Ex-Falantil Guerrilla Says: Get Australian Hands Off East Timor!
An interesting look into what’s happening in East Timor, especially within it’s relations with “the saviour” Australia – sent in by Shah in Melbourne, taken from Socialist Alternative (SA) magazine, issue 129, June 2008
Ex-Falantil guerrilla says get Australian hands off East Timor!
Socialist Alternative’s Cipi Morgan spoke to former Timorese resistance fighter and now author and activist Naldo Rei.
I met Naldo in 1999 at a refugee centre in East Hills, Sydney. I was there visiting young friends – new arrivals from East Timor and Kosovo. When Naldo arrived at the camp all the Timorese children shrieked with excitement and the centre suddenly transformed into a party.
People – including the Kosovars formed circles and danced the “Tebe Rai”, a traditional circle-dance with a popular song from the Independence movement. The Timorese children told me then: “That’s Naldo from the Falantil East Timor’s freedom fighting guerrilla army.” Over the years I got to know more of Naldo’s story.
This month, Naldo is in Australia touring his book, Resistance, A Childhood Fighting For East Timor. The cover features a photograph of him with a megaphone, his long, trademark curly hair filling the picture. As a political-asylum seeker, he had toured Australia with the Free East Timor campaign, trying to garner support for the plight of hundreds of thousands of East Timorese suffering under brutal Indonesian occupation, sanctioned by Australia. Inside, there are pictures from other parts of his precarious and mostly horrible journey: as a child with his family, later as a child soldier, as a political prisoner in East Timor, and as an activist in Portugal, Indonesia and Australia.
One of the most beautiful parts of the book is written by his mother, Julia, when her husband had been taken by the army. (She didn’t yet know that he had been executed.) She recalls Naldo’s early determination to take up the struggle:
“When the army came to capture [Naldo] I was shocked and clung onto him as the soldiers pushed him into a jeep. I fought with them but they were so many and had guns surrounding us. I called on the sacredness of the land and the martyrs to protect him… I ran to protest at the army barracks but they said they did not know anything about it. After his release from prison I knew what [Naldo] wanted, so I let him go to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was very hard for me but I knew the only way for [Naldo] to find his father was through the struggle… I did not see him for many years.”
Naldo was nine years old when he left to join the clandestine resistance. In the many years before Julia would see her son again, he was part of the liberation struggle, at times fighting as a guerrilla, and often with activists from countries named above, who were also part of the movement. For those many years, figures like Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos Horta were Naldo’s comrades.
Today, however, Naldo talks of East Timor’s leaders in a different light.
What do you think about the presence of Australian troops in East Timor?
Show me how Rudd’s troops are making peace. How come they ask people on the streets “Do you support Alkatiri or Xanana?” and “Are you from the East Side or the West Side (of East Timor)?” What is their mission? To neutralise the situation? They obviously aren’t neutral. They’re trying to make divisions amongst East Timorese. Why else are they intimidating people, interrogating people, imprisoning Alkatiri supporters and people from the East?
Have they arrested you before?
Twice I’ve been held up by Australian troops. They searched my car, they checked me over. I don’t know why.
What are the troops doing anyway?
Since the time when Alkatiri was in serious negotiations with Australia over oil in the Timor Sea they’ve been in Timor “restabilising”. Xanana is more easily manipulated – the Australian government can get him to do what it wants. Alkatiri stood firmer than Xanana on defending economic autonomy. Alkatiri was criticised by most for being a “communist” – they said he was too close to China and Cuba – like they are communist countries! China is just another capitalist country! The truth is that Cuba was sending more than 1,000 doctors and providing scholarships. Where else can we get free aid without strings attached? And we get imports from China because they’re cheap.
East Timor is “communist” in the sense that our tradition is sharing. We’ve always lived cooperatively, before and during Portuguese and Indonesian colonial rule and the new colonialism of Australia and the UN.
What do you see as Australia’s interest in East Timor?
It’s all about regional control and oil. The Australian government wants all of South-East Asia to be “secure” so they can control all the people and resources. The Australian government wants to manipulate the leadership of all these countries, including Timor.
When it comes to oil, Australian seabeds contain enough oil for ten years or so. Timor has massive oil resources in comparison. So the Australian government had to bring down the tougher leader and replace him with an easy one. They paid people to demonstrate [in April 2006]. I know people from my neighbourhood in Dili that were coming home with SUS50. Where in East Timor would people get hold of that kind of money? And at those demonstrations they were waving Australian flags.
East Timor poses a threat in the region – if it can be deemed a “failed state” that needs the UN and Australian army to control it, it gives less confidence to other separatist movements in the region.
We hear leaders talking a lot about “humanitarian aid”. But the Australian government has only ever given aid to East Timor that comes back into Australia via the wages of Australian aid workers, whilst locals are earning $100-5150 per month. Lots of business in East Timor is Australian – especially in tourism. All the bars and restaurants along the waterfront, which the rich foreigners go to, are owned by Australians.
Why do you think Howard sent troops in 1999?
I think there was a lot of pressure from Australian people – like bus drivers, train drivers, schoolteachers and unions – on the government in support of our independence from Indonesia. The Australian government felt that pressure, but they didn’t do anything until the Indonesian army had finished killing us anyway. Australia’s intervention into East Timor was an invasion. A colonialist invasion. Why else did successive governments support our oppression and genocide for so long? The Howard government did not want to miss an opportunity to grab Timor’s oil.
Alkatiri always refused money from the World Bank and IMF – he said it was “better to be poor than stepped on”. The new government headed by Horta and Xanana want to develop East Timor as quick as they can.
Can you describe Timorese sentiment towards Australian troops, politicians and business people?
We can’t feel free in our own country, because foreigners keep telling us what to do. They have money so they can do whatever they like. The image of Australian soldiers playing with kids and doing thumbs up, being big brother, is a big lie. If they’re our brothers, why have they killed three of our youth so far – three that we know of? It shows that Australia never came to help us, but to make divisions, to cripple us, to make an example of us and crush our resistance. We call Australians “naok ten ” and “traidor” – “thief and “traitor”. Traitor because on top of it all, Australia swore to help us when more than 60,000 Timorese died defending Australian soldiers in World War II.
What’s the nature of East Timorese discontent with the current government?
The current AM coalition government is undemocratic. International support helped Horta and Xanana take power off the elected Fretilin party. People hate that Xanana and Horta have become puppets of Australia and America. Why? Maybe Horta wants another Nobel Peace Prize. The international community supports Xanana and Horta because they won’t stand up on oil. They advocate for the free market. Alkatiri had promised free education, health, and a no loans policy, but the Howard government wouldn’t have it. East Timorese demands are not like those of the governments of the invading governments of Portugal, Indonesia, America and Australia. We have a small population and a lot of resources that we can live off. We don’t want the free market.
What do you think the majority of East Timorese want for the future?
We want a bright future. That means we want work, and we want to stand on our own feet economically and live in peace. We want democracy – not the fake democracy of the US and Australia, but real control over our lives and our communities. At the moment we have free medical service and schooling. But the government wants to get rid of all the Cuban aid, because it displeases East Timor’s neighbours.
Timor has a tradition of communal living – and communal agriculture. Many East Timorese want this.
How can working people of Australia show their solidarity with East Timorese?
Just pressure the government not to intervene. To leave East Timor to live, educate and develop as an independent country. And to leave our oil alone. Australians need to protest like they did in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s to demand the government stops using East Timor to make themselves rich at our expense. Unions should stand up and pressure the Rudd government. No more intervention. Leave us alone, and our resources too. The unions must be strong like the MUA and demand that international corporations like Shell and BHP and Conoco Phillips get out of East Timor.
Naldo, is there anything you’d like to add?
Yes – together we stand and we will never be defeated!
more info on East Timor / Timor Leste: here