hundreds of thousands of them from their homes, many of them still being held in West Timor, the Timorese went to the polls. [includes rush transcript]

Guests:

  • Max Stahl, an independent filmmaker who filmed the massacre in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili on November 12, 1991.
  • Constancio Pinto, resistance leader who co-chaired the umbrella party of resistance groups that is now laying the groundwork for an independent Timor. It is led by Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta. He is in Dili, East Timor.
  • Allan Nairn, a veteran journalist and human rights activist, joining us from Asia.

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Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

The sounds of East Timor. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez. Welcome, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Good day, Amy, and to our listeners around the country, as President Clinton is in Colombia, and the situation in East Timor continues — and the celebration — to present problems — and Indonesia, in general — to the world community.

AMY GOODMAN:

That’s right, and we’re going to be going to talk about Colombia at the end of the program, but right now we take a look at this historic day.

One year ago today, in a historic referendum, the people of East Timor voted to be free, voting an end to a quarter-of-a-century occupation in which the Indonesian military killed one-third of the population, or 200,000 people, as the military razed the country, destroying 80 percent of the housing stock last year, and driving hundreds of thousands of Timorese from their homes, many of them still being held today in West Timor. The Timorese went to the polls on August 30th, 1999.

Last night, which is today in East Timor, we called through to a cell phone of a filmmaker who was standing in the Santa Cruz cemetery, where thousands had gathered to remember the 1991 massacre in which Indonesian military gunned down more than 250 Timorese. Max Stahl was there inside the cemetery as he stood between tombstones filming the people trying to escape the Indonesian military’s gunfire. As the ceremonies began today in East Timor, Max Stahl described what he was looking at.

    MAX STAHL:

    We’re in the cemetery here in Santa Cruz, where this massacre took place just nine years ago, and it’s full of people. There have been thousands of people in the cathedral, and they walked, you know, in a long procession towards the cemetery, likely reminiscent of that day. And this time there are more different sort of soldiers, as you know, UN soldiers, and friendly faces, and white — sorry, some people from the Australian government, the foreign minister here, and Jose Ramos-Horta and all those who were in the bush before. And they’re all here. I’m looking at the place where I sat some nine years ago and buried this film. That’s about it, really.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What are people saying there now?

    MAX STAHL:

    Well, it’s a kind of a ceremony, you know? There have been little, brief moments here with the dignitaries and people looking on, just because it’s — you know, it’s just the independence day. It’s the day of the vote. And, of course, that’s what these people died for, so although it’s not the anniversary of the killing, it’s just, you know, the key day, and people from all over the world come here today, especially those who worked for this. You know, many of those who worked on the solidarity movements are here, and families also of those people who died.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Nine years ago, what were you looking at as you were inside the cemetery filming?

    MAX STAHL:

    Well, I’m standing on the path now, where I was sitting, about [inaudible] away from where I am now, and what I was looking at was mayhem, you know? I believe you were outside in the road there somewhere. What I was looking at was hundreds of people trying to squeeze through a gate, about two, three yards wide or less, crawling over each other, piling over each other. Some of them were wounded. Some of them were dead. Some of them were trying to clamber over the others and squeezing into this cemetery to escape the bullets that were being fired down the street outside there. And when they got inside the cemetery, they ran for it. In fact, they ran for it — they mowed me down, quite literally, because I was filming them, and they kept on running until they got to the back, and they jumped over the walls, until the troops and the soldiers came around and cut them off. And then they were trapped in there. As I wasn’t running, I was also trapped with them.

    Gradually they moved in from the outside, grabbing people and beating the wounded people. They stabbed a lot of people who were wounded. There was one guy next to me who had been stabbed five times. Then gradually they put them onto trucks, took them away from here. Most of them, we never saw again. Some of them were taken to the hospital and treated; others were taken to the hospital and poisoned or finished off with large stones that were there where they were building part of the morgue. Others, again, were taken away to a police station, where I myself was taken, and some of them apparently were shot, about a hundred of those, a day or two later.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Max.

    MAX STAHL:

    I’m now looking at the soldiers from the Falintil, those who were not and never had the chance to be here at that time, but they are now in uniform, and they’ve come here to pay their respects, as well.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    These are the Timorese soldiers.

    MAX STAHL:

    These are Timorese soldiers, yes. A few of them may possibly have been survivors of this and — because I met some of the Falintil in the mountains who had survived this, and they had went to join the guerillas afterwards. Of course, it provided a — it left them little alternative. Those people who wanted to have a peaceful resolution here didn’t see one possible after that, and so the armed struggle was renewed in its intensity as a result of this event.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Max, you were there a year ago when the vote took place, and now you’re there today. What was it like a year ago?

    MAX STAHL:

    Well, it was amazing. I was just talking to the Australian foreign minister, and I was saying something I never thought I would to an Australian foreign minister on the subject of Timor, and I was thanking him, because until the Australian troops arrived here that day, this place was kind of a hell. Nobody knew what was going to happen; anything was possible. There was burning. The whole city was a kind of shooting gallery, with fires going off everywhere.

    The population were up here on the hills above me, where I was with them, those who hadn’t been forcibly shipped off in trucks to East Timor to camps, where many of them still are, in terror of the militia who control those camps. And the people in the hills, you know, had spears and bows and arrows, just about nothing else, watching these armed soldiers and militia who were working with them to systematically destroy the country. I believe they ended up destroying about 80 percent of the housing stock. It was an extraordinary piece of organized vandalism. But we didn’t know when we were sitting there on the hills whether it was going to end up in a massacre or a slaughter, like it did [inaudible] happened in 1975. There were people up there with me who witnessed that who said it was just the same. You know, they were watching those ships coming into the harbor, they were pointing down to the fires in the city, and they were saying “Now, the next thing you know, you watch, and these ships are going to start shelling us here in the mountains.”

    And then it changed. It changed really when the soldiers came in. You know, that was the moment it changed. Until that, it’s difficult to know what the hell was going on. And the international soldiers was the moment when we knew that the situation was really changing. Even then, it was a bit dodgy for awhile. That was the key.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Hasn’t the Australian government arrested you or barred you from entering Australia, because you’ve used different names or passports?

    MAX STAHL:

    Ah, yes, ironically, yes. I’m not — I’ve been barred from Australia now for several years, and the reason — and they still bar me. In fact, they didn’t even let me leave East Timor via Australia, which was the only way to leave after this mayhem last year. The reason was because I was on the wanted list here in Indonesia, or here in Timor and in Indonesia, or the Indonesian military, after filming this massacre and another film I made thereafter. This was — meant I was on a blacklist, and I was in considerable — I couldn’t come here on my legal passport, obviously. I had been offered one by a friendly government, in order — with the help — the resistance had asked them to do it, and they had done it as a gesture of solidarity. But in order to be able to leave East Timor, I also needed a visa to get on the airplane on that passport, although I had a perfectly legal visa to enter Australia. I then had to seek a visa on this passport, as well, in order just to leave Indonesia for Australia, and this event was discovered for reasons I won’t bore you with, but it was.

    And the Australian bureaucracy, although they understood plainly what took place, decided, rather perversely, to put me in the bag with bank robbers and drug dealers, on the basis, they said, that they didn’t know who I really was. They said at the very same time that they’d had representations from senior Australian journalists, MPs, the Prime Minister of the northern territory and various other people about me. I found that a little bit incredible, but they have stuck with that particular version ever since and, you know, questioning, as they put it, my bona fides. I have to say that, in this respect, I don’t think it’s my bona fides that are in question, but that’s my opinion.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Max Stahl, we hear that today, on this independence day, the day — one year after the vote, that there is a kind of contra war developing on the border with West Timor. What’s happening?

    MAX STAHL:

    Well, the small units of soldiers, uniformed soldiers, militia, apparently, I have to say, Timorese — but we don’t really know who they are, whether they’re Indonesians or Timorese — have been entering, crossing the border, infiltrating, and they have made a number of attacks on peacekeeping forces. They’ve killed a New Zealander, they killed a Nepalese soldier, and wounded three more. They have reached as far as 150 kilometers, or 100 kilometers, at least, anyway, inside the border.

    There is apparently one group of them now, in some form, apparently surrounded by Portuguese soldiers, or at least identified by them in the central area of the country. And there is a kind of a standoff there at the present between these militia, who haven’t yet killed anybody in this case, and the Portuguese soldiers. They don’t have any support whatsoever in this country, as you would expect, since they just torched the whole place, and it’s very difficult to see what they expect to achieve here, except to destabilize and to further impoverish this already impoverished country.

AMY GOODMAN:

Max Stahl, speaking to us from the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, as thousands of people gathered there earlier today for the beginning of daylong remembrance of the people who have died in Timor under the military occupation of a quarter of a century, and the people who are now rebuilding their country after last year’s historic vote for independence by the people of East Timor. Today is the first anniversary.

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Max Stahl, a British filmmaker who was in the cemetery in 1991 when the Santa Cruz massacre took place, as he filmed the Timorese running from the Indonesian military gunfire.

When we return, we’ll talk to the man who organized the procession of Timorese that the Indonesian military fired on. Constancio Pinto will join us from Dili, East Timor. And we’ll be joined by journalist and activist Allan Nairn, who survived the massacre, who was there last year at this time for the vote and is now in Asia. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN:

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez, as we go now to the island of East Timor, which is marking the first anniversary of its historic independence vote today, with tearful prayers for those killed by the Indonesian military in the long fight for independence and calls for a war crimes tribunal for those responsible.

On the island now in Dili is Constancio Pinto. Constancio is a resistance leader who co-chaired the umbrella party of resistance groups that’s now laying the groundwork for an independent Timor. Meetings have been taking place until today of the CNRT, which is led by Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Constancio.

CONSTANCIO PINTO:

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s remarkable to hear your voice in Dili, East Timor, which you fled from in 1991 after organizing the procession that the Indonesian military fired on. What are your thoughts today?

CONSTANCIO PINTO:

Well, I’m very happy to see —- to celebrate the first anniversary of the historic referendum, which brings us to the independence of East Timor and free from the Indonesian repression of the twenty-four years. And I’m very happy to see that despite the destruction and the exodus into West Timor, where we still have about 100,000 refugees in West Timor, people here are very happy celebrating this day, this historic day. This morning I went to the UNTAET headquarters, a lot of people gathering, basically -—

AMY GOODMAN:

UNTAET, being the United Nations headquarters.

CONSTANCIO PINTO:

Yes — listening to the distinguished leaders here, including the UN administration’s chief, Sergio de Mello, and some special guests from the US and from Australia, Australian foreign minister, John Howard. And also US Senator Tom Harkin also gave a very, very important speech, encouraged people, the East Timorese especially, to look forward towards the future, how to develop East Timor and how to make East Timor a democratic country.

And also, there is a group of East Timorese, including Xanana Gusmao and Ramos-Horta, that visited the cemetery and laid flowers to remember those who were killed in the unforgettable massacre of November 12th, 1991.

There are lots of activities around Dili. Last night, people burned candles everywhere in Dili to remember those who were killed in the eve of the historic referendum.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Constancio Pinto, this is Juan Gonzalez. I wanted to ask you — we’ve been hearing the reports about the attacks coming across the border from West Timor by these right-wing militias. It’s been an exhilarating, but difficult year for you, but have these attacks — are they having any kind of impact on your ability to reconstruct, to begin the reconstruction of your country?

CONSTANCIO PINTO:

Well, I think, yes, there is impact on the people on the border, especially in Maliana and Suai, but not really in Dili, where I am, and the eastern part of the country.

Yes, we heard a lot of reports from there that militia have infiltrated. There are also reports saying that the militia have now reached the central areas, i.e. Same, Ainaro and Ramelau. But people feel — just ignore that they are coming. But I’m not saying that there’s no people, that not everyone thinks that they’re safe, because especially the peacekeeping troops are not working — are not working alongside with the Falintil. And also, because of the lack of knowledge of the territory, it’s very difficult for the peacekeeping troops to track down all the militias. So they are now talking about having the Falintil, the East Timorese armed forces, in the — to control the borders, because they are the ones who know the land. They can easily track down all the militias. But in Dili, it seems quite calm.

AMY GOODMAN:

We understand that there’s controversy around — I think it was a Newsweek magazine quote of Xanana Gusmao saying that if the contras or the Indonesian militias continue, that the Falintil, the Timorese soldiers, will attack them in West Timor. You’ve just come from the meetings of your party, the CNRT, the umbrella of resistance groups. Did Xanana say this? And what do you think about it?

CONSTANCIO PINTO:

No, I think that people misquoted this thing, because — misquoted or maybe there are rumors that people just — you know, they’re reports based on rumors, because here, you know, the UN is the only legal entity in this country [inaudible]. It has all this judicial, political and executive power. So we are careful about it, the involvement of Falintil in this matter. We want — the Falintil has involved in this thing, but there has to be some kind of an agreement, which legalize whatever, the Falintil involvement. Otherwise, it would be a disaster for us.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re talking to Constancio Pinto. I saw Constancio last in East Timor, the eve of the massacre, November of 1991, when he told us that this procession would be taking place. He was in hiding at that time. We met in a secret place. I was there with journalist and activist Allan Nairn. The next day the Indonesian military gunned down this procession, killing more than 250 people.

Allan Nairn now joins us on the line from Asia, where he is now. And he — though we were banned, Allan and I, from returning to Indonesia, he has gotten back into East Timor last year during the vote and was there.

Allan, what are your thoughts today?

ALLAN NAIRN:

Well, one thought is that when Clinton was speaking recently at the Democratic Convention, they should have had a video screen behind him, and projected on the screen should have been a scene from the massacre at the church in Suai — that was the massacre last September, where the military and police and militias went in and shot down the priests and gang-raped the female refugees and slaughtered them with machetes and rifles and then burned their bodies in front of the church — because that military militia rampage after the independence vote last year really is on Clinton’s head, because he could have stopped it.

Habibi, the president of Indonesia at the time, had been brought to allowing the referendum, in large part by pressure in the form of cutbacks in US military assistance, pressure that was brought by grassroots activists. But at the time of the Timor vote, the US was still, to an important extent, propping up necessary weapons, ammunition, police, intelligence, training, etc. It was clear what was happening. The militias were doing attacks. The military was doing attacks throughout the months prior to the vote.

In April of ’99, days after the massacre at the Liquica church, where the police came out, backed up militiamen with machetes who went in and slaughtered refugees in the rectory, Admiral Blair, Dennis Blair, the chief of US Pacific forces, sat down with General Wiranto, the Indonesian commander, and gave him a tacit green light to proceed. He praised him. He offered him new US aid. He even invited him to his house. Wiranto took that, not unreasonably, as a mandate.

The military, the Indonesian military, then proceeded, you know, the day after the announcement of the result that the Timorese had voted for freedom. They started to burn down Dili. They burned down most of it within twenty-four hours. The air force, the navy, the marine, the police were all brought in to sweep people from their houses. They actually abducted nearly half the population. And the terror was in full swing. It was only five days later that Clinton finally cut off US military aid. But by then, East Timor was largely destroyed.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, Allan, the former dictator of Indonesia is about to go on trial this week. And what is your sense whether the changes and the democracy movement in Indonesia has had any impact on the Indonesian military and its treatment of both the nationality still oppressed within Indonesia, as well as its relationship to East Timor?

ALLAN NAIRN:

Well, that’s one of the key questions. I mean, when the Timorese won, it was this epic victory. It inspired a lot of people. One of the goals of the military, in staging the militia rampage in Timor, well, one was revenge, and they certainly got revenge. But another one was to intimidate Indonesians. This was the message, to intimidate Indonesian activists. That didn’t work. And the months following the Timor rampage of September, within Indonesia, the military was really forced into political retreat by Indonesian activists. It was a growing anti-military movement. And there were changes, especially in Jakarta. There were investigations, open criticism of the military, although the repression never really stopped in the countryside.

But recently, in the past one, two months, the military has been making a political comeback. They just got legal protection for themselves against prosecution written into the Constitution. They just institutionalized their role in the Parliament. A recent — or a general, General Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono is now, in effect, administering the entire government in the civilian administration of Gus Dur.

They’ve been getting increasingly open support from the US executive branch, which is through the Pentagon. The US recently staged a military exercise involving mock landings on Indonesian islands with the US Navy and Marines, the Indonesian Navy and Marines. The US embassy in Indonesia is now pushing to give so called anti-terrorist training to the Indonesian military. They’re trying to give C-130 spare parts. And this has really heartened the Indonesian military. They recently had been making big displays of it. They ran a photo in the papers of an Indonesian general posing in a US tank a couple weeks ago. Recently, at the Siabu target range, a public display of the US-supplied missiles [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN:

It’s getting a little difficult to understand you.

ALLAN NAIRN:

— targets on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN:

Allan, it’s getting a little difficult to understand you. Allan, speaking to us from Asia. Go ahead.

ALLAN NAIRN:

I’ll try to speak a little louder.

AMY GOODMAN:

If you can — if you moved, it’s very difficult now. So, if you moved, you should move back to where you were.

ALLAN NAIRN:

OK, OK.

AMY GOODMAN:

OK, go ahead.

ALLAN NAIRN:

One big result of this, I think — this has been —- all of this has been [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Allan, I think we’re going to call you back, because now your voice is breaking up too much, so we will come back to you.

ALLAN NAIRN:

OK.

AMY GOODMAN:

Allan Nairn, speaking to us about the situation in Indonesia and East Timor. We will see now if Constancio Pinto is still on the line with us. Constancio, are you there?

CONSTANCIO PINTO:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Can you describe the events? Amazing. Here is Constancio in East Timor, Dili, a very clear line, although we do have to say the phone system there is extremely rough. Their cell phones only operate within a small area of one — what is it? One antenna that has been put up or satellite that has been put up by the Australian — by the Australians. What has been the events of today, since the ceremony at the Santa Cruz massacre? We just pulled you out of a large celebration. It’s now your time, about 9:40 at night, on the day of the first anniversary of the independence vote.

CONSTANCIO PINTO:

Well, the people actually today, they celebrate. We celebrate the 30th of — the first anniversary of referendum. So, there are two reactions here. One is to remember the loved ones who were killed in 1991, the Santa Cruz massacre, and those who were killed during the referendum or after the referendum. And also, we also celebrate, with happiness, the day of the freedom of East Timor, which is the 30th of August.

So now people try to think about now what’s going to happen in the future, how the leaders are going to handle this country, this country that has been totally destroyed by the Indonesians, a country which is totally dependent on foreign aid. So there’s a lot of discussion about it. So people celebrate. They are happy, but at the same time worried about the future, the stability and — I mean, the economic stability and security in East Timor. So this is something that I heard a lot from the people, from the young generation and the old generation and so on.

AMY GOODMAN:

Constancio Pinto, Constancio, we are rejoined by Allan Nairn, and we wanted to ask Allan a question, as he talks about the situation in Indonesia. There is a US permanent resident, Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, who we’ve talked about before on Democracy Now! Several weeks ago, he disappeared. He is Acehnese from West Sumatra, from western part of Indonesia. Can you tell us about his situation, Allan?

ALLAN NAIRN:

Well, Jafar, a bit more than three weeks ago, just vanished off the streets of Medan. He had been calling his home every two hours to check in, and then he was gone. I think it’s a very —- it was a very professional job, whoever did it. But they did make some mistakes, and there may be some possibilities for finding out exactly what happened.

I mean, this takes place in the context of really extensive disappearances in Aceh. The military and the police, especially, are sweeping through the rural villages. They’re pulling people off of buses and out of cars. The police chief recently declared that there was an activist he wanted to catch, and he would capture him dead or alive. And now Jafar disappears.

And I think there’s something that the military should understand about this case. If they did take him, if they did take Jafar, I think they made a major blunder, because it’s going to hurt them internationally in more ways than they realize. But even if they didn’t take him, most people will assume they did. So I think it’s actually in their interest now, in terms of political damage control, to release him if he’s still alive. If they kill him now, or if they’ve already killed him, then they’re in very big trouble, because the issue is only going to grow, and even that [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN:

Say that again. If they were — Allan, Allan, we’re losing you again. If they did kill him, what?

ALLAN NAIRN:

Well, then they’re in very big political trouble, because the issue will only grow. [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN:

Say that again?

ALLAN NAIRN:

Because the issue is only going to grow, if that happened. But even then, [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN:

We can’t —- we’re just losing you, Allan. We’re just having a hard time hearing you. One more -—

ALLAN NAIRN:

Well, I’ll try again. I was saying that even if they did kill him, at least that person’s body that might [inaudible] somewhat, certainly [inaudible] Jafar, that I think the military’s only political hope is to tell the world exactly what they know and [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN:

If people are having trouble hearing —- if people are having trouble, Allan, he’s saying, if he was killed, that the Indonesian military should produce his body and explain what happened. Allan, I want to -—

ALLAN NAIRN:

And if the military — I think if the military is smart, they’ll drop their current approach to this and get in touch with Jafar’s friends and try to work something out, because this case is really going to hurt them.

AMY GOODMAN:

That the case is going to grow and that the Indonesian military should get in touch with Jafar’s friends and family and work something out. People have been calling the State Department in this country demanding an accounting of Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, who is the Indonesian human rights lawyer from Aceh, who returned — he’s a permanent resident in New York, who returned and disappeared several weeks ago.

Well, that does it for this remembrance today, this look ahead and this assessment of what is happening today both in East Timor and Indonesia. Allan Nairn has been our guest, journalist and activist, who is in Asia. Constancio Pinto, underground leader for many years in East Timor, he was forced to leave the country after the Santa Cruz massacre, as the Indonesian military waged a nationwide manhunt for him, threatened to kill him, had already captured and tortured him in the past. Now the East Timorese have to rebuild their country, as they build towards independence on this first anniversary of the vote for freedom in East Timor.

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