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The San Francisco Chronicle



In East Timor, Peace Also Has Discontents

Lewis Dolinsky

Aderito de Jesus Soares, a human rights lawyer in Dili, East Timor,  was at the office late on Sept. 5, 1999, a few days after the vote for independence. Paramilitaries and Indonesian soldiers assembled in front. Bullets raked the building; everyone inside hit the deck. But no one was killed, and because the building went dark, attackers did not venture in. At a time of massacres, that was Aderito's worst experience.

Peacekeepers, a U.N. administration, a National Council and Cabinet are now in place. Voting for a Timorese government may take place next summer (although transitional Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta has talked of a six-month delay). Former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao will probably become president. But hold the applause. On a San Francisco visit, Aderito expressed misgivings:

  • After a year of transition, no perpetrators of atrocities have been prosecuted in East  Timor  or Indonesia. The U.N. justice system in East Timor concentrates on civil cases, robbery and ordinary murders. Indonesia had a chance to clean its own house but hasn't. Prosecutors and judges have close ties to the generals. Notorious paramilitary leader Eurico Guterres received the Dignity of National Patriot Award in an Indonesian city last month. Aderito says an international war crimes tribunal is essential; influential countries, fearing that trials would destabilize Indonesia, prefer reconciliation. But how do you have reconciliation without justice, or truth? Without separating those who were forced to go along from those who planned the killings?
  • The U.N. is writing regulations for East Timorese without consulting them; it wants to present a package. The East  Timor  council and Cabinet have little influence. Xanana quit for a while; others threaten to. Also, "institutions such as the World Bank and NGOs that never knew East  Timor  or supported its struggle are suddenly acting like saviors." They push their own agendas, including privatization in what has been "a communal society."
  • Aderito saves his greatest skepticism for Peter Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, whose civic education project is laying the groundwork for next year's election: "They have an estimated budget of $8 million, and $7 million is for international 'volunteers' " while Timorese are homeless and hungry. Locals lack clean water, but visitors drink Aqua from Australia and leave plastic everywhere.
  • Galbraith wants East Timor  not to become a charity case but, Aderito says, it might not be in this condition if the United States had not provided political and military support for the Indonesian occupation. (Galbraith should be credited with asserting Timorese ownership of offshore oil, a godsend.)

    What does Aderito expect of the new East Timor?  To provide for basic needs, not new cars for everyone; to develop health care, education and agriculture; perhaps to become a model for the new millennium -- a small nation that is coping. "I learned from Indonesia," he says. "They're very rich, but after 50 years of independence (from the Netherlands), they collapsed."

    Aderito says the transition from guerrilla leader to president will not not be easy for Xanana. Ramos-Horta overemphasizes good relations with foreign countries, Aderito says, and should pay more attention to what East Timorese want. Aderito does not see a strategy except, "Trust the U.N." Aderito's point is not that these are not  bad people but that no one should be above criticism. An election is not a coronation. Let the chips fall.

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