A year ago, everything was rosy in East Timor. This new territory had won its separation from Indonesia, whose military treated the province as a playground, ruthlessly suppressing the independence movement led heroically by Xanana Gusmao, and Nobel Peace Prize-winners, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta.
This former Portuguese colony was not forgotten by Lisbon, whose diplomatic efforts to free the territory paid off in August, 1999, in the midst of a wave of spontaneous popular actions from the Portuguese people in general, in which the UNO building and the US Embassy were surrounded by thousands of protesters. The Timorese had voted for their independence from Indonesia, whose military started a policy of killings, beatings, rape and torture. 30,000 people are still unaccounted for, according to the most recent official UN statistics, which Pravda.Ru had access to, although some of these are probably still in refugee camps in West Timor. Indonesia invaded the territory in 1975, with the blessing of their allies, Washington, an action which Henry Kissinger was later to admit as a mistake (one in so many), amid scenes of chaos as East Timor itself degenerated into civil war. It is precisely this scenario that again surfaces in East Timor and the spectre of civil war among the East Timorese is a strong possibility. Full independence was supposed to be proclaimed later this year, but now there are reports that this will not happen before 2002. East Timor is divided religiously and ethnically. There is not even a uniform language, Tetum being the most common but spoken by only 75% of the population. The older people speak Portuguese and the younger ones, Indonesian. Portuguese has been adopted as the territory’s official language in attempt to chose one which is politically acceptable for all. Dr. Luis Amado, the Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, confirmed the fears which other Portuguese officials involved with East Timor have expressed privately, namely that there is a strong possibility of disintegration, a repeat of the scenes of 1975. “The tension in Timor is inevitable due to the social instability, with a high level of unemployment, a lot of frustrated hopes for many younger sectors of the population who live in difficulty”. The Portuguese, the UNO and all players involved with the territory will have to use all their influence to prevent a tragedy happening, that of East Timor sliding back into another civil war.
TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY, PRAVDA.RU, LISBON
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