Apr 03, 2020 Last Updated 5:13 AM, Mar 31, 2020

On the net

Kieran Dwyer

The internet became an integral tool for the East Timorese freedom movement in the 90s, from email to news groups to a burgeoning number of websites. This is a strategic guide to what's available. From here you will find links to a large array of material.

Reg.easttimor is the key newsgroup where subscribers share up to the minute news and information. Formed in 1992 by the US-based Etan/US, it remains the starting point for detailed info (approx 20-40 messages per day, depending on events). To subscribe, email fbp@igc.apc.org or etan-us@igc.apc.org.

The Australian-based Etra (www.pactok.net.au/docs/et/, currently moving to www.etra.zip.com.au) is the only East Timorese NGO maintaining a broad-ranging website. Presents a wealth of material from East Timorese leaders Xanana Gusmao, Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo, and much background information on the resistance umbrella organisation CNRT, the UN framework for the struggle, and development issues.

The Darwin (Australia)-based Etisc (easttimor.com) maintains an attractive and oft-visited site, in both English and Indonesian, especially useful for daily news summaries. Also has an up-to-date opinion/ editorial section, an East Timor chat line, and some handy pictures to download.

From North America there are two main sites. From the creators of reg.easttimor is the excellent Etan/US site (etan.org). It is well organised and attractively laid out and chock full of information and images, with a focus on US campaign and lobbying work. Lots of UN information. In Canada, Etan/Canada (www.etan.ca) also maintains an excellent site with a focus on Canadian government and media lobbying work.

The Melbourne (Australia)-based East Timor Human Rights Centre (www.gn.apc/ethrc/ or law.murdoch.edu.au/minihub/ethrc/) has a well laid out site with its reports and urgent actions posted.

An unofficial site was set up to support the CNRT Strategic Development Planning Conference held in Melbourne 5-9 April 1999 (www.ozemail.com.au/~cnrt/). It hosts a number of papers delivered at this ground-breaking conference.

The two traditional East Timorese political parties each maintain sites: Fretilin (www2.one.net.au/~fretilin/) and UDT (www.unitel.net/udttimor/).

Apcet, Asia Pacific Coalition for East Timor, is the peak regional solidarity organisation. Its attractive site (www.skyinet.net/~apcet/) reflects Apcet's innovative work. There are reports and statements from the three bi-annual Apcet conferences, the quarterly Apcet magazine Estafeta, and information of regional action.

Ipjet (International Platform of Jurists for East Timor, www.antenna.nl/~ipjet/) brings together legal specialists.

The University of Coimbra in Portugal has a little known yet informative site (www.uc.pt/Timor) detailing the history and geography of the territory. Lisbon-based East Timor Observatory (homepage.esoterica.pt/~cdpm/) is a new service from an established group presenting reports and analysis in English, French and Portugese.

Among the best of many solidarity sites is the large Australian-based Asiet (www.peg.apc.org/~asiet/) - with information both on East Timor and progressive political movement in Indonesia (weekly news updates). A new site was launched in Jakarta recently by the dynamic Solidamor group (www.solidamor.org), and looks good in its early stages. It is largely in Bahasa Indonesia. A Brazilian-based site in Portuguese (www.caferomano.org/timor/) is also very good. These link you to many others around the world.

Don’t forget human rights reports on East Timor (accessible by good internal search engines) at Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org.uk/) and Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org/).

Next time we want to look at what’s available for Aceh and West Papua. However, here’s a sneak preview. The best site - practically the only site! - on Aceh is www.aceh.org. A vast resource.

Kieran Dwyer (kierand@zip.com.au) is a board member and volunteer project worker with the East Timor Relief Association (Etra). He edits the Etra website.

In this issue

Swimming against the tide

Activists are impatient, hopeful people. When everyone else sees little change or worse, ruin and destruction, they tend to see the outlines of utopia. Without their vision of a better, more compassionate tomorrow, nothing ever does change. The image of individuals and small groups who courageously swim against the tide is pretty strong in this edition of Inside Indonesia.

The tide for this great country, it seems, is running in a direction few people actually seem to want. Anne Booth examines the growing dissatisfaction in the resource-rich regions and wonders whether Indonesia as we know it might even break up. She hopes that a new government anxious to avoid a worse disaster will work hard to reduce the heavy hand of Jakarta. Anders Uhlin compares Indonesia with post-Soviet Russia and comes to the disturbing conclusion that Indonesia may be even less likely to democratise than mafia-soaked Russia.

Whatever the truth of Anders Uhlin’s dark scenario, it is important not to imagine Indonesians as powerless victims swept along on a tide that has already determined their fate. Lea Jellinek and Anton Lucas in their articles here describe an inventiveness among ordinary Indonesians that does not take a crisis lying down.

James Goodman meets Indonesian activists who, unbeknown to Australians who think East Timor inevitably pits Australians against Indonesians, have been struggling for self-determination in East Timor for years. They’re doing it for the sake of democracy in their own country.

The late Romo Mangun was for many Indonesians, and not only for them, the model swimmer against the tide. Always hopeful, never resigned to the sometimes cruel tide of history - these qualities made him a force for change by example.

The activists we highlight in this edition make demands on us as well. Elizabeth Collins calls on readers in the West to put aside simplistic notions of a clash between Western and Islamic civilisations, and reach out to tens of thousands of displaced Muslims within Indonesia. Fiona Collins and Mia Hoogenboom, cycling around Australia to raise awareness of poverty in Indonesia, show us a determination to do something practical. Andrish Saint-Clare wants us to know about an amazing but under-funded experiment in cross-cultural drama, bridging Arnhem Land with Sulawesi. Ahmad Sofian tells us about his centre’s work on behalf of girls lured into a completely unregulated sex industry in Sumatra.

We salute and thank these ever hopeful activists, as well as those others named and unnamed who made this edition what it is.

Gerry van Klinken

Hiking Timor's tops

On East Timor's rugged mountains, hospitable farmers, hidden guerrillas and Indonesian soldiers live uneasily together.

Mike Davis

My two weeks in East Timor at the end of October 1998 followed a previous visit in 1996, when I had been writing a BA dissertation on clandestine resistance to the Indonesian occupation. The purpose of my return was primarily to have a holiday and to explore parts of Timor which were new to me, but also to indulge a strong sense of curiosity about how things might have changed in two years.

I was keen to visit the most mountainous parts of East Timor. After brief stays in Dili and Maubisse I travelled to Hato Builico, a village near the summit of Mount Ramelau. Located 40km due south of Dili, this is at nearly 3000m the highest peak in Timor. Hato Builico has no accommodation for tourists. I was told I should stay with the Indonesian soldiers stationed in the grounds of the old Portuguese rest house. Here I was greeted by a longhaired, tracksuited figure, clutching a bloodied meat cleaver in one hand and part of a dead animal in the other. He turned out to be one of fifteen or so soldiers posted in Hato Builico, all of them from South Sumatra.

The soldiers were surprisingly laid back. During three days in Hato Builico I only once saw any of them wearing full military uniform, and even then the two who did remained unarmed. On my arrival one soldier immediately insisted on acting as my guide. He took me around the village, and then to a hamlet across the valley, where an animist festival was taking place. I was amused by the rather paternalistic interest the twenty four-year-old squaddie from Palembang took in the festival. My impression was that he associated such (as I suspected he saw them) quaint rituals exclusively with East Timor, and he seemed slightly disconcerted when I told him that I had seen similar events in parts of Kalimantan and Nusa Tenggara.

I climbed Mount Ramelau on my first night in Hato Builico, hoping to watch the dawn breaking from the summit. As soon as the sun rose the cloud descended, but at seven o'clock it lifted very suddenly, offering spectacular views of rugged countryside stretching from coast to coast. Walking back down the mountain I fell into step with a man bearing a selection of plastic jerrycans. After initially trying to convince me that he had climbed the mountain to water potato plants, the man said that he had actually been carrying water to a group of Falintil (East Timorese resistance) guerrillas camped near the summit. He told me that the soldiers in Hato Builico were well aware that local people took water to Falintil, but did not harass them for fear of receiving an unwelcome visitation from the guerrillas.

After descending the mountain I made my way back to the animist festival. When accompanied by the soldier the previous day, they had treated me with considerable suspicion. The same people now behaved completely differently towards me. Behind closed doors their attitude to the Indonesian soldiers proved to be entirely one of contempt rather than of fear. They spoke with great enthusiasm of 'reformasi', of Xanana Gusmao, and of the student dialogue planned for Hato Builico the next week. One student present suggested that I return for the dialogue and then accompany him on a visit to the local Falintil unit. However, sensing that he had misplaced hopes of me publicising such a meeting after my departure from Timor, I declined the offer.

After returning to Dili I travelled east to Veni Lale and Baucau, and then on to Baguia. Mindful of the fact that this village had been effectively off limits to tourists when I came to East Timor in 1996, the warmth of the welcome I received struck me. Within a couple of hours of arriving I had been given lunch by one family and offered a place to stay by another. My hosts for the night turned out to be the family of an uncle of Falintil guerrilla commander Taur Matan Ruak. He was the 'raja' of several small villages near Baguia.

Despite their friendliness, people in Baguia seemed more diffident than those I met in Hato Builico, and there was the tangible sense of an ongoing conflict in the way they spoke about the Indonesian armed forces Abri, and about East Timorese working for 'Intel' (Indonesian military intelligence). One group of people I met wanted to take me to see Falintil. Although tempted, I felt uncomfortable about the possible ramifications of such a visit coming to light and decided not to go.

Matebian My main purpose for going to Baguia was to climb Mount Matebian, which I duly did, in the company of a cousin of the raja. Matebian, which means 'Mountain of the Dead', was the final piece of territory to fall to the Indonesians in the last days of 1978. It had provided sanctuary to many thousands of East Timorese during the final months of Abri's so-called 'Encirclement and Annihilation' campaign. It was eventually captured after weeks of aerial bombardment and massive civilian casualties.

The mountain's bulk had dominated the landscape for much of my three-hour journey from Baucau. Closer, it revealed itself as an awe-inspiring tangle of cliffs, crags, gullies and ridges. The impression of sheer wildness was compounded by the extraordinary rock formations covering Matebian's upper slopes. Thousands of huge stones resembling broken teeth cluster along the ridges leading up to the summit. In places they are set so close together as to be practically impenetrable.

Before making the climb we were told by people in Baguia that near the summit we might encounter either Falintil guerrillas or Timorese Intel agents, and I had been puzzled by the notion of these two groups being camped in such close proximity to one another. Upon seeing the terrain high up on the mountain, however, it became clear how easily potential aggressors might be evaded in such an environment, and how futile hunting for small groups of guerrillas over the endless folds of boulder-encrusted land would surely be. As it happened we saw not a soul.

Coming back down Matebian we lost our way and ended up in Quelicai district. Making for the nearest sign of human habitation we came upon a village of only about a dozen inhabited houses and five or six traditional adat houses on stilts. The adat houses were beautifully constructed, and in some cases decorated with pictures and small wooden figures. Most appeared relatively new. At least one commemorated those who died in the late 1970s. The people in the village, obviously very poor, were extraordinarily hospitable. On our arrival they insisted that we stay to have a meal. They invited us to stay overnight, but I was keen to get back to Baguia, which we finally reached the next morning after an overnight stop at another tiny village on the slopes of Matebian.

I spent my last few days in East Timor in Baucau, Lospalos and Tutuala, all places I visited in 1996. During my brief stay in Tutuala I walked to the easternmost point of Timor, a beach facing Jaco Island, and on my way met Bishop Belo returning after a stroll along the shore. According to people in Tutuala the bishop was convalescing after a recent bout of malaria.

I made a foolish attempt to swim to Jaco, but thankfully was given a lift from about half way across by a group of local fisherman. On the beach on the island they had assembled a huge stinking pile of pieces of dead cuscus, which they unsuccessfully pressed me to sample. Later, as we motored back across the channel we encountered a boat from the neighbouring Indonesian island of Alor, and a brisk trade was done in cigarettes and freshly caught squid. While the East Timorese fishermen expressed a hatred of Abri, they said that they saw these men from Alor as their friends.

Most people I met during my two-week stay were daring to hope that East Timor might finally be on the brink of peace. It was so refreshing to find people free to speak their minds without fear. Yet I could not help feeling that expectations were dangerously high, and the scope for disappointment very considerable. From my perspective as a visitor the atmosphere of mounting optimism had its advantages. The superficial calm allowed me to concentrate on enjoying the beauty of the countryside and the generosity of the East Timorese people. These are aspects of East Timor that one hopes will not be permanently obscured by its tragic conflict.

Mike Davis <mikedavis@bigpond.com.kh> lives and works in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


Indigenous Australians and Indonesians celebrate a shared story across the Arafura Sea.

Alan Whykes interviews Andrish Saint-Clare.

What have sea slugs, Yolngu Aboriginal people and Indonesian maritime power have in common? Quite a lot, which is exactly why the history of Macassan trepang voyages to northern Australia deserves to be widely recognised. Andrish Saint-Clare is an arts worker specialising in indigenous and intercultural performance. He has spent almost five years putting together a multi-dimensional project that is reaffirming these links. While the last trepang voyage in 1907 brought direct contact to a halt, the stories and cultural memories were lovingly preserved in the respective Yolngu and Macassan traditions. Now, across the Arafura Sea, the two peoples are working together to bring their fascinating relationship to a wider audience.

What prompted you to try to reconnect the Yolngu and Macassan cultures?

I was interested in the potential to create something contemporary from the mix of the historic and cultural elements, without surrendering the fundamental integrity and dignity of the people as they see themselves. It gave me the opportunity to integrate my interests in art form and intercultural studies, and also to perhaps contribute toward the expression of indigenous aspirations and pride. From the wider national perspective, I wanted to find out what insights might emerge from indigenous experience of precolonial contact with outsiders.

What materials did you have to work with?

In my initial field work, and from reading books such as Voyage to Marege, I found that the Aboriginal people had a considerable number of stories, songs and dances about this contact history with Macassans. As a whole the songs about the Macassan era can be seen as a preliterate encyclopaedia of commodities and practices introduced by the Macassans. I was also surprised and amazed to notice various Islamic influences, which I didn't know had made their way to Australia.

I was even more unprepared for the great emotional attachment to these stories among the two peoples, stories laced with broken family ties and lost friendships. It has never been acknowledged that the banning of the trepang visits was a tragic blow to the identity and indeed welfare of the coastal peoples.

To call it just 'history' is perhaps to sell the record short. Sometimes I think we forget that the medium of ceremonial record-keeping in preliterate times had something that writing has almost killed: the communal sharing of text through performance.

On the Macassan side, where contemporary conceptions of ceremony are morekin to ideas of performing arts, they were also keen to present their maritime history of voyages to Australia through a performance project. In Sulawesi the joint performance was also viewed as a breakthrough model for cultural tourism.

At the grass roots level in the villages around the Makassarese coast, such as Galesong, people still tell their stories of the time when many a crew and captain were lost never to be heard of again. It was in the villages that the Yolngu were also most curious, as it was in these places that descendants and graves of some trepanger families could still be found.

So how did the artistic cooperation unfold?

The central process was one of continual translation. Not only did we work with at least four languages, but the differences in culture and concepts made it inevitable that we would have to come up with a whole new genre of presentation. From the Aboriginal side there was very little notion of rehearsal and practice or of the roles taken for granted in mainstream performing arts. Functions such as writer, director and producer were quite alien and had to be constantly negotiated. Moreover, indigenous protocols and scruples on both sides of how people wished to portray their own identity, had to be carefully dealt with.

For example, the now more strictly Muslim Macassans were initially reluctant to address issues like their introduction of gambling and drinking to Yolngu, while the representation of the abduction of and occasional marriage to Yolngu women that had occurred during many of the trepang expeditions required a delicate and careful approach.

There were also strengths that kicked the project along such as musical ability, facility for songwriting, love for rituals and a general gusto for performing. The Yolngu have a highly developed sense of ensemble movement which was difficult for the Macassans to match. However they were able to respond with their own form of operetta and farce which stands in stark contrast to the high seriousness of Yolngu stage presence.

What arts events have taken place under Trepang Project?

The ground-work required extensive consultation with clan leaders and the community at Elcho Island. This paved the way for a series of workshops at Galiwinku culminating in a visit by a group of five Macassan performers in 1996. The workshops focussed on cultural maintenance from a community perspective. They included mutual exploration of loanwords, set design and construction, drama improvisation and Macassan music and dance. At the end of a month a large community event was staged which featured joint performance and gift exchange. The focal point of this event was a sand and bamboo sculpture of a Macassan perahu (padewakang) complete with tripod mast and working sail.

A year later we were invited by the regent of Gowa to participate in the Gowa Foundation Day celebrations and present a commemorative performance. The five week visit by 16 Yolngu cultural practitioners and a small support team involved school visits, television recordings, festival appearances, family visits and further development of the collaborative performance. The circumstances allowed for intensive rehearsals and melding of the discrete cultural items into a coherent narrative. The underlying story was of the journey of a Macassan perahu to Marege and the ensuing encounters with Aboriginal people.

Through this framework we used traditional performance elements that express the essence of the interaction between the two cultures. The resulting stage production called Trepang is of about 70 minutes duration and may be described as an indigenous opera. Trepang not only brings alive a fascinating period in the history of this part of the world, but also represents a break-through in presenting traditional culture to the contemporary public.

How did the audiences in Gowa and Ujung Pandang respond to this story and the way it was told?

The major performance was greeted with great enthusiasm and delight. Although our intent was mainly educational, the event obviously struck a chord with Macassans who are proud of their sailing achievements and their links with the Yolngu. There is no tradition of drama in eastern Indonesia, so the format of the performance generated excitement about a new way, accessible and enjoyable, of representing their history.

The governor of South Sulawesi, who cancelled other appointments to watch the entire performance, remarked that the Trepang Project initiative would help to establish the kind of dialogue and interaction that would consolidate friendship into the future not only between Macassan and Yolngu peoples but at the wider Australia-Indonesia level. News of the performance was widely featured in the Indonesian media, unlike Australia where it has been difficult to generate appropriate coverage. Despite Australia's supposed interest in being part of Asia, various government agencies have given only superficial recognition to the project. This has caused problems in raising the funds required to document the achievements so far and to extend the project in new directions including major public performance in Australia.

I understand you have been trying to compile a CD-ROM about Trepang Project and the associated cultural material. Is that suffering from this lack of funds?

Yes. A prototype CD-ROM was completed late last year and relied heavily as usual on in-kind support from the artists involved. The aims are to prepare an invaluable curriculum tool for Australia about an aspect of our history that is currently under-represented, and also to map out a cultural resource management program for the community. It may be surprising to some people that after 200 years, the wealth and beauty of indigenous cultural heritage remains largely unknown for the majority of the population. The neglect is catastrophic in many ways. This culture is fast disappearing and is deserving of our best efforts to preserve and record where we can, especially through modern means such as multimedia.

Then there's the issue of regional funding in the Northern Territory. It just so happens that the 'region' of the Northern Territory includes the neighbouring areas of Southeast Asia which makes it even more important to have transparent processes that allow for a serious and useful cultural development agenda. Trepang Project is one of very few to be working on creative, innovative and perhaps profitable concepts of cooperation and collaboration. Yet it has proved almost impossible to access and maintain government support, despite the increase in funding for regional development.

Where is Trepang Project heading now?

We would still like to put on a Yolngu-Macassan performance at a major festival in Australia. I have been approached by arts practitioners and academics from Europe, the USA and various cities in Australia who have indicated that Trepang represents a major new work. There is considerable interest from indigenous organisations as well. However we are facing high costs because we are working with performers from remote areas and overseas. As a result this enthusiasm has not translated into sufficient funding for a viable future based on live performance.


Macassan – Aboriginals still refer to all people who came on trepang voyages that generally originated from Makassar, including Bugis, Bajo and other ethnic groups, as Macassans.

Yolngu - an inclusive name for the various clans and language groups who inhabit the northeast coast of Arnhem Land and nearby islands.

Gowa - a Makassarese kingdom established in the 14th century in what is now South Sulawesi. Gowa was for centuries one of the powers behind the trade in trepang, or dried sea slug.

Contact Andrish Saint-Clare at email daripa@octa4.net.au. Web: www.qantmnt.com/trepang.

Alan Whykes also lives in Darwin and is the Australian correspondent for Indonesia’s Republika newspaper.

Blacksmith boom

Small enterprise relishes the 'economic crisis'.

Lea Jellinek

Before leaving for Jakarta to do research on the impact of the economic crisis on the urban and rural poor, people warned me of the dangers I would confront. The international media screamed about crime and violence. Friends phoned to say I would be lucky to come back alive. Economists described a crash of the rupiah, massive unemployment, dire poverty, dramatic hikes in the price of basic foods, a drop in incomes, malnutrition and starvation, with half the population dropping below the poverty line by 1999. The images were of impending chaos.

Expecting to be robbed as my taxi took me into Jakarta from Sukarno-Hatta airport, I carefully hid my money, Visa card and travellers cheques in all sorts of places. The city looked grey, with a sense of foreboding. An expatriate friend told me at which police station to buy a chili spray gun and pistol.

However, by the time I reached Central Java, instead of discovering crisis, I found an economic boom. Small enterprises such as blacksmithing, bird selling, services and repairs, petty trade, traditional markets and trishaw driving were thriving in a way they had not done for 30 years. With my research team, I travelled from Semarang to Blora, to Yogyakarta, Wonosari, and Gunung Kidul in Central Java, and to Pacitan in East Java. Wherever we went we saw the same dynamic small scale economic activities. We called it 'communal capitalism'.

Why is the outside world getting such a distorted picture of what is happening in Indonesia? Why the focus on violence, poverty and desperation when what we are seeing in most parts of Indonesia is little people beavering away, admittedly against great odds, to create a better future for themselves? What caused this homegrown economic boom? Why aren't the press, government, international agencies and economists reporting it? Why are they placing such stress on dire poverty and the 'social safety net' (a social welfare system which is supposed to provide rice, work and education for the poor) when most of the poorest people are not getting this assistance but are mainly helping themselves?

Cottage industry

True, in urban areas prices have risen three fold, and an estimated 20 million people have lost their jobs in factories, offices, hotels, shops and supermarkets. Yet in rural areas there seem to be plenty of opportunities. Kinship and neighbourhood ties in the village provide social security when the going gets tough in the cities. Sons and daughters returning home from jobs in the city have been rapidly absorbed into rural society. They are learning traditional agricultural, house building, cottage industry and small trade skills from their parents. Cottage industries, destroyed during the economic boom years of Suharto's New Order, are reviving.

In Gunung Kidul for example, the dry area east of Yogyakarta, blacksmiths between 1975 and 1997 had a bad time competing against mass-produced agricultural tools imported from China. But with the economic crash, the imports have stopped. The blacksmiths now struggle to fulfil the many orders for agricultural tools from all over Indonesia. Clusters of blacksmiths in the same village pool resources to buy the iron they need. Much of it comes from railway tracks, dug up and stolen in the bankrupt industrial districts of Cilegon near Jakarta. Other metal comes from the urban riots and violence, the wrecked buildings, burnt out cars, shops, and supermarkets. A new industry - collecting scrap metal - is flourishing.

Blacksmiths work in groups to satisfy the demand for spare parts for cars and other machinery, now that imports are so expensive. They also have to meet a demand for gamelan (the Javanese musical instruments) from America, Holland and Australia. Sons and daughter help their parents. Neighbours pitch together to help meet the supply. The blacksmiths have developed community micro-credit systems of borrowing and lending. These enable their enterprises to thrive, yet have no relationship with the formal economy. Without any government assistance, the people are creating their own enterprises, while providing all the necessary skills, capital and markets.

Semarang, on the north coast of Java, is Indonesia's fifth largest town. One road in the city centre has been taken over by people buying and selling birds. Bamboo cages containing tropical birds of all shapes, colours and sounds are piled under trees in the middle of the busy street. Buyers and sellers mingle among them. Bird keeping has become popular during the economic crisis, especially among the urban middle classes who have turned from their more expensive hobbies of buying imported goods. It is said to be good for the psyche in times of crisis. For years, city authorities used to clear the bird market away to make room for traffic, but now it has virtually taken over the street. Cage making and bird food production are booming with it.

Many traditional markets in the towns and villages of Central Java, often displaced during the New Order boom years, have come back. A vibrancy, renewed energy and life pervade them. Peasant women, with only a few items to sell from their home gardens, sit in rows on the ground in strategic locations at the entry to the markets. They told us happily how they could now find a space from which to trade. Only two years earlier they could find none. Thugs linked with government authorities controlled the markets and used to charge extortionists fees to all who operated in them. Little people without resources could not afford a place to trade.


Trishaw (becak) drivers were under the New Order driven out of most towns and cities in Java. People with little income, often labourers or poorer peasants, drove trishaws in the agricultural off-season when there was no work in ploughing, planting, weeding or harvesting. The trishaws were appropriate - most towns are flat, the vehicles were non-polluting and provided a reasonable livelihood when there was nothing else to do. They provided flexibility for the drivers, who could pedal part-time in the city and cultivate part-time in the village. Now the trishaws have been allowed to return. The high cost of petrol and spare parts has affected the capital intensive and mechanised forms of transport such as private cars, buses, mini-buses and taxis. Small enterprises building and repairing trishaw have gained a new lease on life.

Small-scale repairs, services and recycling is experiencing a boom. Whatever can be fixed - fans, batteries, televisions, radios, motor-bikes, bicycles, household utensils, shoes - is being repaired. Everything is reused, nothing is thrown away. It is as I remember Indonesia in the early 1970s, when everybody seemed to be a fixer. Nothing was beyond repair. The consumerism of the 1970s, 80s and 90s has been replaced by a collect, recycle, repair and reuse society.

The boom in small-scale activities can be partly explained by the devaluation of the rupiah and the consequent cut in foreign imports. A virtual tariff barrier has been set up around Indonesia, and it is one that seems to suit agriculturists and small-scale entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas. It does not suit the international experts, bankers and capitalists. Indonesians themselves are providing goods for their own 200 million people, and so locals rather than foreigners are reaping the benefits.

Because of their cheap price, many Indonesian products are in demand from abroad. Commercial products such as coffee, pepper, copra, tea, sugar, vanilla, fish and timber are selling well. Most farmers on the islands outside Java are benefiting, with much higher incomes than they had during the Suharto years. Even if they have to pay more for rice and other basic necessities, they are receiving more - up to three times - for their produce. In Central Java, cattle and teak are selling for three times their normal price. Teak furniture is being exported abroad. They are highly visible on Melbourne streets, which throughout our summer advertised cheap, durable, outdoor teak furniture for sale.

Hopefully many of these small businesses will continue to provide a livelihood for many Indonesians when large scale investment returns to Indonesia. Small enterprises have gained a breather through the collapse of big business.

Bambang Rustanto, who is a research anthropologist in Jakarta, contributed to this article. Lea Jellinek is a freelance development consultant who lives in Melbourne.

Wheels for awareness

Two Aussie girls are cycling around Australia to raise awareness, and money, for Indonesians in poverty. But the project raises some questions too.

Helena Spyrou

On 28 February 1999, two young Australians, Fiona Collins and Mia Hoogenboom, left Sydney for a 16,455km cycle journey around the perimeter of mainland Australia to raise funds for the OzIndo Project, a short-term relief program to address 'a critical need for staple foods in Indonesia'.

Isn't it inspiring that some Australians can be so moved by the plight of their Indonesian neighbours, to take direct action? This is how I was introduced to the project.

However, the more information I gathered, the more I was beset with questions about the purpose and motivation of fundraising and direct aid. Who decides who needs money and how it will be used? How valid is short-term relief compared with long-term sustainable development? What motivates people who believe 'they have' to support people they perceive 'have not'?

Mia and Fiona met while studying in the Acicis program in Yogyakarta during 1997/98. (Acicis exposes over a hundred Australian university students to Indonesia every year). Their year in Yogyakarta coincided with the collapse of the rupiah and the ensuing riots that led to the resignation of President Suharto. 'Watching the effects of crisis spiralling out of control and watching how our Indonesian friends were being affected, we felt helpless', says Fiona. 'One afternoon in May '98, I took a siesta and had a dream. I dreamt that Mia and I were cycling along a dusty road in the middle of Central Australia, with people behind us supporting in some way. I told Mia about my dream, and since we both felt a responsibility to help Indonesia, we began investigating how two individuals could cycle around Australia requesting donations.'

'We approached over 35 NGOs (non-government organisations) in Australia, but decided to go with the AusAid-accredited Unity and International Mission in order to collect tax deductible donations. They respected our idea of two individuals wanting to make a difference. They didn't want to make it their project.'


The OzIndo team in Australia aims to raise awareness about the current humanitarian crisis in Indonesia and to promote cross-cultural understanding. Their Mobile Education Unit carries books, magazines, music, photographs, current affairs reports. A small support team accompanies Fiona and Mia, including Jan Lingard, the Australian coordinator, and Timur Nugroho, the Indonesian representative. 'It was important to have an Indonesian with us, we didn't want to speak on behalf of Indonesians, and a guy with a guitar is more interesting than two cyclists', says Fiona.

Timur met Fiona and Mia in Yogyakarta. 'We became friends', says Timur. 'They told me about their idea and asked my help … I saw poverty in my neighbourhood. Now I speak to Australian people about Indonesia, their struggle, their culture, and sometimes I sing Indonesian songs.'

The OzIndo team was by late May well on their way to Perth. I spent a day with them on the road from Melbourne to Geelong. As with every leg of their journey, they were joined by local cyclists supporting their cause.

Anecdotes in the OzIndo newsletters reflect the warm welcome and generosity of Australian people. Schools, Rotary, the Uniting Church, and Soroptomist International, have all billeted the team and organised fundraising activities on their behalf. 'Perhaps the highlight of highlights', comments the team, was an 'amazing day' at Mallacoota P-12 College on 19 March 1999. Students and staff were dressed in Indonesian type clothing. The Indonesian teacher had set up a fundraising activity in the form of a market where students purchased goods using vouchers representing Rupiah currency.

The OzIndo Project also aims to raise $500,000 to provide immediate assistance to Indonesians in need. The original idea was to implement a one-off subsidised food market (pasar murah), in eleven different Indonesian provinces. This is an established model of food subsidy in Indonesia, where local and mobile food subsidisation centres are set up so that Indonesian people can purchase staple foods at greatly discounted rates.

The short and the long

Recently, I spoke with Damien Locke, at the time the Indonesia coordinator for OzIndo, based in Yogyakarta. He outlined the complex process of organising a 3-4 week pasar murah. Its advantage is that money collected in Australia is given directly to the people of Indonesia. There are no 'middle men', says Damien. Planning began months before by teeing up a local and reliable NGO to work with. The first pasar murah in Yogyakarta was done together with the large NGO Bina Swadaya. After extensive research they identified the village of Planjan in the dry mountains south of Yogyakarta as having the greatest need.

However, the experience of the first pasar murah raised questions about the validity of such short-term relief. Although successful as an exercise in cross-cultural awareness (Australian songs were heard at the market!), Damien believes the process was fraught with problems. Bina Swadaya have since turned down the invitation to continue OzIndo's pasar murah in Planjan because they are not able to supply the overhead costs. Damien urged OzIndo to look at moving towards longer-term sustainable community development models for Planjan, seeing a huge potential for farming, water and other technology.

Pasar murah for all the 1603 families of Planjan village cost AU$4,462. Of that, $962 was recouped after each family purchased a $2.78 food parcel of rice, sugar and cooking oil for only 60 cents. I asked Australian Volunteers International (formerly the Overseas Service Bureau) what development projects could be implemented for a similar amount of money. Their Indonesia officer Maree Keating told me $2000 would enable a project to make and market smokeless stoves for their community; $2000 would enable a community to develop an eco-tourism promotion centre; $1000 would buy a village seeds to plant alternatives to rice; $200 would pay for sanitation pipes for one village; and $600 would buy a buffalo to plow the fields of an entire village. For $3600, six buffaloes would keep 6 villages plowing their land for 30 years.

OzIndo said at the end of May they were open to suggestions and wanted to revise their strategy in Indonesia. They said they had abandoned the pasar murah concept in favour of school-based relief for children. However, OzIndo apparently remains committed to short term relief. 'We can't do anything except provide short term relief and do our damn best to raise Australia's awareness especially in schools. It's our personal response to take action. We are totally conscious that there are limitations,' says Fiona.

The pasar murah strategy grew out of reports at the time that Indonesians were starving. More recent reports on poverty induced by the economic crisis have suggested a less stark, more complex picture of great diversity. More importantly, the strategy ignored Indonesian requests for longer-term help. Vanessa Johanson, in Inside Indonesia January-March 1999, cited this comment from a villager: 'We have already been given this and that, [including] basic foodstuffs from you. But what about the future? We all know that children here need to go to school. Can't you help us finish building the school? We use it already, but the walls leak.'

The OzIndo team, in particular Fiona and Mia, must be commended for their courage and heartfelt action. They are having enormous success in raising awareness in Australian about the current humanitarian crisis in Indonesia. Now is the time for OzIndo to give a lead in reflecting on how the money they raise is spent. Like many other organisations involved in relief work, they need to address the issue of short term versus long term assistance. More importantly, Indonesian NGOs need to be given more independence to make decisions about what's most appropriate for their country.

Helena Spyrou is the promotions officer for Inside Indonesia. Email: admin@insideindonesia.org. Contact Ozindo at email OzIndo_News@hotmail.com.



Our inspiration

The financial crisis has become the absolute focus for so many people's lives in Indonesia. You can't go anywhere without seeing its effects. Old women and homeless children beg for money in the streets. Men sit around in front of shops, hopeless, as their employers can no longer afford to pay their wages. I have friends who were forced to give up their studies at university and return home to their villages, because their families could no longer support them. Prices have skyrocketed by 400% and people simply can't afford to buy basic necessities. There is a tangible atmosphere of desolation, you can see it in people's faces and feel it in the air.' Mia Hoogenboom

'The turning point for me came when a chicken farmer who lived in my neighbourhood could no longer afford to buy chicken feed. Rather than watching his chickens starve to death, in desperation he put all 20 of them into a cage and burnt the cage to the ground. Left with no source of income and no means to support his family, he was forced to leave the city and return to his village. This was just one of many striking instances that made me realise that I could not simply return to Australia and resume my normal life. In the face of such suffering, I had to do something to help. During my time here, people with so little have shown such generosity of spirit. I feel it is now time to give something back.' Fiona Collins

Flesh trade of Sumatra

Children are lured to brothels in remote places by slimy operators. International pressure can help free them.

Ahmad Sofian

Trafficking in underage girls for prostitution is a growing problem in North Sumatra. The children do not understand the risk of early pregnancy or of sexually transmitted diseases. They are usually sold to the government-licensed prostitution areas (lokalisasi) at Sicanang Island or Bandar Baru near Medan, and as far as Batam Island near Singapore. About 200-300 girls are employed in the Bandar Baru lokalisasi alone. The industry is driven by growing market demand, especially for girls aged 14-18 years, who are considered free of disease. The high price a virgin fetches makes the search for them a highly profitable business. Organised trafficking syndicates present themselves as employment agencies who also offer the opportunity of enjoyable travel.

'Collectors' usually operate in crowded places such as a shopping mall. Trained to recognise soft targets, they begin by simply befriending a girl making it difficult for police to act against them. Parents, too, report the problem only after the child has gone. The typical candidate is a teenager from a lower to middle class suburban family. The children seldom refuse an invitation to visit a luxurious place, where they are brought to a madame. Here the collector gets a tip of Rp 100-200,000 (AU$20-40), depending on the beauty and virginity of the victim.

Girls who refuse to satisfy the passion of their clients invite the anger of the madame. One girl had her head smashed into a wall so that she suffered concussion and later went insane. If the guard should catch them trying to escape he will beat them up. The madame, meanwhile, routinely cuts the money the girls earn by up to 50%.

The cruelty child prostitutes suffer was exposed recently in the case of two girls who managed to escape from remote Tanjung Balai Karimun after their parents bought their freedom in February 1998. The parents took the case to the police, resulting in some prosecutions. In September 1998 police from West Java succeeded in saving another 100 children or more from the same place.

Dewi (16), who ran away from a brothel in Tanjung Balai Karimun, explained how she escaped with the help of her mother (see box). Consumers paid her Rp 150,000 (AU$30) a time, but half of that was taken by the madame. The other half was hers only in the form of vouchers, which could be exchanged for cash after working for four months. In the meantime, Dewi practically had no money. She paid for her meals, clothes and medical checks out of extra tips her customers occasionally gave her.

Similarly Fitriani (16), a beautiful girl with white skin from Sujono Street in Medan, was lured to Bandar Baru with an offer of a highly paid job in a restaurant. She did not know that Bandar Baru was a brothel lokalisasi. After asking permission from her parents she went there with her friends Afrida (15), and Kiki and Florida (both 16). Arriving in Bandar Baru she felt suspicious because she was put into an all-girl house. She wanted to go home, but was unable to leave. That first night she was forced to surrender her virginity to a man of Chinese descent. For a month she was used by guests who queued up to book her. She made Rp 2 million (AU$400). She was released after her friend Florida fell pregnant and developed a craving for martabak, the spicy Medan pancake. When the madame permitted Florida to go to Medan, she contacted her parents and the police, who prosecuted the madame.


The arbitrary harassment child prostitutes suffer as the weak partner in a highly unequal relationship often leaves them with post-traumatic stress that can last throughout their lives. They are part of a unique work system ungoverned by any law. The government only half recognises their work and considers they are acting at their own risk. They do not understand the high danger of HIV/ AIDS infection to which they are exposed. Nor do their guests, who do not use a condom because they think the prostituted children are healthy.

In the West, adult men who have sexual intercourse with underage girls (even when they are in love), are considered criminals and can be punished. Indonesia has no such law. Child prostitution cannot be prosecuted as such. Even those laws (such as unlawful detention) that do exist are poorly implemented due to official collusion. It will require the cooperation of many parties to eradicate the problem of child prostitution. International support to put pressure on the Indonesian government in this matter can be very effective.

Ahmad Sofian is executive secretary of the Study Centre for Child Protection (Pusat Kajian & Perlindungan Anak, PKPA) in Medan, North Sumatra. Contact: Jl Mustafa no. 30, Medan 20238, North Sumatra, Indonesia, tel +62-61-611943, email pkpa@medan.wasantara.net.id. Names of girls are fictional to protect their identity.


'Aunt Merry is a devil'

My name is Dewi. I am now 16, but this happened to me when I was 15. I am the oldest in my family, and have three brothers, all still at primary school. I only finished grade five and do not go to school anymore, because I was lazy and wanted money. My father died in 1993. My mother has no work. We are a poor family. I went to Tanjung Balai Karimun because a friend of my mother's, Aunt Meta, offered me work in a restaurant with a high wage. She said she was a close friend of Aunt Merry. She sold me to Merry. I heard later that every girl Aunt Meta sold to Aunt Merry got her Rp 850,000 (AU$170). Aunt Meta said I would get Rp 200,000 (AU$40) every day. My mother, of course hoping I could help the family, agreed.

I travelled there with two friends, Opi and Melisa. It is located on a remote island near Singapore. When we arrived we went into Golden Million Hotel, and were welcomed by some beautiful young girls. 'Why do you want to work here?', they asked us. 'If you can, run away. Here you will become a prisoner!'. This surprised me. Opi and Melisa even cried. But what could we do? At last I was brough to see Merry by her guard, Sitepu. We were all asked to sign a four-month contract. Then we were employed as whores. Every girl was given a breast number. Mine was 20.

In Golden Million, Merry and her people never called anyone by name. If they wanted me, they would just call: 'Hey, twenty…'. There were about 300 people working there, all with a breast number. We worked from 9pm till early morning. We were kept in a plain room under the direct supervision of two men we called Daddy, and a Mummy. A guest would first speak with Daddy and Mummy, who would then call us.

Working in Golden Million was hell. If anyone made a mistake, Merry's people kicked them. The lightest punishment was 'charge'. That meant paying a fine. If we were sick, we had to pay for medicine ourselves. If a girl fell pregnant, the fine was Rp 500,000 (AU$100). If we menstruated suddenly while serving a guest, the fine was Rp 75,000. A doctor came to give us an injection each week that cost us Rp 200,000 each time. Golden Million provided a room for us to take a rest. Our room was for 12 to 15 people. It was very small and hot. It had no window, and no ventilation. Our meals were supplied by Aunt Merry. Every meal was crowded and rushed. Every girl owed money to Aunt Merry. She pretended to be a good woman but she was very bad. She is a devil.

Throughout the time I was at Tanjung Balai Karimun I never sent money to my mother. When she came to see how I was she had to pawn the tape recorder to our neighbour to get travel money. As soon as my mother saw my condition she wanted to take me home to Medan. But Aunt Merry said my contract still had two months to run and would not let me go. Then my mother went back to Medan without me. Two months later she came back for me. It was about April last year. I do not know how or where she got the money for her bus fare. Aunt Merry promised my mother to cash my vouchers, but she kept delaying, and my mother became scared that Merry's people would kill us.

At last we chose to run away and just forget about the money owing to me, Rp 5 million (AU$1000). The important thing was to get away from Aunt Merry. As it happened I had Rp 300,000. It was not enough for the whole trip home, so on the way I sold my necklace for Rp 60,000.

Now I am back home, with my family. I never want to go to Golden Million again. If I have the money I would like to sell rice or fried noodles from my house. If God blesses me, I want to get married to a good man who loves me and my family. I heard that Aunt Merry was arrested. I was pleased to hear it, but I would like her people to be arrested as well Daddy, Mummy, and the gangsters who protected her. I also want the money I earned there returned to me. And I want all of my friends working there to be set free as well. I pity them.

Forgotten refugees of Buton

The Ambon crisis produced tens of thousands of Muslim refugees. They desperately need help.

Elizabeth Fuller Collins

Mr Laode Kamaluddin calls them the ‘forgotten refugees.’ According to local government figures compiled by the Bupati (Regent) of Buton, Mr H Sahiruddin Udu, 37,000 refugees from Ambon fled to Buton, an island off the southeast arm of Sulawesi, 600 kilometres west-southwest across the Banda Sea from Ambon.

Frustrated that the central government had not provided any assistance to these refugees, Mr Laode Kamaluddin, Inspector General of Development for Backward Regions, decided to personally lead an expedition of reporters from Jakarta to Buton at the end of March. He wanted people elsewhere in Indonesia to know about the problem and provide assistance or pressure the central government to take action. At the last minute, one reporter was unable to join the team of observers, and I was invited to be a foreign representative.

On the afternoon of our arrival in Bau-Bau, the capital of Buton, the bupati presented us with the data he had collected on the exodus from Ambon, detailing the number of families that had sought refuge in villages throughout the region. That night we visited the refugee centre in Bau-Bau city. It was an open market next to a sports field. Between five hundred and a thousand refugees were crowded under the roof on a cement platform. It was difficult to see how they all found space to lie down at night.

The refugees in this centre were those who knew that some time in the distant past their ancestors had migrated from Buton to Ambon. But they no longer knew which village they had come from in Buton, or even whether distant relatives might still live there, so they had nowhere to go. Many were women with small children, who had no way to earn money. Their children crowded around them, and their babies sleeping on the floor looked exhausted and poorly fed. Several older women crouched over gas burners making snacks that could be sold the next day, but most people seemed to have no energy and no idea how they would manage.

The terror

The people I talked to had been traumatised by the violence that they had witnessed. They spoke of ‘the terror.’ They told us that their families had lived in Ambon for generations. It had been their home. They could not comprehend what had happened. One young man, the youngest of seven children, had been a driver in Ambon. Last January 20th he returned home to find the bodies of his parents and all his brothers and sisters cut to pieces. In Bau-Bau he earned a bit of money when he could as a becak (trishaw) driver. In this way he was able to supplement the meagre supply of rice that was available to the refugees. He was hoping he might find relatives somewhere.

Heavy rains have now flooded out the people in this refugee centre. The tarpaulins that we bought to keep out the rain were not enough. These refugees have probably been moved to the already crowded centres into an orphanage next to a mosque, and into a state Islamic institute (STAIN) dormitory near Bau-Bau, which we also visited. The refugees in these camps were somewhat better off because, although most slept on the cement floor, they were protected from the weather. However, the refugees complained that they did not have enough food.

They had not eaten rice for some time, nor were they given any protein. At noon that day they had been given noodle soup, all the food that was distributed that day. We saw a listless baby suffering from malnutrition. Another child had a high fever. Seven children have already died of diarrhoea.

The bupati and his wife have done the best they could to organise help for the refugees, but their resources are limited. The bupati explained that it would take several tons of rice a day to feed all the refugees. All he could do was provide some boiled rice and milk for pregnant women and babies. There was also a shortage of medicine and doctors.

Over the next two days we visited five villages, each with between 700 and 1,500 refugees. Most of these refugees lived on the ground under houses owned by relatives. Village resources were strained to breaking point. The teacher at a village primary school reported that formerly he had been responsible for just over one hundred pupils. Now he had over two hundred, and many of the refugee children had no books and no change of clothes. They were hungry and traumatised.

There will be no simple solution to the problem of the refugees from Ambon, as there is no simple solution for the problem of the (equally Muslim) Madurese refugees from West Kalimantan. Some are farmers who need land, and Buton is a harsh and rocky landscape with no empty land. Fishermen are better off, but they need boats and nets. We bought small ‘koli-koli’ canoes for the refugees in several of the villages we visited, but we knew that more than twenty families would have to share each of these boats.

The merchants whose shops in the city of Ambon had been burned have lost everything, even the deed to their property and the cash they had kept to do business. Yet many of these refugees said that they would return to Ambon if peace returned, but they needed help to start over again. One woman demanded to know what the government would do to help them. University students wondered if they would be able to finish their education now that their families had lost everything and they could not return to take their exams.

We met with the governor in Kendari, the capital of Southeast Sulawesi province, after returning from Buton, and learned that he had directed aid be sent to the region. He said that just before our visit to him he had learned that the aid had not arrived. (Later we learned that the money was used to buy land, said to be for the refugees.) The central government has yet to establish any program to help the refugees of Buton. The bureaucracy seems to be paralysed.

Ordinary citizens

The beginning of a solution to the problem of the Butonese refugees lies in civil society, in the actions of ordinary citizens channeled through non-governmental organisations (NGOs). While in Buton, the team I travelled with collected funds among themselves and from friends in Jakarta to buy tarpaulins, small koli-koli fishing canoes and nets, and to build portable toilets. Since returning to Jakarta they have established the ‘Foundation for an Enlightened World’, Yayasan Nurani Dunia, with the motto ‘People to People Aid.’ I will serve as an advisor to the foundation.

As a result of publicity by reporters on our expedition, the refugees of Buton are beginning to receive some limited help. Dompet Duafa, a non-governmental agency associated with the newspaper Republika, has established a post in Buton for emergency relief and to collect more data on the refugees. They report that there are now more than 50,000 refugees, and more continue to arrive as conflict spreads to other areas in Eastern Indonesia. The refugees are still in dire need of food, mattresses, access to clean drinking water, clothes, tarpaulins, toilets, school books, small boats, and fishing nets.

Nurani Dunia is now working with Dompet Duafa to raise funds for emergency aid to refugees in Buton. In this way there will be no administrative costs. Reporters will continue to report on the situation in Buton to ensure that the aid goes directly to the refugees.

I have a particular reason for wanting to be part of the effort to help the refugees in Buton. Over and over again, I have been asked by friends in Indonesia why it is that people in the West always seem ready to help when Christians are the innocent victims of violence, but not when the victims are Muslim. Every university student I talk to seems to have read or at least heard of the Huntington thesis that the future enemy of the West will be Islam. They wonder if Western governments are trying to weaken Islamic nations by ignoring the plight of refugees and the poor in a time of economic crisis. Just as I remind students in the US that there is no such thing as monolithic Islam, I try to explain to people here that scholars in America and elsewhere vehemently criticise Huntington’s arguments. I would also like people in Indonesia to know that Americans are ready to help refugees, whatever their religion.

The twentieth century has been a century of refugees. We are becoming numb to the seemingly endless campaigns of ‘ethnic cleansing’- in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and now Southeast Asia - and to the streams of traumatised, poverty-stricken people who flee from violence. But we cannot afford to ignore the problem of refugees. Refugee groups that are not helped to start life anew in one way or another are fodder for extremist political movements. They are angry and powerless. Their emotions can be easily manipulated so that they seek revenge. And the plight of refugee groups can become the excuse for another violent episode and another exodus of refugees.

A small (one man) koli-koli fishing boat and nets cost about US$100. Emergency assistance to mothers of US$25 per child will buy food (especially milk), clothes, and school books. All assistance will be most welcome. Temporarily (until I can set up a matching non-profit organisation in the States), Gene Ammarell has agreed to help collect funds for the Buton refugees. Contact him at: Dept of Sociology and Anthropology, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA, tel+1-740-592 9697, email ammarell@ohiou.edu. Or cheques may be sent to Nurani Dunia, c/o Imam B. Prasodjo, PhD, Dept of Sociology, Fac. of Social and Political Sciences, Univ. of Indon. (home: Jl Proklamasi 37, Jakarta 10320, Indonesia, tel/fax +62-21-391 3768).

Dr Elizabeth Collins is Director of the Southeast Asian Studies Program at Ohio University.

Indonesians for East Timor

A small but growing Indonesian movement supports self-determination in East Timor, for the sake of Indonesian democracy.

James Goodman

In a fashionable Jakarta restaurant two hundred people are listening to the editor of Tempo news weekly talk about East Timor. Over half are university students, the rest are journalists and some activists. They are attending the launch of a web site on East Timor issues organised by the Jakarta-based Solidamor, or Solidarity for Timor Leste Peace Settlement. Solidamor organiser Gustaf Dupe is very pleased with the turnout, more than double what he expected. He says there is a growing interest in East Timor issues in Jakarta. Many in the democracy movement have begun to see the East Timorese right to self-determination as first and foremost a democratic issue. Solidamor gets the message across through the language of reconciliation - East Timorese and Indonesians have a common aspiration, and to achieve this they must overcome past hostilities and work together for the future.

Since they began arriving in the 1980s, East Timorese students living in Indonesia have been trying to get the issue of East Timor onto the agenda for Indonesian democrats. Renetil, the National Resistance of East Timorese Students, found early support within the student solidarity movement from Infight, a sister organisation of the radical environmentalist group Skephi. Pijar followed, a progressive student organisation whose founders were involved in the student-peasant protests of the late 1980s, and which now has strong links with Solidamor. Smid, Student Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia, which later founded the radical party PRD, was another source of support.

Indonesian-East Timorese solidarity groups sprang up in several university towns, including Denpasar, where Renetil was born. Fernando d'Araujo, Renetil's general secretary, recalls how the objective was to create pressure from within Indonesia, to internalise international principles of democracy and human rights, and thereby to redefine Indonesian national identity.

Joint action

After the 1991 Dili massacre, Indonesian and East Timorese students began staging joint actions. Indonesians said the occupation of East Timor was in breach of Indonesia's founding principles specifically of the 1945 constitutional preamble, which states that 'independence is the right of all peoples'. Protests were held in Jakarta and Bandung, and many were arrested. This led to impassioned speeches at subsequent court appearances, notably from d'Araujo, who called on the Indonesian people to assert their own political principles. Subsequently, Indonesians such as the editor of the student activist newspaper Kabar dari Pijar, who is now active in Solidamor, and Wilson, who was arrested for PRD activities in 1996, made similar appeals in their court appearances.

The 1991 arrests led to the emergence of Jakarta's first solidarity group, the Joint Committee in Defence of East Timorese. The committee was set up by concerned Indonesians and brought together Jakarta-based legal centres and church bodies. The initial purpose was to support students who had been arrested at the Jakarta protests. It later provided some support for East Timorese students affected by military operations in East Timor.

East Timorese student networks began distributing an Indonesian translation of Xanana Gusmao's 1992 defence plea, as well as an analysis of the social and environmental impact of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. The latter was written by the academic George Aditjondro, from Satya Wacana University in Central Java, who in 1992 became one of the few academics willing to publicly support the East Timorese right to self-determination. He was forced to leave Indonesia for Australia in 1995.

Jakarta's human rights agencies began employing East Timorese from the mid-1980s to focus on the humanitarian crisis in East Timor. By the mid-1990s the East Timor question was entering the Indonesian public realm as a human rights issue - although not yet as an issue of self-determination. East Timorese groups in Jakarta sought to widen the agenda, through cultural understanding. In 1994, for instance, Timorese students set up Oratim, a network of students linked to the church, which began meeting as a discussion group. In 1997 it began producing a quarterly newsletter on Timorese culture and history, distributed to senior members of the Suharto regime.

At the same time, more Indonesians began working together for East Timor in a loose organisation called Pokastim, the East Timor Communications Forum, which in some ways replaced the Joint Committee. This was dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance for East Timorese living in their occupied territory including education and health. It also aimed to provide a focus on East Timor for democracy and human rights organisations. It was the first to stage a public meeting in Jakarta on the question of self-determination in East Timor, held at a university in late 1997. Solidamor grew out of the Forum, as did another East Timor solidarity group, called Fortilos, Solidarity for the People of East Timor.

Fortilos pursues a different agenda from Solidamor in being more focused on direct solidarity for East Timor. The group draws on linkages established through the Joint Committee, and with feminist organisations and student cultural groups. Fortilos was set up in 1998 and provides medical aid for East Timorese. It explicitly backs self-determination. In April 1999 for instance, with the Jakarta-based journalist group Isai, Fortilos published the first translation of James Dunn's account of the 1975 Balibo incident in which several Australian journalists died. They were asked (but refused) to withdraw the booklet, so as not to offend the Information Minister, who is directly implicated in the Balibo incident.

Fay, a Fortilos organiser, argues that change in Indonesia will only come from below, from those who organise under the most difficult of circumstances. It is in East Timor that the true nature of the Indonesian state is exposed. It is here too that communities are constructing an alternative future. Similar alternatives are emerging in West Kalimantan and Irian Jaya, where indigenous Dayaks and West Papuans contest domination by resource companies.

This form of solidarity differs from Solidamor's reconciliation approach, and also from the PRD's approach of constructing parallel Indonesian-Timorese struggles. It deliberately prioritises East Timorese self-determination over broader Indonesian concerns, without distancing East Timor issues from those concerns. In the first instance it is solidarity 'for' rather than solidarity 'with' the East Timorese.

These three strands of the Indonesian solidarity movement, and their East Timorese counterparts in Jakarta, have helped to force the issue of East Timorese self-determination onto the agenda. In the post-Suharto era the East Timor issue has become a national question as much as a human rights one. In the widening democracy agenda, the question of self-determination in East Timor becomes inseparable from the question of democracy in Indonesia.

Amien Rais

In early 1999 Amien Rais' PAN became the second political party to support self-determination. Although Megawati's PDI remained opposed, the pressure was mounting there too. Fernando d'Araujo says that Megawati's rejection of self-determination for East Timor creates a major problem if she wants to maintain her image. 'As a good fighter for democracy, she must support the East Timorese struggle', he says.

Many non-government organisations (NGOs) now also increasingly see East Timor in self-determination terms. At the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH) last April, two days after the Liquica massacres, I found myself in the midst of a passionate pro-Xanana demonstration. Students and activists were singing East Timorese national songs in the grounds of the Institute, while the military filmed them from outside. Jakarta lawyers represent Xanana, and the protest coincided with a press conference at the Institute to announce changes in CNRT strategy. Last November even more soldiers surrounded the Institute as the first public and legal commemoration of the 1991 Dili massacre took place in Jakarta. In April the Institute allowed students from the Timorese Socialist Party to stage a hunger strike in its grounds, in protest at the militarisation of East Timorese politics.

As a result of this widening support, Indonesian solidarity groups are gaining greater confidence. In April 1999 the Indonesian military, no longer named Abri but recently renamed TNI after the police split off, were hosting 150 pro-integration militia. They had come from Dili to hunt down East Timorese campaigners in Jakarta. Solidarity groups helped East Timorese find 'safe houses'. Several Jakarta women's groups organised a women-only demonstration outside the Kopassus (elite commandos) headquarters where the militia were staying. The aim was to pose a symbolic challenge that could not be dismissed by the wider society as a 'minority' East Timorese concern.

Solidarity groups are in effect attempting to turn Indonesian nationalism against the pro-integrationists. They accuse the violent militia groups of insulting the Indonesian people by claiming to act in their name, and say they are defaming the Indonesian flag. This is a bold step for the solidarity movement. It reflects widespread community outrage at the pro-integration violence in East Timor.

The Indonesian solidarity movement is starting to play a critical role in challenging the occupation of East Timor. This stems from many years of pressure from East Timorese students, as well as from the wider political context. Indonesians are feeling the necessity, and the ability, to act for East Timorese self-determination. The demand for self-determination is no longer an 'external' pressure. Increasingly it is coming from the heart of Indonesia's political culture.

James Goodman (james.goodman@uts.edu.au) is a researcher at University of Technology Sydney and was recently in Jakarta. Many thanks to George J. Aditjondro for extensive comments. The Solidamor web site is at www.solidamor.org.

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Mar 27, 2020 - RON WITTON

State Library of NSW

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Lontar Modern Indonesia



A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar