Transcript: Xanana Gusmao Interview: Priorities for the New Nation
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
October 10, 2001
A leaderís dream for peace and prosperity
East Timorís poet revolutionary and presidential nominee Xanana Gusmao talks about peace, reconciliation and the priorities for the new nation of East Timor.
The interview with Asia Pacificís Peter Mares also includes questions from our online audience.
Our thanks to all who participated.
MARES: Xanana Gusmao, Welcome to Asia Pacific. First of all I wanted to ask you about the difficulty of balancing the desire for justice in East Timor with the need for reconciliation and forgiveness. How do you balance those two things?
GUSMAO: I think the important question is how can we achieve peace? Putting this question in mind we can balance the two problems. Of course we will not deny justice, the need of justice that if we look at justice in very formal way in terms of trial, punishment, prison, maybe we donít solve the situation, the situation of the feeling of the people and thatís why to reconcile two sides it needs one who can reconsider, can recognise that he did mistakes and from the other side the willingness to forgive - that is reconciliation. Reconciliation is not only to bring back and to punish, this is not reconciliation this is justice, but are we able to put hundreds of people of militias into jail and feeding them? Because I went to every place in East Timor and what people are demanding is education for their children, health, because the problem of health is a very, very big challenge for us also. And some infrastructure that facilitates their lives. This is why - taking all of this into account - why we donít solve the problem of justice in other ways by giving the opportunity to the people to speak. To, to speak out.
MARES: So does that mean a truth and reconciliation commission?
GUSMAO: Yes and to the perpetrators to ask for forgiveness, to recognise their mistake and to ask for forgiveness, because if you see the destruction that happened in East Timor was not by their own, the militias, their own initiative, this is why I donít see when we talk about international tribunal it is for East Timorese. If it is not for East Timorese let us solve our problem and the communityís already told me that bring back them we will live together, we will punish them in our way, we will demand to them oh, you burnt this house, help us and build together.
MARES: But does that mean that no one gets brought to the courts and no one gets prosecuted? Because there are some people that have very serious crimes to answer, some East Timorese, not just Indonesians.
GUSMAO: Yes of course, of course, very serious crime. I watch it also, I watch also some images, some pictures where militia members killed and cut in pieces bodies. Are they the murderers? Are they the mainstream?
MARES: Are they the leaders .
GUSMAO: .the leaders? The problem is this, but I must tell you that in the new face of returning process of the refugees we talk directly to the commanders of the militias and we told them please it will not be reconciliation if there is no justice and you must accept justice. And they accepted to go to trial, to go to trial. Thatís why you must remember that I put the question to all East Timorese people - reconciliation, justice, but donít forget the need for amnesty. If there is no amnesty no reconciliation will be in place.
MARES: The problem is at the moment though that there havenít been any serious prosecutions, thereís been one or two people prosecuted and convicted, and one of our listeners called Didy has sent in a question for you via the email, and Didy asks you say youíve been talking about reconciliation but wonít this set a bad precedent legally? Is this a good basis upon which to build a legal system if people arenít punished by the due process of law?
GUSMAO: Iíd like to remind Didy that we must not see the problem of justice and punishment only in September case. We must go back until Ď75 if we want all the past can help founding a law system. But if we talk about law only, justice only there is social justice to be considered also and what the priority? Bring people to the prison, feeding them, when our people are demanding for health assistance, health care, for education for their children. The problem is what is more heavy for the East Timorese leaders? We and I am saying on the 17th I will welcome a commander of the militia from the Ainaro district.
MARES: On the 17th of October?
GUSMAO: Yes next week and they who will come they accepted to be on trial.
MARES: Which commander is that?
GUSMAO: Nemezio, second commander, the vice commander, Nemezio Carvarhallo, he will come with some members will go to trial. But the problem is if itís only justice of course if the tribunal says you are guilty, you must be punished with ten-15 years, it is good? Having one or more people in jail for ten-15-20 years it heals somebody? Psychologically maybe some victims will be satisfied in the moment, but after that the prisoners, the family of the prisoners we could not forgive each other and we have our relatives in prison, we will continue only the environment of intolerance.
MARES: And conflict .
MARES: What about the alternative though, that if people donít see justice done through the legal process that they then take matters into their own hands? That you see attacks on returning militia members, I mean isnít that a big risk as well?
GUSMAO: Two years ago, after two years, two years after we donít see this as a problem. I must say in Liquica there were two cases in which one was . one was violated.
MARES: Beaten up on?
GUSMAO: Yes beaten up and some other cases but in small cases because it was the time that people were still very hurt with nothing, with no house, nothing.
MARES: So the wounds were still very fresh?
GUSMAO: Yes, still very fresh, but now that is not the problem.
MARES: One of our other correspondents Gareth Smith has asked the question, Xanana, why do you resist the prospect of an international war crimes tribunal for East Timor?
GUSMAO: I not against an international tribunal, I just say that we as East Timorese we have other priorities and if it is an international tribunal let international community to set up this, donít demand us to do this. We will anyway we will help this tribunal but donít give to us this burden because our burden is more than to seek for justice, we are now, our people are dying, our children are dying, the elder people are dying without health care. We are depending on NGOís help in the health, education, we have 24 per cent of our population under 20 years of age, 44 per cent of our population under 14, enormous challenges. We have our roads repaired but we know that next rainy season will destroy everything all over again . so many difficulties. Agriculture, people are in a subsistence way of production, we must some way resolve and please let the international community, the duty to establish this.
MARES: Do you feel to some extent let down by the international community in the sense that the United Nations did setup a special serious crimes unit in East Timor with special prosecutors and investigators, but really that special crimes unit has failed to seriously bring people to justice? Itís been very criticised.
GUSMAO: We established a special tribunal there in the form of a national council and they must inform the international council previous to the national consultative council. We work on consensus and the establishment of the special tribunal because it is by consensus, before I said yes, I request the attention of all members and they said please is it fair that under the wrong convention of crimes we will trial five per cent of the crimes committed in East Timor during 24 years to East Timorese? And theyíre letting 95 per cent of the crimes without any capacity to catch the criminals. Is it fair? Is it something big to East Timor to glorify East Timor as a champion of justice seeking for revenge to East Timorese? After that I said I donít need answers but I say yes to the special tribunal that we established. The problem is very complicated, a complicated problem.
MARES: Turning to other matters, one of our listeners Robert Tulip has written in to ask about the East Timorese still living in camps in West Timor and whether they want to return to East Timor, whether youíd welcome their return and whatís stopping them from coming back?
GUSMAO: Yes I must say that we started a new phase of returning process and last month, we met twice with people from Ainaro district and the Suai district and in second phase of these negotiations I welcomed 996 people from Ainaro and on the second day more than 500 people from Suai. I am going to welcome again on 16th and 18th people from Ainaro as I said earlier with Nemezio Carvarhallo and on the 18th I will receive people from Suai. What is the cause for the others to remain there? There are many factors, some they are family of the militias, some family of former Timorese people serving TNI?
MARES: Timorese battalions in Indonesia, army?
GUSMAO: Yes, police force.
MARES: Indonesian police force?
GUSMAO: Yes, Indonesian police force, civil servants. Some relatives of the families of the militias, but two measured factors were that they were waiting for the harvest, last harvest, and second, because of the misinformation it distorts the information about East Timor many of them who are very afraid of coming before the elections. But I know that after the elections, after the result of the elections they will come.
MARES: One of the other writers (Donny) has asked us to ask you, weíve also been asked to ask you by one of our correspondents about the relationship now between the people of East Timor and Indonesia. How do you see that relationship now given all thatís happened?
GUSMAO: Between people now we have a very good relationship, we are trying to solve the problem of refugees and the militias - to have better relations with people from West Timor because we believe that if the militias come and we can reconcile with them they will not be anymore threat on the border, and we can build a very good, a very tight, close relationship with West Timor, in common planning of the infrastructure, education, health and some other fields. With an open border just to facilitate the economic area between the two people - on both sides. And of course we will achieve peace, understanding better with Indonesian people who we have good relations with.
MARES: Even if the Indonesian government never prosecutes its military and those commanders responsible for what happened in East Timor over 25 years?
GUSMAO: We are trying to remind the government, we went there last month to congratulate, to pay respect to President Megawati. We met the minister of co-ordination and he told us the same question as I feel in East Timor, please, we are in a very difficult situation economically, socially, culturally, ethnically, we have enormous challenges, we will not forget but it must not be our priority. And we understand of course because we understand our own estimation with 750-thousand we feel that it is enormous difficulties what about 200-million?
MARES: Xanana Gusmao Patrick Mahoney, one of our listeners has said he wants to wish your country every success, but he says Iím wondering why youíve chosen Portuguese as the lingua franca for East Timor? He says English could help to take your country forward as the international language, he says your struggle was an anti-colonial struggle, why choose Portuguese as the national language?
GUSMAO: First of all I will say English will be taught in East Timor as an international language, we donít need to have English as national language because it is international, everywhere everybody speaks English or tries to speak it like me. We chose Portuguese more because of culture, history, identity. Just imagine that between three-thousand islands which compose the Indonesian archipelago - we half of a small island with an enclave the other half, being different, having the right to determine ourselves, you just see now it is not a secret (to learn Portuguese). Aceh for example, Ambon for example, West Papua or Irian Jaya for example, because they were independent of that, they are different from us and we could have the right to be independent and they are not. It is why as in Africa the boundaries made by the colonisers defining the new states.
MARES: And defined the languages often.
GUSMAO: Yes defined the language also and it is our luck, our fortune maybe, the presence of Portugal there.
MARES: So thatís why you donít want to have Indonesian as a national language for example because so many young Timorese speak Indonesian.
GUSMAO: Yes of course but before this it was because they prohibited Portuguese and prohibit the teaching of Portuguese but it is not the problem. We will have, of course English will be important to our education, Portuguese will be even just as a symbol or a part or element of our identity.
MARES: What about Tetum?
GUSMAO: Not yet, maybe 10 to 15 years because it has to be more improved.
MARES: And developed as a written language?
GUSMAO: As a language that they can accept.
MARES: A couple of our listeners have written in to ask about what kind of future government you would like to see in East Timor. Whether youíd see a presidential system with a powerful executive, or more a parliamentary system where the president stands apart from day to day government and is more like a separate power, a balance if you like on the government? What sort of government do you, what sort of system do you want to see in East Timor?
GUSMAO: It is difficult for me now to answer because some people can think that Iím going to influence the constitutional assembly and it is, Iím very sorry but it is a very difficult question for me to answer now.
MARES: So you keep yourself apart from those debates?
GUSMAO: Yes, yes of course.
MARES: Itís something you donít feel itís your role to influence that debate?
GUSMAO: No, no, in the constitution some aspect of the constitution of course but in the system it will be very difficult to me yes.
MARES: Eric Carwardine has written in to ask, he says youíd agree that the Australian military got a good reputation from its role in East Timor after 1979, but he says would you also agree that the Australian military is now being damaged internationally its reputation by its role in intercepting asylum seekers who are arriving in Australia?
GUSMAO: Firstly, I think Iím not the right person to comment on this but I donít think that it will damage the Australian army reputation. Even some people ask of me why Australian army is still going to help the United States in the strikes on Afghanistan. It is difficult to say that it is wrong or not, as a human being I only say that violence is not the good way to solve problems. But I donít believe that because of the attitudes not against - but to impede that the refugees to come, I donít know - I feel that it is not the real question to be taken in consideration by saying that it damage or not, the Australian army reputation.
MARES: A couple of our listeners have written in to ask about your writing because of course you are also a poet, which is one of the reasons why youíre here in Melbourne to open the Melbourne International Arts Festival. And Walter Kormarnicki has asked who are the people whoíve most influenced your own writing? Which other writers have influenced you as a poet?
GUSMAO: I must say firstly that for 24 years I donít read so much.
MARES: Well you were living in the jungle, fighting a guerilla war.
GUSMAO: Yes but before it was a Portuguese poet in high school.
MARES: And youíre still writing? I mean you wrote when you were in prison, are you still writing poetry now?
GUSMAO: Now, I am trying to find time to write, paint, even Iím not poet, I donít consider myself a poet or a painter, now, no . but in prison yes because sometimes we have some time to do that.
MARES: And why did you write and paint in prison?
GUSMAO: More to explain feelings, more to express feelings, Iím not a painter, but I was fortunate because an Indonesian fellow helped me with canvas and I started before my wife herself, Amnesty International, I see her they gave me, provided me with materials.
MARES: But before that Indonesians were supplying you?
MARES: Through the prison system or sympathetic people outside?
GUSMAO: An inmate.
MARES: A friend?
GUSMAO: A friend in prison, an inmate in prison. Just to explain feeling.
MARES: And did that help you cope with that time in prison?
MARES: And was it difficult to cope? Did you feel at times like .
GUSMAO: In the beginning, in the beginning it was very difficult because I was incommunicado and before I could speak Bahasa to communicate it was a very difficult time.
MARES: So you learnt Bahasa Indonesia while you were in prison.
GUSMAO: Yes, yes.
MARES: And were there times while you were in prison where you thought youíd lost, you thought that the struggle was lost?
GUSMAO: No, on the contrary because there I could meet solidarity groups, activists of democracy, Indonesian people.
MARES: Fellow inmates?
GUSMAO: Yes and from outside also in normal visits that we could have, and it was a stimulation, it was something that connected us in the same struggle for freedom. And it gave us the certainty that we will win the struggle against the Suharto regime.
MARES: Xanana Gusmao, thank you very much for joining us on Asia Pacific.
GUSMAO: Thank you also.
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