East Timorese students in Yogyakarta suffer intimidation
The wedding had been beautiful. Manuel Martins, a student in Yogyakarta from East Timor, had just exchanged vows with Agustina Maria Yosefa at the St Albert church. On that sunny 18 December last year, well-wishers were milling in the church grounds. Suddenly the atmosphere was shattered by the arrival of a gang of thugs, also East Timorese living in Yogyakarta. Shouting 'You pricks! We'll cut off your heads!', they bashed a number of those present.
I had acted as a witness for the happy couple. Later that day the same thugs, led by Octavio Osorio Soares, bashed up another student, demanding to know where I lived so they could come and kill me. In the evening they gatecrashed the wedding party and again beat up several guests.
This was one of ten such incidents reported to the Yogyakarta police by the East Timorese student association Aetil in a letter dated 14 January 2002. All involved attacks against East Timorese students completing their studies in Yogyakarta by a group of pro-integration East Timorese under the leadership of Octavio Soares. Octavio, a recently graduated doctor, is the nephew of the last Indonesian governor of East Timor, Abilio Osorio Soares, now on trial in Jakarta for crimes against humanity. Octavio accuses the students of being anti-Indonesian because most of them supported independence in the August 1999 ballot.
There are about 200 East Timorese studying in Yogyakarta. Most began their studies before 1999, but took leave of absence to help the independence campaign in East Timor in 1999. Afterwards they returned to Yogya to complete their studies, most with financial help from the UNDP and the Ford Foundation. The Untaet office in Jakarta has an officer responsible to help these students. Besides Yogya, substantial numbers are also continuing their studies in Malang (East Java) and in Jakarta, with smaller numbers in other places. Others have also reported intimidation by pro-integration East Timorese associated with the former regime, particularly in Bali where many civil servants from East Timor now live.
Indonesian universities still treat students from East Timor as if they are Indonesians, meaning they pay only the low Indonesian fees instead of the high fees denominated in US dollars foreign students pay. Some universities have indicated that after independence on 20 May they will move to the foreign fee system. This would be very hard for the East Timorese. Indonesia has a historical and moral obligation to the East Timorese. An entire generation was educated only in Indonesian. Many want to do their university education here. In our experience the universities have continued to welcome East Timorese students. I hope they will consider keeping the present fee structure. This has also been the hope of the UN transitional administration, Untaet.
We have no problems with our Indonesian neighbours in Yogyakarta. They like anyone who rents rooms and eats at local food stalls, and they have offered to protect us from the crude intimidation of Octavio Osorio Soares and his mates.
The Osorio Soares family claims it founded the Apodeti party in 1974. This party favoured integration with Indonesia, and its members were prominent in the Indonesian administration. Jose Fernando Osorio Soares was the first secretary-general of the party. His younger brother Abilio Soares became the last governor in 1992. A sister named Elsa Olandina Pinto Soares now lives in Yogyakarta, and her three children are part of Octavio's gang as well. Octavio, who studied medicine at Gadjah Mada University, was Jose Fernando's son. This all shows how 'integrasi' with Indonesia became a personalised affair.
Actually another family, that of Arnaldo dos Reis Araujo, also claims the key role in establishing Apodeti. But they do not agree with the aggressive anger of the Osorio Soares family. Their relatives in Yogyakarta generally show a friendly attitude, especially after the ballot, and they sometimes join the East Timorese students in social gatherings.
The Osorio Soares family has lost its formal authority. But police inaction over the intimidation in Yogyakarta shows that they continue to have friends in high places. Octavio Soares dreams of one day 'returning' East Timor to the Indonesian fold, and feels angry and frustrated that so many people are deserting him. Even the East Timorese civil servants who have become Indonesian citizens and live in Yogyakarta are embarrassed by his tactics. In the meantime, however, he is proving himself an impediment to restoring normal relations between East Timor and Indonesia.
Faustino Cardoso Gomes (email@example.com) is completing a PhD at Gadjah Mada University. He is an advisor to the students association Aetil.