BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor  home    February news

"To avoid or control this likelihood of violence there are several means if properly used could reduce existing tensions and will also help in the promotion of a collective awareness about the need to enhance a tolerant society in the country:
A- A greater involvement of young people in open discussions about social problems;
B- A greater involvement of the civil society in public debates on these same problems;
C- A greater involvement by political parties leaders in Youth education; and
D- A greater involvement of the media in the civic education process." President Xanana

CNRT/National Congress Presidency




On the occasion of the

Symposium on “Reconciliation, Tolerance, Human Rights and Elections”

National Council

Dili, 12 February 2001


Social-historical considerations (before and after the 25 April 1974)

1.  The history of the Timorese People for independence against the Portuguese control had many struggles reaching its highest point with the great rebellion of Manufahi, in 1912.

Divided in kingdoms, the Timorese People affirmed itself as a warring nation while slippery in its relation with the Portuguese. We believe that after the rebellion of the Manufahi, the Timorese People, obviously still divided by kingdoms, lived an era of a better relationship among themselves until the period before the Japanese invasion.

The Japanese invasion, from 1942 to 1945, was another test to the courage of the Timorese people which concurrently managed to live with the invaders while maintaining a determination to fight its presence.

I am from the generation post-Japanese invasion. From this period until the Indonesian invasion 30 years went by.

There was a certain degree of relaxation of our people during the period between the two wars, prior to the Indonesian invasion. One can think that this was due to trauma of the war and of the suffering from human and physical losses, leading to an apparent acceptance of the Portuguese presence by our People.

I belong to a generation who often heard that “the Timorese are (that is, they were) a peaceful people”. In a way that was true! And, as a matter of fact, until the 1960s there wasn’t a Portuguese military or political police presence in Timor. But even later, with the presence of a large Portuguese military force and the presence of PIDE (Portuguese Political Police), the Timorese continued to demonstrate a much tolerant behavior. Whenever violent disputes to resolve conflicts did take place, namely regarding property rights or problems concerning the traditional culture of family values, these acts were not carried out by organized groups but by individuals against individuals.

The Timorese People, by nature, are peaceful and tolerant. A magnificent example of this trait could be seeing in the way the Timorese acted and reacted, in the way they co-existed with the invaders for 25 years and above all in the last year, which was a decisive period of the struggle leading to the referendum.  It is also true that in terms of behavior or attitude, individuals or groups of people, resort to violence when they thought that reason was on their side, consciously or unconsciously, that is, consciously or manipulated by third parties.

It is also important to be known that what defines the character of the Timorese people is their aggressiveness when reacting.

It was this aggressive characteristic that was explored when the civil war broke out in 1975. As a consequence of the freedom given by Portugal in 1974, political parties defending naturally opposed ideologies appeared, which underlined existing differences in the Timorese society. Another crucial mistake was the fact that parties adopted the policy of distributing membership cards to the whole population, thus dividing the population; from districts to sub-districts, rising as strongholds of one party or another, or even at sucos, villages and even among members of the same family.

This political factor resulted in the resurgence of old quarrels (in terms of property, land and also concerning cultural-traditional relations) and consequently feeding into a desire for vengeance. So, the attacks and counter attacks, between two parties or nationalist movements with their existing ideological struggles, was then taken advantage of to carry out acts of violence, hatred and vengeance. However, and it is important to clarify, that soon after the revenge, calm was then the reality throughout the whole territory. Besides the arrests that took place, populations lived again their day-to-day life without much concern of who belonged to this or that party.

I want to underline this fact in order to prove, again, that this people, the Timorese people, are by nature peaceful and tolerant.

I also want to prove that, as in any other type of situation when there is generalized violence, acts of violence are carried out by individuals or identifiable groups and not the population as a whole.

I would also like to call attention to the influence/manipulation played by third parties.


Violence in the present context

(the colonial system: repressive and divisive)

1. It is often said that totalitarian regimes are ruled by the principle of divide et impera. Until the rebellion of Manufahi, the Portuguese control was contested by all kingdoms but when armed conflicts did take place only one kingdom, or maybe a small group of kingdoms, would actually take initiative. This allowed for the Portuguese to use other kingdoms to fight them back, in the context of this principle.

After the Japanese occupation, I believe that human losses and physical destruction, besides other reasons that may be evoked, was clearly one of the factors behind the non-application of this principle as strictly as it had been in the past. Up to the 25 April 1974, an environment of much tolerance and tranquility existed among the populations.

2. The retreat of almost 90% of the population to the mountains, for a guerrilla resistance that lasted for three years, stopped for a while the cleansing of political enemies. This took place right after the invading forces were able to destroy, one by one, the six (6) existing bases of resistance that covered the country from the end of 1977 to the end of 1978. High level politicians and military people saved their lives at the cost of hundreds of arms and hundreds of lives of Falintil guerrilla fighters who were turned in and later assassinated. Moreover, from the middle cadres down to the rank and files educated Timorese were also massacred.

Until 1980 the hunt down continued while the clandestine organization began its initial steps. In 1980 the first breakdown of the clandestine network took place, in Dili. In 1981, it happened in Baucau. Torture, imprisonment and expatriation resulted in attitudes and behaviors that people were not happy with. However, many did choose to contribute for them, the occupants, thus opening up a way for the creation of an intelligence network for the use of the invader.

People began receiving money in exchange for information on the resistance. As a consequence, the breakdown of the resistance network, although in a small scale, continued to take place almost everywhere.

The children of 1975 grew up into youngsters, a youth who suffered what their parents suffered, a youth who felt the repression of the invader. October 1989, during the visit of the Pope, and early 1990, during the visit by the American Ambassador in Jakarta, the youth began appearing as a demanding stronghold. The youth resistance organization was, at the time, more or less unified and their activities reached a peak with the events of 12 November 1991; a massive demonstration with an extraordinary political and diplomatic impact.

It is important to recall that more than one third of the population died during these years caused by bombardments, bullets, hunger, disease and massacres, often perpetuated in collective acts, and the majority of this one third were adults.

The youth appeared then, at the eyes of the invaders, as the most dangerous segment of society. After the events of 12 November and, as a response to the breakdown of resistance strongholds, the Youth began to divide itself into smaller groups. However, and concurrently to this breakdown into smaller groups, the number of youth members as a whole was growing year after year.

Knowing that physical elimination was not the most advisable path to follow, although still necessary at times, the invader chose to destroy the Youth by distorting their character.

3. In order to better understand the ability of the invader to successfully create in Timor a culture of violence, one must look at the Indonesian society, where the Indonesian youth during the Soeharto regime practiced violence in the street, particularly between secondary level schools. The Indonesian military intelligence was behind these acts, even financing ethnic gang groups, perverting them and leading them into fighting each other intensively. After Soeharto’s fall, the destruction that took place throughout Indonesia, and in particular in Jakarta, tested the morale of a segment of the Indonesian Youth. This segment was made up of the marginal elements of Indonesian society.

In Timor, the Youth increased in numbers and there wasn’t an employment capacity prepared to absorb those coming out of school. Here, was created a fertile ground for the invader to pervert the moral of many young people by promoting gambling and disorder, which facilitated paid activities of political persecution and information.

The principle of divide et impera was very much present for the invader and was particularly applied to the generation which was born and raised under its control. If, anywhere in the world, the Youth is regarded as the promise of the future, this was also further recognized by the Indonesian military.

The result was the open violence that became institutionalized following the long period after Soeharto’s fall, or the beginning of the Reform in Indonesia, until the Popular Consultation.

4. What effects did the Indonesian military occupation did have on the Timorese Youth?

Overall, the occupation resulted in a common conscience of repression, a consequence of foreign domination. Given the characteristics of the resistance, there was a clear division in the youth sector: between the marginal ones who lived from paid services and were protected by the Indonesian Intelligence, and those who were nationalists. However, due to the systematic repression, the nationalist ones were profoundly divided in smaller or larger groups, with different characters, although all contributed in their own manner to the struggle.

It also happened that some groups organized and differentiated themselves by their type of skills in martial arts. It is also important to underline the existence of organizations to defend neighborhoods. These differences were, sort of, overcome throughout the years because there was a common goal; the same happened with the youth.

At the political level, after the referendum and especially in the second semester of last year, politicians felt and still feel that there is no place for an unity of goals. Therefore some politicians prefer to emphasize the differences. At the sociological level the same thing happened with the Youth in its many organizations.

They all fought as a whole, but each group sees itself as an important share to the general input. That is further reflected in some circumstances when this fact is considered to be relevant.


The challenges of change (Aspects: economic, civic and political)

1.  Considering all that I have already referred above, and also due to the total destruction of the few goods accumulated throughout the years, the sense of freedom has a sour taste, not only because of what happened but especially because of the present expectations.

This was strongly felt at the end of 1999 and reached its peaked by the end of April last year allowing for a slowdown of this situation. These events are still in the memory of the clandestine struggle, since the differences which were dormant and apparently forgotten during the bloody month of September, surfaced again. This memory, and the level of participation of each group, was used as an excuse by some people to evoke a greater participation on their parts versus that of others, instead of trying to underline the value of their sacrifices. This even resulted in some regional conflicts, with such slogans as “firakus fought more than kaladis” (Note: “firakus” are those Timorese from east side of Manatutu’s district; “kaladis” are the ethnic groups from the west side of Manatutu’s district).

The total destruction of Dili created a situation that led to the occupation of abandoned buildings without any sort of control. The difficult situation in the interior of Timor also provoked an exodus to Dili, aggravated by those refugees returning from West Timor who, for whatever reasons, also decided to move to Dili. A phenomenon which was noticed was that this exodus was mostly carried out by the “firakus”, who have moved mostly to the area between Becora and Taci Tolu, controlling all of the Old Market.

2. During the Indonesian occupation, it was said that there were gangs commanded by Eurico Guterres (who worked for the enemy’s intelligence and who later became the second supreme commander of the pro-integration militias). These gangs were often made up of elements from the western region of the country. Today there is a perception that some cases of violence are provoked by elements who are not from the clandestine organizations but instead belong to these gangs.

I would like to continue to recall that incidents of violence, with a certain dimension, have been caused by groups more or less known. This problem, almost without a solution, meaning that we haven’t been able to completely put an end to these conflicts, is due to the fact  that those who control these groups do not show a genuine will to conciliate. Instead each group feels that they are the “strongest” or the “most able” or the “one who did the most” than all the others. There was never a willingness to acknowledge their own mistakes and efforts towards dialogue do not lead to actual positive results since each group always demands more than the other without much will to compromise. Whatever solution that has been reach always leads to a certainty of a “no solution”.

The issue here is the lack of a political conscience by elements of these groups and what is fundamentally wrong are the egocentrism or ignorance of their leaders.

3.  Since the beginning there was a major concern with the return, more or less out of control, of the refugees and consequently the possible infiltration of militias, intelligence agents from the Indonesian military, elements of criminal gangs and/or hooligans.

For instance, in the first semester of last year, much was spoken of the pornographic music and CDs and appeals from Eurico Guterres that were easily available in the Old Market. In here, the presence of elements sent from west Timor to create disturbances can be felt. Presently, the Old Market is a decadent place where freedom is often mistaken with anarchy, with signs of moral decadence. There are many reports of young people carrying guns and grenades. In fights among themselves, groups have demonstrated that they know how to use molotoff cocktails. Moreover, some of these groups of youngsters also carry guns known has “rakitan” (= home made, not a Timorese tradition but introduced by militia). There are also rumors of illegal importation of guns hidden (some inside spare tires) and ammunitions which have entered East Timor.

Facts aside, this particular group of the Youth, being an instrument to disturb the process must be included in the equation when we discuss violence either today or in the near future.

4. Completely forgetting what happened in 1975, which caused much suffering to the people of East Timor, some groups or political parties, outside CNRT, are committed to repeat the policy of population control.

The rush to power by some groups or political parties, and the lack of awareness of the difficulties that they will have to face when governing Timor (in the first period after the proclamation of independence), is blinding some parties. These parties continue to pursue the policy of population control, in a supreme desire to prove that they will have the great majority of the Timorese people voting for them in the forthcoming elections.

On the other hand, the CPD-RDTL, made up of lunatics and incipient politicians that has already been disturbing the population in certain places. CPD-RDTL has demonstrated an ability to mobilize young people, many of whom were not a part of the clandestine organizations, to act violently in some places of the territory. In Dili, they have been promoting young people towards violence and towards the disrespect of law and order.

There is a great potential for a new eruption of violence commanded from a far.

Many factors indicate this possibility:

Socially – people expectations are greater than the reality of its fulfillment;
Economically – the lack of jobs and the future need of a qualified work force that does not yet exist is a serious problem;
Politically – some parties have chosen to act alone fearful of not reaching a great number of votes.

5. To avoid or control this likelihood of violence there are several means if properly used could reduce existing tensions and will also help in the promotion of a collective awareness about the need to enhance a tolerant society in the country:

A- A greater involvement of young people in open discussions about social problems;

B- A greater involvement of the civil society in public debates on these same problems;

C- A greater involvement by political parties leaders in Youth education; and

D- A greater involvement of the media in the civic education process.

It is possible to strengthen the overall awareness about the difficulties of the process, the expectation of development and the role that each individual or group can play in the building of the nation through the implementation of a specific program to speed up the development of society. Be it in Dili or at Districts level.

In the medium term only the establishment of an adequate strategic development program can show to everyone their possibility to have a role in the future. Concurrently, it would be important to immediately define professional training programs, aimed at young people, so that each one of them will know that he/she will have the qualifications and a job in the future, therefore participating in the development process.

Finally, I hope that the political parties do not take advantage of the Youth and using them as a political tool for disturbance, because when the Youth lack political preparedness, it will be difficult to build a society based on tolerance and mutual respect.

The President of CNRT

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão

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See Also:

Feb 1 Xanana: Address at Transition Ceremony Of Falintil  [Speech: Transition]
"As your [Falintil's] former companion who shared the same difficulties in the mountains, who failed in leading you while we were reduced to less than one hundred men where as under the clear leadership of your Commander, Taur Matan Ruak, who enabled you to become an army of over one thousand five hundred soldiers  I can only but express here, today, my admiration for the spirit of self-sacrifice that you showed by bearing yet another year of hardship in Aileu." Xanana Gusmao, President, CNRT/CN

Jan 1 CNRT: Xanana's New Year's Message  [Speech: Transition]
"It is hard for us to believe that foreigners who come to East Timor to work do not have some knowledge of Timorese political reality. Foreigners should bear in mind that the essential condition for their operational success is to be aware that they do not come to save East Timor but rather to fulfil a mission of support; therefore, if they are not aware of this reality they will face the ungrateful mission of earning money for 6 months and returning to their homes, as so many have done, often revealing themselves to be less skilled than the East Timorese who can not find a job." Xanana Gusmão

Dec 5-6 CNRT/CNP: Brussels donor's meeting - opening speech by the CNRT's rep  [Speech: Transition]
"The Timorese ... find it hard to understand how, with the resources available, that after nearly one year following the Tokyo Conference, Dili is almost in the same state. A worse scenario, which hurts one's soul to witness, can be seen throughout the rest of the country." Xanana Gusmao

Dec 5 XG: President Xanana Gusmao open letter to East Timorese  [Letter]
"I have stated and explained to the people that in the democratic society that we want to build we must create the conditions for new leaders to assert themselves because the demands of independence are much greater and harder than those of the armed struggle. My request to resign from the National Council must be looked at within this context. The country needs democrats not autocrats. The people need qualified leaders for independence and my political engagement must be directed toward creating the conditions for so many others to assert themselves, most of whom come from the historical political parties." Xanana Gusmao, CNRT/CN Presidency

Dec 2 CNRT/NC: Xanana's Resignation Denied  [Release]

Nov 11 2000 & Oct 1990 RN: Xanana Gusmao interviews  [Interviews]
"what I feel is that if we improve the social and economic situation in East Timor, our people will forgive. This is my own, my personal point of view" Xanana Gusmao - from guerilla fighter to leader of his country

National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT)
The CNRT was established as the peak body of the East Timorese people's resistance to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Its members are drawn from all walks of life and political viewpoints, including the major political parties. Now that Indonesia has left and the administration of East Timor is being taken over by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), CNRT is restructuring itself to play a new role. This involves moving from opposition to proposition and the facilitation of transition to self-government and independence. See: Nov 1999 The CNRT in Transition & Aug 2000 CNRT National Congress: Draft resolution on human rights
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