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Between forgiveness and broken hearts

Between forgiveness and broken hearts
Between forgiveness and broken hearts

 


Prabowo Subianto, the new Indonesian president, was allegedly involved in massacres during the occupation of East Timor. Nevertheless, the government in Dili is determined to work towards reconciliation. Not everyone is convinced.

Prabowo Subianto served in President Joko Widodo's cabinet as defense minister.  The new Indonesian head of state always likes to salute during his public appearances.

Prabowo Subianto served in President Joko Widodo's cabinet as defense minister. The new Indonesian head of state always likes to salute during his public appearances.

Willy Kurniawan / Reuters

When Zelia Maria Ximenes opens the castle onto a vaulted cellar, she wipes away her tears. Memories of the occupation by Indonesian troops return. The 54-year-old woman and her husband live outside Baucau, East Timor's second-largest city with 20,000 inhabitants. The farming couple lives in modest conditions. We are always happy because we are free, says Ximenes. Ximenes and his compatriots had to pay a high price for freedom.

US President Gerald Ford gave the green light

East Timor has a dark past. The country has only been independent since May 20, 2002. It was initially a colony of Portugal for 450 years before Indonesia invaded East Timor under dictator Suharto in December 1975 and withdrew again only 24 years later. Days before the occupation, U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger green-lighted the invasion during a stopover in Jakarta and subsequently supplied weapons to the Indonesian military.

Up to 200,000 Timorese are believed to have died or starved to death during the occupation. Genocide Studies Program Yale University estimates that about a fifth of the Timorese population died. This story catches up with the small country of 1.3 million inhabitants thanks to the results of the presidential election in Indonesia. Indonesians voted in February Prabowo Subianto, one of the main military officers since the occupation of East Timor as the new head of state.

Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) meet resistance fighters in East Timor in 1975.

Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) meet resistance fighters in East Timor in 1975.

ICRC

Prabowo is mainly accused of having participated in two massacres: in September 1983, the Indonesian army pushed residents into a river bed in the village of Kraras, located south of Dili, and fired machine guns at defenseless people. Up to 181 men are believed to have been murdered and Prabowo is held responsible. Kraras is known as the widows' village of East Timor.

Eight years later, Prabowo was allegedly involved in a massacre at the Santa Cruz cemetery in the capital Dili. At that time, young people and students demonstrated peacefully after a commemorative ceremony and chanted slogans such as Long live independence. The Indonesian occupiers shot dead 270 protesters and about the same number were kidnapped.

Prabowo denies the allegations. The newspaper Jakarta Post published a letter from him in 2013 in which he wrote that he had not been present during the Kraras massacre. And he called on those accusing him to provide proof that he gave orders to abuse and kill civilians.

In 1998, Prabowo was admitted dishonorably discharged from military service. He is accused of being involved in the kidnapping of protesters in Jakarta. However, he was never held accountable for his possible crimes in East Timor.

Like Prabowo, Indonesia remains silent about the bloody years in East Timor, even though that country once suffered under Dutch occupiers. The closest thing to a formal apology was Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who served as Indonesia's president between 2004 and 2014, when he said: “We deeply regret what happened.” The occupation is also being suppressed in Indonesian schools.

Jorge Alves fought in the resistance against the Indonesian occupiers.  Today, he directs the archives and museum of the Timorese resistance in Dili and advocates reconciliation with Indonesia.

Jorge Alves fought in the resistance against the Indonesian occupiers. Today, he directs the archives and museum of the Timorese resistance in Dili and advocates reconciliation with Indonesia.

NZZ

In official East Timor, despite the past, we hear nothing negative about Prabowo. Former resistance fighter Jorge Alves runs the Archives and Museum of the Timorese Resistance in Dili, which retraces the years of Indonesian occupation. Alves, now 63 years old, paid a high price for the fight against the occupiers. His father, a leading resistance commander, was murdered and his body was never found. We are heartbroken, but I have no desire for revenge and I congratulate Prabowo on his election, says Alves in the style of a diplomat.

He politely avoids questions about Indonesia's president-elect. He does not accuse him personally. Also in the museum, Prabowo and other high-ranking Indonesian military officers who fought during the occupation are not mentioned by name. The entire Indonesian army is pilloried.

We must not forget suffering and our history and must transmit it from generation to generation in schools and through museums, says Alves. East Timor is now struggling with poverty and malnutrition. We must leave the past behind and fight alongside Indonesia for a better future.

For reconciliation There are also economic reasons. The Timorese economy cannot produce many goods and food itself and relies on imports from Indonesia. In 2022, nearly one in three imported products came from a neighboring country. It would be hara-kiri to challenge Indonesia from a position of weakness. President José Ramos-Horta was the first foreign head of state to congratulate Prabowo on his election and invite him to visit East Timor.

With four minors fleeing from the occupants

Zelia Maria Ximenes supported the Timorese resistance in the fight against the Indonesian occupiers.  Their wounds have not yet healed, a quarter of a century after the departure of the Indonesians.

Zelia Maria Ximenes supported the Timorese resistance in the fight against the Indonesian occupiers. A quarter of a century after the departure of the Indonesians, their wounds have not yet healed.

NZZ

Ximenes in Baucau is less diplomatic than the former resistance fighters in Dili. Even a quarter of a century after the departure of the occupants, their wounds have not yet healed. She had a difficult life during the occupation, supported the resistance and made her land available to build a cellar in which the guerrillas hid documents and radio equipment.

In 1997, Ximene's husband, who also fought in the resistance, was imprisoned by the Indonesian army. He escaped, but had to hide in the jungle. He was only able to return to his family two years later, after the withdrawal of Indonesian troops.

Ximenes, then 27, was alone with her four children, the eldest of whom was only nine years old. They had to constantly change accommodation as they fled the Indonesian army. They were difficult years, Ximenes said. When she talks about Prabowo and the Indonesian occupiers, she stops, starts crying again and says: Maybe I can forgive them. But my heart remains broken.

Sources

1/ https://Google.com/

2/ https://www.nzz.ch/international/osttimor-indonesien-zwischen-vergebung-und-gebrochenen-herzen-ld.1834493

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