Notes from Dili

Rahung Nasution

Letter to Jude Conway, a friend in Darwin

Jude, my dear friend, I remember when you visited Dili two years ago. It was in Farol at the Sahe Institute for Liberation, which has since changed its name to Institutu Edukasaun Popular. It was a brief courteous exchange…

Before I go on and answer your letter, there are two reasons why I felt I had to write Around Golpe In Miles Davis’ Trumpet, published on Paras Indonesia website. First, I am suspicious to corporate media. Second, I wanted to write about experiences of people around me. If both were to be combined: I wanted to write something personal while trying to understand this rather complex madness. I didn’t dare to draw any conclusions in a hurry.

I agree, it’s true, democracy allows for a regime and leadership change by taking it to the streets. Not just through the ballot box or Parliamentary mayhem. What happened to PM Marí Alkatiri also happened to leaders in Thailand, Phillipines, Indonesia, and, if Australian believed in street parliament, this can also befall PM John Howard. Even more so if it is helped by the power of corporate media.

In the case of Alkatiri’s resignation, he wasn’t just sacked by the minority opposition parties, rebel soldiers and his various mistakes such as you mentioned in your letter. I also think this happened thanks to the great power of corporate media, among others, ABC, through their Four Corners programme.

Evidence of what was thought as Alkatiri’s involvement in the matter of weapons distribution: a secret letter from the PNTL Commander Paul Fatima Martins, a document from the ‘Fretilin Secret Security Team’ – which bears no signature and the contents of which weren’t shown in full – about weapons distribution, a staged shooting scene, and an SMS from Alkatiri to Comandante Railos which said: “Where are you going?”

Based on ABC’s Liz Jackson’s ‘investigation,’ President Xanana Gusmão sent a letter to Alkatiri which asked him to step down. And then on RTTL, on 22 June, a ‘surprise’ speech by Xanana Gusmão was aired. That speech mentioned bloodthirsty powers, Fretilin congress participants who received weapons, illegal congresses, SMS’s to PM Alkatiri reporting President’s activities, etc, etc.

Unfortunaley, I do not have access to sources like you do – which you said was information from a trusted ‘left’ comrade who has close contact with Timorese soldiers. That is why I have to be careful about what I write. Dili is chock-full of rumours which certainly cannot be regarded as ‘information’.

If I use this ‘information’ from your ‘left’ comrades in my writing, it would come out exactly as the rumours that have been flying around and accusations from the petitioners which, as of yet, remain unproven. Strangely enough, the petitioners also reject the forming of a commission of inquiry to address the problems that they brought up. Alkatiri did not fire 591 petitioning soldiers, as the corporate media both in Indonesia and Australia say. The decision came from the F-FDTL headquarters, then led by Alkatiri and also Ramos-Horta.

If the issue of ‘discrimination’ was raised by the petitioning soldiers, indeed, there is some basis to it. But if the issue of Lorosa’e (eastern region) versus Loromonu (western region) is raised, seems like it has hit the wrong target.

Ever since F-FDTL institution was formed, problems began to appear. That was during UNTAET administration, in 2001, and Alkatiri was not yet the Prime Minister. This military institution was formed based on a study conducted by King’s College. Back then, there were former guerillas who were dissatisfied with this process and chose to become civilians. They came from both regions, Lorosa’e and Loromonu: Comandante Eli Foho Rai Boot and Renan, Ersnesto Dudu and Samba 9.

For those who did not pass through recruitment process and did not meet standards, they were ‘reintegrated’ to the community. This process involved advisors from Australia and Portugal, and was funded by the World Bank and handled by IOM. So, this institution, which was already problematic, was formed with the approval of Xanana Gusmão, who was then the chairman of the National Council.

Dear Jude, I did hear rumours, and many say that there has been harsh treatment from the commanders to soldiers from Loromonu.

But according to F-FDTL Commander, Taur Matan Ruak, Lieutenant Gastão Salsinha, who later became the spokesperson of the 591 petitioning soldiers and joind rebel soldiers Major Alfredo Reinado, Major Tara and Major Marcos, has had problems with the illegal sandalwood business. This was revealed by Brigadier Ruak on RTTL television, just days after the demonstration led by Lieutenant Salsinha turned violent. For his involvement in sandalwood business, this officer was not given a promotion. His planned study to Portugal was also cancelled by F-FDTL headquarters.

This illegal sandalwood business, again according to rumours, involved the then interior minister, Rogério Lobato.

A more thrilling rumour, Major Kaikeri from F-FDTL, who died during the shootout in Tibar with Railos’ group, was one of the key figures in this illegal sandalwood business. This rumour is too hot. And lets not forget, Railos’ confession about weapons being distributed by Alkatiri appeared in the corporate media after Rogério Lobato became a suspect.

So, let’s leave it at that with the rumours and let’s go back to the problem of nepotism within F-FDTL, like you mentioned in your letter. If we look into the issue of ranks in F-FDTL, there are many F-FDTL officers who did not come from Lorosa’e. For example, Major Alfredo Reinado, Major Marcos Tilman, Major Tara (Augusto de Araújo), Lieutenant Salsinha, Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Klamar Fuik (Donaciano Gomes) and Lieutenant Colonel Filomeno Paixão. Too bad you did not specify in your letter what sort of nepotism was referred to by your ‘left’ friend. I’m curious, could it be that your ‘left’ friend is also part of this madness?

Just recently, Bob Lowry, the former Australian military Advisor for Timor-Leste in 2002-03, in a seminar held at the Australian National University, said that he had once suggested that Alkatiri retire all F-FDTL officers who are former guerillas. If that was done, it would be likely that Colonel Pedro Klamar Fuik and Major Alfredo Reinado would rise through the ranks to lead F-FDTL.

To me, this problem is quite complex, rather intricate. And it would be too simplistic if everything is thrown at Alkatiri. Add to that old problems. Back then, during resistance, there were also promises that still remain promises today and have disappointed many young people. For example, that after independence, those who fought will live and prosper, own a good house… Such promises were given by the organisers of the underground resistance (clandestine) to persuade the young to fight for independence.

Jude, my kind friend, about the issue of weapons. I never tried to close my eyes on that. NGOs in Timor-Leste have raised this issue, including Institutu Edukasaun Popular. Back then Ramos-Horta responded, “If anything happens along the borders, are NGOs ready to face that? NGOs better stick to problems in the villages…”

Now, what does Alkatiri hope to achieve by eliminating his political opponents, all while his party is the majority and in the congress he was reelected as the secretary general? And then, why did Comandante Railos, who was told to kill Alkatiri’s political opponents, actually fought against F-FDTL, who are thought to have close ties to Alkatiri?

What are the indications that caused you to conclude that Rogério Lobato was the one to take care of dirty jobs ordered by Alkatiri? Rogério Lobato is an influential figure amongst former Falintil, and it is this influence that he used when he returned to Timor-Leste to gain his position in power. Organising them and using them.

And then, what makes all this even stranger and more complex, all armed powers (outside of the official F-FDTL) are powers that unseated Alkatiri, that took Alkatiri down… It’s complex, Jude!

Two years ago, Pedrito Vieira took part in the protest against the meeting between Xanana Gusmão and the Indonesian presidential candidate General Wiranto who has a record of crimes in Timor-Leste, and Maleve was a delegate from Lospalos in the Fretilin Congress in Dili, 17-19 May.

Y’know Jude, my dear friend, supporting a number of Alkatiri’s policies doesn’t automatically make one a pro-Fretilin supporter. And in case one day Nuno Rodrigues chooses to become a Fretilin militant, like what Adérito de Jesus Soares—the former director of Sahe Institute who now joined the Fretilin minority mudança group—chose way back when, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. That is their political choice. And Jude, my friend, you need not doubt the independence of our viewpoints on the problems going on these days. We too never tried to conceal anything for any ideological reasons. Our criticism of Fretilin has been clear: this party has turned into an electoral machine just like any other party. The difference is, Fretilin is a historical party with a majority support.

Alkatiri’s policies supported by IEP include free education, free healthcare, nutrition improvements for school children, keeping oil proceeds in the Petroleum Fund, refusing debt from the World Bank. Besides supporting these policies, IEP, together with other NGOs, is also concerned with the immigration law, defamation law, reconciliation without justice as promoted by Xanana and Horta, privatization and all sorts of political manoeuvres, which in the end will only disadvantage people at large.

If, in the end, the courts could prove that Alkatiri was involved in weapons distribution, we would certainly not support what he has done in that regard. He must be punished, and we must make sure that the law is not just a piece of used toilet paper. However, the abovementioned policies, in our opinion, are still good for the people.

Jude, my kind friend, on the 4th of July, in Obrigado Barracks, during the meeting between the civil population and UN envoy Ian Martin, Christopher Henry Samsom, the director of NGO LABEH, said: “NGOs keep weapons in their offices.” What a dangerous piece of ‘information’ this is to many people. Usually, the corporate media would just eat it raw. Some would just close their eyes. The impact of such misleading ‘information’ is what I wanted to write about.

After the arrival of Australian troops on 25 May and the withdrawal of F-FDTL from Dili on 26 May, the torching of houses in Dili was done because the perpetrators thought the owners kept guns. The targets of this arson are people who have family or friends in F-FDTL. This was ignored by the corporate media who, misleadingly, described this as a “Lorosae vs Loromono”conflict, as if there’s been burning contest between these two ‘factions’ here.

Jude, my dear friend, I’m convinced that something stinks with calumny. By writing about it, we have tried to fight something that’s really low and malicious!

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