EAST TIMOR AFTER INDEPENDENCE: MORE VIOLENCE, ENDURING POVERTY AND XANANA GUSMAO

EAST TIMOR AFTER INDEPENDENCE

After East Timor became independent, thousands of refugees returned home from West Timor. Soldiers in the East Timor Defense Force began replacing United Nations peacekeepers. The courts and legislature began functioning. There was a drought in 2002, which didn’t help get the economy going.

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “Nation building faces a number of challenges, however. Just to mention a couple of these difficult tasks ahead: to build a legal system that would address a range of national and international legal issues; the economic challenges faced by the new nation are also daunting. For over a decade the country will have to relay mainly on the contributions of donor nations, as oil explorations will not generate enough revenue in the near future. The country does not have an economic and manufacturing infrastructure, so even something as basic as a box of matches or a package of crackers will have to be imported from Indonesia. For the country’s survival and maintenance until it can reach a state that resembles a form of self-sufficiency, East Timor will be dependant on the international community, particularly its neighbors—Indonesia and Australia. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

“During the summer of 2001 I served as an election observer again for the Carter Center. As a long term observer I spent two months monitoring the situation in four different districts, Manufahi, Ainaro, Aileu, and Ermera. In Ermera district, at least, even after the dissolution of the CNRT, its security groups were still active, particularly in such screening process of returnees, right down to the hamlet level. In 2002 while I was conducting my anthropological research in the Atsabe subdistrict of Ermera district, I was often told that these security groups are extremely careful in their screening process. Officially, those with former militia ties were said to have been reintegrated peacefully and without much incidents. Unofficially, in the various villages of the subdistrict, people freely discussed how former militia were first beaten, or had to live under house arrest for the rest of their lives in the homes of former CNRT security people as virtual slaves, or entire villages took on a dual organization where the reintegrated former militia were sequestered to one half of the village while regular citizens occupied the other half. Severity of beatings depended on the severity of their crimes. Those living under ‘house arrest’ were constantly threatened if they did not perform their ‘slave duties’ as a repayment for the harm they had caused during 1999. <>

During election observation duties, people tended to talk about this union as if a merger has taken place between an official party and a political group (ASDT and RDTL). However, overlap in personnel and similarity of agenda and platform, and information from local level CNRT security groups suggests the former interpretation, that is, ASDT was the public party face of RDTL. Some party representatives of ASDT tried to distance themselves, at least in rhetoric, from RDTL that engaged in some questionable behaviour of reported intimidation during the 2001 campaign. <>

In January 2002, the independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) was set up in East Timor as part of an agreement between East Timor and Indonesia to investigate human rights violation in the previous 25 years and try and heal wounds of past. In August 2005,the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), held its first meeting. The body, which had no power to prosecute, examined the violence that accompanied East Timor's independence in 1999 and reported on alleged atrocities during Indonesia's 24-year rule and presented its findings to the United Nations. It found finds that the occupation was directly responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 East Timorese. See See Separate Article INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE VIOLENCE AFTER THE 1999 EAST TIMOR REFERENDUM

Elections in East Timor 2001

In August 2001, an election for a constituent assembly were held. It was East Timor’s first democratic election. There were 1,138 candidates from 18 parties vying for seats. Fretilin dominated, winning 55 of 88 seats and 57 percent of the popular vote. Turnout was 93 percent.

Andrea K. Molnar of Northern Illinois University wrote: “During 2001 leading up to the 30 August elections of a Constituent Assembly, the Transitional Administration undertook extensive voter education activities along with the help of several local NGOs. Therefore, whether illiterate or educated, all people had access to information. Even the most remote villages received training on different forms of government and the choices of government for the constituent assembly elections. Aside from UN and NGO voter educators, there were several civic education pamphlets given out and posters displayed, as well as civic education being broadcast on radio and television. Albeit radio reception was very poor in high mountainous regions and ownership of television, let alone access to electricity outside of Dili, the capital, was problematic. The population was also consulted on what they want to see in the constitution that the 88 member Constituent Assembly will have to draft in just a few months. [Source: Andrea K. Molnar, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 , seasite.niu.edu/EastTimor <>]

Civic education was provided in the lingua franca of Tetum. However, a survey done by The Asia Foundation (May 2001) in 392 hamlets of 196 villages in 13 districts of East Timor, suggested a lack of understanding of not just the political process but of basic concepts such as ‘democracy’. For example, 36 percent defined democracy as freedom of speech (2001:11). Also the majority of the population from four districts I observed as an election observer during the summer of 2001 was fearful of many political parties as they were concerned with possible violence and civil war as they experienced in 1975. A large portion of the population also lacked understanding of the purpose of the elections, that is, an election for a Constituent Assembly. Many thought of it as an election for president (ibid). In Letefoho, Ermera district at the cross roads I saw a locally made sign displayed that gave the date of the election, 30 August, and had the inscription Xanana for president. <>

By April 2001 various political groups and political parties emerged. Political groups in East Timor at the time of the 2001 election (Acronym-Party, Political group name, year established, leader): 1) APODETI pro referendo: Pro-Referendum Popular Democratic Association of Timor; 1974; Frederico Almeida Santos Costa, Laurentino Domingos Luis De Gusmao, Joao Baptista Dos Santos; 2) BRTT: East Timor People’s Front; 1999; Francisco Lopes da Cruz, Salvador Ximenes Soares; 3) CNRT: National council of Timorese Resistance; 1998; Xanana Gusmão, Jose Ramos- Horta, Mario Viegas Carrascalao, Virgilio Simith, Florentina Simith, Jose Luis Guterres; 4) CPD-RDTL; Popular Council for the Defense of the Democratic Republic of East Timor; 1999; Olo-gari Aswain, Feliciano Alves, Egas da Costa Freitas, Cristiano da Costa, Antonio da Costa, Gil da Costa Fernando; 5) Fretilin; Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor; 1974; Lu Olo, Mari Alkatiri, Mau Huno, Mau Hodu, Cipriana Pereira, Anna Pessoa, KOTA; Sons of the Mountain Warriors; 1974; 6) Clementino dos Reis Amaral, Leao Pedro dos Reis Amaral, Manuel Tilman, Augusto Pires, Joao Francisco dos Reis Amaral; 7) PDC; Christian Democratic Party; 2000; Antonio Ximenes, Jose Gomes Sereno Arlindo Marcal; 8) PDM; Maubere Democratic Party; 2000; Paulo Pinto, Gregorio Sebastião Lobo, Armindo Sanches; 9) PNT; Timorese National Party; 1999; Abilio Araujo, Alianca Conceicao de Araujo; 10) PPT; People’s Party of Timor; 2000; Francisco Pinto; 11) PSD; Social Democratic Party; 2000; Mario Carrascalao, Leandro Isaac, Agio Pereira, Zacarias da Costa, Jose Eduardo, Germano Jesus da Silva; 12) PST; Socialist Party of Timor; 1990s; Avelino Coelho da Silva, Pedro Soares da Costa Martins, Mericio Hornay dos Reis, Antonio Maher Lopes, Nelso Correia; 13) PTT (TRABALHISTA); Timor Labor Party; 1974; Paulo Freitas da Silva, Maria Angela Freitas, Nelson Marins; 14) UDC; Christian Democratic Union; 1998 / ran on same ticket with PDC [under UDC/PDC]; Vicente da Silva Guterres, Alexandre Magno Ximenes, Anselmo da Costa Aparicio; 15) UDT; Timorese Democratic Union; 1974; Joao Carrascalao, Francisco Ly Assis Nicolau, Domingos de Oliveira, Maria Lacruna; 16) PD; Democratic Party; 2001; Fernando de Araujo; 17) PARENTIL; National Republican Party of East Timor; 2001; Flaviano Pereira Lopez; 18) PL; Liberal Party; 2001; Armando da Silva; 19) ASDT; Social Democratic Association of East Timor; 2001; official party of the political group CPD-RDTL. <>

“There were candidates from 16 parties running for the 88 parliamentary seats with national and regional representatives. During the campaign period there were certain regions where tensions rose and accusation were flying against the CPD-RDTL political group. These accusations that could not be proved one way or another included wide spread intimidation and threat of violence as well as in one place in Ainaro, claims of registration documents being confiscated by the village head so people cannot go and vote. The stance of this political group, and please note this was not a political party, was that East Timor already declared its independence in 1975 and the country should return to that structure established a few days prior to the Indonesian invasion. They refused to acknowledge both the validity of the August elections and the authority of the United Nations Transitional Administration. PST also steered things up with their not so clandestine association with Indonesian an Indonesian group called, Action in Solidarity Indonesian and East Timor, in the districts of Ermera—with their headquarters in Atsabe. The general population was also afraid of a civil war given that there were no less than 16 competing registered parties. In order to ensure that the population would participate in the elections, and thus to assuage fears, as well as to ensure a fair election, all 16 parties signed a National Pact of Unity on 8 July 2001. Aside from the 16 parties there were also five independent candidates. <>

“The majority seats were won by the Fretilin party. It secured 55 of the 88 seats; 43 national and 12 district seats (Fox 2003:15). The other parties that won national seats include: PDC (2 seats), UDT (2), PD (7), KOTA (2), PNT (2), PSD (6), UDC/PDC (1), PPT (2), PST (1), ASDT (6), PL (1) (ibid:16). At the district level Fretilin, ASDT, PSD and PD were the main contestants. From all the parties, Fretilin was the best organized as a party and also in terms of its platform and financial support. By February 9, 2002 the new parliament wrote and approved the Constitution of the new nation of the Democratic Republic of East Timor. Next the presidential elections ensued with two candidates: Francisco Xavier do Amaral and Xanana Gusmão. While the former’s campaign was supported by the ASDT party, Xanana refused any party endorsement and campaigned on his own. He received 82.7 percent of the votes. On April 14, 2002 Xanana Gusmão became the first president elected, while Mari Alkatiri, the leader of the majority party Fretilin became the prime minister. <>

East Timorese Government after Independence

After securing victory in the 2001 elections, Fretilin set about writing a constitution and setting up East Timor’s first parliament. Fretilin pushed through a constitution that divided the powers of the prime minister and the president and limited the powers of the president, knowing that poet-revolutionary Xanana Gusmao would probably be president. In February 2002, the East Timor assembly approves a draft constitution envisaging government run along parliamentary lines. The building used for the headquarters of the Indonesian military was painted pink and turned into a cultural center.

Mari Alkatiri became Prime Minister. He is of Yemeni origin and owns lots of property around Dili. He was not so popular and had a history of feuding with Gusmao. Fretilin lost much of its moral authority after taking power. Opposition party members accused it of seeking to establish a one party state.

After independence, the government was simply too broke to offer a lot of services. Many people had high expectations and became disappointed. A poll in 2003 revealed that only 42 percent of East Timorese felt better off after independence. Nearly all professionals and civil servants appointed by Jakarta left and refused to come back. The United Nations tried o build a government from scratch but alienated the local people through bureaucratic snafues, red tape, and ignorance. Ramos Horta told Newsweek, “Many of them had very racist, arrogant, patronizing attitudes.” East Timorese officials claimed the United Nations staffers didn’t listen to them.

East Timor Under Fretelin

Patrick O’Connor wrote in World Socialist Web Site, “In power since East Timor became independent in 2002, Fretilin sought to attract international investment by implementing International Monetary Fund-recommended programs. The IMF hailed the government’s decision to set aside oil and gas revenues in long-term investment accounts rather than immediately spending the money on social programs aimed at alleviating poverty. Fretilin promised that the formation of a separate nation-state would advance ordinary people’s living standards and provide them with security. Despite this, the island is still politically and economically dominated by Australia and other major powers. A tiny layer of the East Timorese elite has been the only real beneficiaries, including many Fretilin cronies. Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, disease, and premature death continue to wrack the country. [Source: Patrick O’Connor, World Socialist Web Site, May 14, 2007]

“Fretilin has proven unable to capitalise on the widespread opposition to the Gusmao government and the mounting frustration, especially among young people, over continued poverty and unemployment and mounting social inequality. When it was in office between 2002 and 2006, it ruthlessly sought to advance the interests of international investors and heed the demands of the International Monetary Fund. Fretilin’s perspective of establishing an “independent” capitalist state has proved a dead end for the East Timorese working class and rural poor. A decade after formal independence the tiny half-island remains completely subservient to the major and regional powers, and ruled by fractious elites who have enriched themselves at the expense of the majority of the population.” [Source: Patrick O’Connor, World Socialist Website, April 18, 2012]

Violence in East Timor After Independence

East Timor was largely peaceful after the two week burst in September 1999 after the referendum. There were anti-government riots in December, 2002. The rioters and students torched a supermarket owned by expatriates and damaged foreign-owned businesses and government buildings.. The homes of Prime Minister Alkatiri were attacked. A state of emergency was declared as police fired on protestors, killing five. The protest began after a student was arrested and escalated after a student was shot and killed by police.

The pro-Indonesia militias remained intact in West Timor. East Timor was hit by a wave of militia incursions in 2003. United Nations peacekeeping missions were scheduled to leave in 2004 but they stayed because of unstable situation in East Timor.

As of 2003, 30,000 East Timorese refugees remained in West Timor. Many had links to Indonesia and the pro-Indonesia militias. Some were are militiamen wanted for crimes committed in 1999. Most East Timorese were not worried about civil war because there were not enough weapons around to launch one.

East Timor Riots in December 2002 Leave Five Dead

In December 2002, East Timor was placed under a virtual state of emergency, with a curfew in the capital, Dili, after student riots left five people dead and the Prime Minister's house a burned-out shell. Kathy Marks wrote in The Times, “The anger erupted after police shot dead a demonstrator, according to witnesses. Hundreds of protesters looted shops and set fire to buildings, leaving part of the city in smouldering ruins. Witnesses said police fired into the crowd, but the number of deaths was unclear. One person said he saw five people killed, while another put the figure at three. One victim was reported to be a 16-year-old student who was shot in the head. UN peace-keeping troops and local police struggled to halt the rioting, but the streets were said to be under control by nightfall. [Source: Kathy Marks, The Times, December 4, 2002]

The clashes were the most violent since 1999. Five hundred students gathered in front of the national police headquarters after police arrested a student during earlier unrest. The protest began peacefully, but the mood swiftly changed and demonstrators began throwing stones. According to witnesses, some officers – not uniformed police – began firing into the crowd and one student was killed. The others refused to surrender his body to the police. The demonstrators then went on the rampage and a supermarket and a hotel were burnt to the ground. The properties belonged to Australians, whose country played a leading role in East Timor's independence after it tempered its support for Muslim-dominated Indonesia, which had annexed the Catholic Portuguese territory in 1976. The Hello Mister supermarket, near the parliament, was guarded by a dozen armed peace-keepers to prevent further looting last night. The protest moved to the parliament building, two blocks away, where further shots were fired. A journalist at the scene said police opened fire. "At least five were killed and I saw another six people in a minivan being taken to the hospital with really bad injuries," he said. "Some had gunshot wounds and some were beaten."

Gangs of men broke into an office building and dragged out furniture and computers, which they torched on the street. Televisions and motorbikes were stolen from shops. Two hundred people gathered outside the house of the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, and set it alight. His brother's house was also burnt down, while a senior member of parliament was injured by stone-throwing demonstrators. President Xanana Gusmao declared the state of emergency so that security forces could clear the streets. Mr Gusmao, whose car was caught in the riots, broadcast a national appeal for the violence to be halted. He went to police headquarters, but was unable to restore calm and had to be escorted inside.

The shaken Prime Minister, Mr Alkatiri, appealed for calm, saying: "Today's events mark a very sad note during our country's first days of independence." One local resident said that the trouble had been brewing because of the Gusmao government's failure to keep its promises. "My impression of what happened here today is that is was due to a lot of things that have been building up over the past month but mostly, people are not happy with the government – it seems the government has promised too much and hasn't delivered," he added. The current unrest underlines that the honeymoon period is over in East Timor. Western diplomats agree that the riots were fuelled by frustration at the government's failure to fulfil high expectations after independence. One cabinet minister said last night: "Things have quietened down, but the situation remains tense and there is a heavy [security force] presence on the streets." Vic Josey, acting deputy commissioner of the UN peacekeeping force, said the state of alert would be reviewed daily. "The situation is still very fluid," he said.

Xanana Gusmão, East Timor’s First President

In April 2002, Xanana Gusmao was elected as East Timor’s first president, a largely ceremonial position, in a landslide with 83 percent of the vote. The voter turn out was around 86 percent. The poet-revolutionary Xanana Gusmao led East Timor's battle for independence of 18 years. At the time he was elected Time reported he has the "authority of Nelson Mandela and the charisma of Che Guevara."

Jose Alexandre Gusmao, arguable East Timor’s greatest resistance leader, hero and freedom fighter, was born in 1946 in a small village 20 miles from Dili, The second eldest of seven children and the oldest son, he studied at a Catholic school, taught Portuguese at a Chinese school and worked as a journalist and was known as a poet and a chain smoker.

Gusmao is considered ruggedly handsome. He had two children with his first wife Amelia Baptista, whom he married in 1969, before abandoning them to become a revolutionary. His second wife Kristy Sword is a former spy from Australia.

Reportedly from a small twon after Gusmao became president, Maree Curtis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine: “Today Ermera and its people are on top of the world. Their new President, Xanana Gusmao, has come to visit, touching every hand that is put in front of him, kissing every face. Teenagers hang out on the street till well after dark, free from the curfew that has plagued most of their lives. They whistle to each other, check out the talent. Couples on motorbikes fly the East Timorese flag from the handlebars. [Source: Maree Curtis, Sunday Telegraph Magazine(Sydney)August 18, 2002 */*]

Xanana Gusmão’s Revolutionary Activity

Gusmao once said he would rather paint and raise pumpkins than be involved in politics. But that was not his fate. Gusmao took the nom de guerre Xanana in 1975 after joining Fretilin and living in the mountains and leading a group of guerillas armed with little more than bows and arrows. In 1981, he became the leader of Falintil, the once outlawed political wing of the Fretilin, after his predecessor was killed. He headed it until he was captured in Dili by the Indonesian army in 1992 after he was betrayed and was sentenced to life in prison.

In 1993 Gusmao was convicted of subversion and given a life sentence which was later reduced. Gusmao was admired by the prison guards who watched over him and managed the resistance from prison for seven years He was released from prison in February 1999 and placed under house arrest until being freed after the 1999 independence vote. In response to increasing violence by anti-independence activists around the time of the 1999 referendum, Gusmao orders guerrillas to resume independence struggle.

October 1999, when some semblance of order was restored, Gusmao was released from house arrest. When he returned to East Timor he told a crowd, "We knew we would suffer. But we are still here...They tried to kill us. But we are still here, crying and suffering but still alive. We will rebuild our homeland. Nothing will stop us." Afterwards he traveled to Washington and other Western capitals to drum up support for the East Timorese cause.

Xanana Gusmão as President of East Timor

After becoming president in 2002, Gusmao was took a conciliatory tone with Jakarta and personally invited Indonesians President Megawati to the independence ceremony. Gusmao was regarded as a stabilizing influence. He put the emphasis on creating a better life for the East Timorese people rather than seeking justice for past wrongs. He told East Timorese that much could accomplished with little.

Gusmao worked out of the burned out remains of the Indonesian motor vehicle office. His security consisted of a few sleepy guards. His “Palace of Ashes” was a symbolic and practical gesture that government money would be better spent on other things. His staff worked out of plywood cubicles. Gusmao he lived in the presidential home, a cluster of small bungalows at Balibur in the hills above Dili, with his wife Kristy and their Alexandre (born in 2000), and a variety of helpers, volunteers, bodyguards and houseguests. Much of the affairs of state were carried out here.

In 2003, marking the first anniversary of independence, President Gusmao urged patience. He said the government needed to focus on the economy and the previous year had been a good lesson. He said the country was going in the right direction but acknowledged widespread disconcert. In 2003, unemployment was around 80 percent, 42 percent of people lived in poverty, the infrastructure was in shambles. Gangs and militias continued to kill people. Most people remained poor and few saw gains from independence. There was a call to delay the gradual exit of the 4,000 United Nations peacekeepers that still remained in 2003.

The Economist reported in 2003: “As president, Mr Gusmão has been a stabilising influence so far. Before independence, Fretilin pushed through a constitution with a division of powers between president and prime minister. Everyone knew that Mr Gusmão would win the presidency and cynics say the aim was simply to curtail his power. Mr Gusmão is resented by hardliners in Fretilin for steering the party away from Marxist dogma. But he is formally commander-in-chief of the army and all the senior officers have personal ties of allegiance to him. [Source: The Economist, March 20, 2003 ^^]

On her husband’s managerial skills, Kristy told the Sunday Telegraph Magazine: "There are some aspects of the way he operates that don't suit him very well for the role of president. He is not a born manager and he has no notion of the importance of administration. Why would you when you spent 18 years in the bush? But I see all these other sides of him that other people don't see. Still, I suppose it would be somewhat odd living with a hero who didn't have a human side...For many years we have had the prospect looming of Xanana becoming president and I guess we both accepted that we probably didn't have any choice in this whole matter of whether we take on these roles or not. Just as he feels ill-equipped to fulfil the role, so do I. But I guess nothing prepares you for the role of president or first lady of a nation." [Source: Maree Curtis, Sunday Telegraph Magazine (Sydney) August 18, 2002]

Kirsty Sword, Former Spy and Gusmao’s Wife

Maree Curtis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine: “ Sword, codenamed Ruby Blade, met and fell in love with her husband while working as an undercover agent (she hates the word spy) for the East Timorese resistance movement of which he was leader. In an interview with the ABC's Australian Story earlier this year, in which Sword spoke about her undercover work for the first time, former freedom fighter and Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's new foreign minister, described her as indispensable to the resistance movement. She is, he said, "reliable, discreet, humble". "That woman is perfect." Others have called her a true heroine, but Sword scoffs at the idea. [Source: Maree Curtis, Sunday Telegraph Magazine (Sydney) August 18, 2002 */*]

"Basically, I was just responding to the needs I could see in front of me. I was not doing it to be a hero, I was doing it as a human being with a conscience. There is nothing heroic about responding when a group of people come to you and say, 'this is our story, can you help us?' Once I started to get involved there was tremendous gratification in actually being able to do something. It was a good feeling because I admire the East Timorese people tremendously." */*

Following the ABC program, Sword was criticised for admitting she had worked as a spy while employed by an aid agency, potentially endangering the lives and work of other such organisations. "I think the use of the word spy is rather unfortunate. Working on human rights issues does not make you a spy. The program really did portray accurately the role I played and I think there was an overreaction by some people. Let's face it, any aid work is political and anyone who says that it's not is deceiving themselves and deceiving others.” */*

"My employers at the Overseas Service Bureau knew the work I was doing and were extremely sympathetic. There was no deception happening. I was working on a contract basis, I was not a full-time, fully fledged staff member so I was not subject to the normal codes of conduct etc which apply to other aid workers. My employers weren't in breach of any code of ethics, nor was I. I was simply an individual who was concerned and acting on her conscience." */*

Curtis wrote: “Just how a nice girl from the Melbourne suburb of Northcote turned into a spy - sorry, undercover agent - running secret messages under the noses of the Indonesian police and army, was, apparently, more accident than design. Fluent in Indonesian after completing a degree at the University of Melbourne in the late 1980s, Sword went to Bali for a holiday and fell in love with the place, as she puts it. In 1991, she was approached by Yorkshire Television to work as a researcher and interpreter for a documentary they were making on East Timor. Soon after leaving the country, the Dili massacre took place and many of those filmed for the documentary were killed. It affected Sword profoundly. "I basically packed up my bags and went to Jakarta." */*

“As well as her work with the aid organisation, Sword taught English and used the money she earned to finance her clandestine activities, which mainly involved carrying communication for the resistance. "I was a bit of a bridge between the different elements of the resistance inside East Timor and in Indonesia. Often it was really rather menial, getting documents from one place to another and doing it safely. I moved into it gradually. It was after I made contact with Xanana and he asked me to do things for him, that I realised that I was in pretty deep. Up until that time I had taken it as a bit of a side interest. After that it really did became the main thing in my life. I was deeply involved in the resistance long before I actually met Xanana." */*

How Kirsty Sword and Gusmao Met

Sword did not meet Gusmao until 1994. Maree Curtis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine: “In order to do so she arranged to visit an Australian in the jail who agreed to pretend he was her uncle. "I shook hands with Xanana and I had to pretend that I wasn't particularly interested in him." They managed little more than polite conversation and what she calls "a small amount of intimacy, given the circumstances". It would be more than four years before she saw him again. "We had very regular communication via letter. Xanana is a very warm, open person who is very generous with his feelings and his emotions. He communicates very well through the written word and I guess I'm similar. We were able to get to know one another in a way that probably wouldn't have been possible if we were different personalities." [Source: Maree Curtis, Sunday Telegraph Magazine (Sydney) August 18, 2002 */*]

“There were, however, times then, as now, when she wondered if all the sacrifices were worth the price. "Sometimes, particularly in the early '90s, it seemed very unlikely that East Timor was going to get its independence and it was quite a job to maintain motivation and spirit. But, like Xanana and the East Timorese people, I always believed so strongly in the justness of the cause. I believed in my heart of hearts that sooner or later the world would see the truth and see the light and that this moment would come about." */*

“Few of Sword's friends were surprised that she fell in love with the dashing resistance leader. Although 20 years her senior, Gusmao's good looks are obvious and his charisma is legendary. Her mother, Rosalie, claims to have known before Sword was even aware of it herself. Gusmao managed the resistance from prison for seven years and, once released in 1999, Sword became his secretary. At the time Gusmao was married. His wife of 28 years, Emilia Baptista, had moved to Australia with their two sons in 1990, two years before he was imprisoned. Gusmao divorced his wife after he was released and, in July 2000, married Sword. She gave birth to Alexandre two months later.” */*

Kirsty Sword as the First Lady of East Timor

Maree Curtis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine: Along with the more traditional roles, meeting-and-greeting and playing hostess to VIP guests, Sword carries a heavy workload. As well as lobbying the new government for financial support and official recognition for the office of first lady, an imprimatur she believes necessary if she is to do any good, she is the founder and head of the Alola Foundation. The foundation supports programs broadly described as women's issues. Sword is also her husband's principal, private, social and every other type of secretary. [Source: Maree Curtis, Sunday Telegraph Magazine (Sydney) August 18, 2002 */*]

“If the money for her job as first lady is not forthcoming, Sword will have more than enough on her hands with the Alola Foundation. "I don't think it is any more violent here than any other society and given the level of economic disadvantage and unemployment I think the East Timorese are doing really well. But obviously this is a country with a violent past and there are some dangerous precedents set because of the military dominance over such a long time. Unless you raise these issues and bring about a gradual change in the way women are viewed, you are never going to eradicate violence against women." */*

“Sword was attacked and stabbed in the leg with a screwdriver about a year ago while walking down the street with her mother and Alexandre. Her bag was stolen and she required a trip to hospital to bandage the wound. "It was not politically motivated. There was a spate of attacks on foreigners at the time and I think it had a lot to do with the stage of political development. There was a feeling that the UN was here to stay and I think the Timorese people were feeling disempowered at many levels and some decided to take out their frustrations on internationals." */*

She hates the restriction on her life, but these days she has bodyguards. "They are a really wonderful bunch of people . I appreciate them very much but it took a lot of getting used to. I am a very independent person who values being able to be spontaneous. I like to jump in my car and drive to just clear my head but I can't do that any more. It's just a whole new way of approaching your life." */*

Oil and Gas deals in East Timor

In July 2001, East Timor, Australia signed a memorandum of understanding over future revenues from oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea under which East Timor would get 90 percent of revenues. [Source: BBC]

In February 2004, production began at an offshore gas field begins. At that time the Bayu Undan project was expected to earn $100 million a year.

In January 2006, East Timor and Australia sign a deal to divide billions of dollars in expected revenues from oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea. Under the agreement, talks on a disputed maritime boundary are postponed.

See Energy

Sorry State of Newly Independent East Timor in the Early 2000s

In March 2003, The Economist reported: “Independence has turned out to be a bittersweet pill for East Timor. After anti-government riots in 2002, the country has now been hit by a wave of militia incursions from West Timor, which is still part of Indonesia. With the United Nations' support mission due to leave in 2004, there is a growing danger that this experiment in UN nation-building could end up an embarrassing mess. The attacks from West Timor are believed to have been carried out by East Timorese. Some 30,000 East Timorese remain there, most with links to Indonesia, including militiamen wanted for crimes committed in 1999, when the East was still in Indonesian hands. The UN is in charge of national defence until it hands over to a locally-run defence force, but it has had no international staff in West Timor since three of its officials were murdered there in 2000. However, its staff have gathered evidence against militiamen who committed crimes in East Timor and identifying their sponsors in the Indonesian army. A new problem is the growth of a quasi-religious organisation called Colimau 2000, which operates in the border area. Its creed is a mixture of Timorese animism and Roman Catholicism. There are fears that militiamen crossing the porous border from East Timor may infiltrate it. [Source: The Economist, March 20, 2003 ^^]

“President Xanana Gusmão and his government are more concerned with domestic matters. Most East Timorese are still eking out a living as subsistence farmers, disappointed with the meagre fruits of independence. The ruling Fretilin party has lost some of the glamour that brought it election victory in 2001. Its intentions are suspect. Opposition politicians believe it wants to establish a one-party state. Mari Alkatiri, the prime minister, said recently that Fretilin could be in power for 50 years. ^^

“Mr Alkatiri is not at all popular. Some of his properties were destroyed in rioting in Dili in December. His family, of Yemeni origin, owns substantial amounts of land around Dili. He is in the ascendant within Fretilin, but the party itself is divided. It includes moderates whose views are close to those of the opposition. There is also a small but influential faction tied to Rogerio Lobato, minister of internal administration, who before independence spent much time in Angola, where he once went to jail for diamond smuggling. ^^

“With much bad blood from the past, a weak economy and the militias over the border poised to make trouble, many people are wondering whether there could be a new civil war. Mario Carrascalão, who was governor of East Timor for ten years under Indonesia, thinks probably not. These days, in poverty-stricken East Timor, there are simply not enough weapons about to have a civil war. ^^

Colimau 2000

In the early 2000s a quasi-religious group called Colimau 2000 became established in border area of East and West Timor and stirred up trouble. It mixed Timorese animism and Roman Catholicism and is believed to be to have been infiltrated by militiamen.

Colimau 2000 is headed Cornelio Gama, a former guerilla leader with long unkept hair who is known by the nom de guerre as Commandante Marriage. a reference to a long deceased ancestor. Followers of Colimau 2000 believe he has magical powers.

Gama said that two of his sisters and three brothers were killed in the years of fighting, he lived in the forest and subsisted on leaves, berries and occasional meals smuggled to him by sympathetic villagers. he saw his wife only in arranged trysts in a cave. set up by go-betweens. He has tattoos all over his boy and a mutilated left hand . He claims to have killed many in battle.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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