Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Researching East Timor's hidden opposition


[Here's an excerpt from an e mail I sent to some friends explaining some of the research I've been doing on East Timor in my spare time (I'm supposed to be finishing a PhD on a rather unrelated topic!) If anyone can help, especially with the need for a good map of the Suai area, can they get in touch?]

There are a number of splinter groups which have broken from Fretilin since 1999 and which have been persecuted for their troubles by the official Fretilin leadership. Without a shadow of a doubt these groups, which are virtually unknown to the left outside East Timor (they often operate in remote areas, and refuse to use Portugese),
should be of great interest to us.

The most important Fretilin splinter group is the Council in Defence of the Democratic Republic of East Timor - real Fretilin (CPD-RDTL/F) , which split away in 1999 over the issues of cantonment and support for foreign intervention. The CPD-RDTL/F, which has a nationwide organisation and can attract thousands to its events, refuses to recognise the Fretilin government (it wants the democratic republic proclaimed in 1975 restored), fought against the Indonesians in 1999, opposes the UN's presence in East Timor, called for an active boycott of the 2002 elections, and in 2003 tried to establish an alternative government in the countryside. It has been vigorously repressed by Alkatiri. This group's mere existence destroys many of the myths about 1999 and the 'defenceless' East Timorese 'united' in their support for imperialist intervention. The Green Left Weekly ran an article on the CPD-RDTL/F a few years back, but they neglected to mention the group's attitude to the UN intervention!

When I have time I plan to write an article using groups like the CPD-RDTL/F to question a lot of the myths about the intervention of 1999. I'm also trying to find out whether the Kiwi force based in Suai in the southwest of East Timor was involved in the repression of the CPD-RDT/F in 2000-2002. I got hold of a CPD-RDTL/F document in English translation which gives very precise details of a number of acts of repression against its cadre in that period. One of these acts - the unjustified arrest of an old man who supported the CPD-RDTL/F (the document even gves his name!) - occurred in the area under the control of the Kiwis, and the document talks of 'UN troops' being involved. However, we can't be absolutely sure these were Kiwis - there were Nepalese troops serving under Kiwi command in the Suai area.

I also can't find the village named in the document on any map I can access - there's an East Timor atlas in the AU library but it's gone missing! - so I can't be absolutely sure it was within the Kiwi zone of operations. But wouldn't it be interesting to know whether New Zealand troops were actually involved in a dual conflict in the Suai region, combatting pro-Indonesia militia *and* an anti-imperialist East Timorese organisation? That'd put another spin entirely on the myths that have grown up around Leonard Manning.

NB: the picture at the top of this post shows a CPD-RDTL/F demonstration from 2001.

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