Companion to East Timor - The New East Timorese Generation

The New East Timorese Generation

Inside East Timor, the resistance began to include the new generation of East Timorese who had grown up under the occupation. This generation had no experience of Portuguese rule and little interest in continuing the Fretilin-UDT-Apodeti divides of the past. As governor, Mario Carrascalao successfully lobbied the Indonesian government to set up the University of East Timor in 1985. He also ensured that students could get scholarships to study in Indonesia. For the Indonesian government, the aim of the scholarships was to integrate the educated strata into Indonesian culture. Approximately 1,500 students from East Timor were studying in Indonesian universities by 1989.

In order to counter the Indonesian government's aim of cultural integration, a group of nine East Timorese students studying in Bali formed the National Resistance of East Timorese Students (RENETIL) on 20 June 1988. This led to the formation of clandestine cells in Bandung, Semarang, Solo, Jakarta, Malang and Denpasar under the banner of Renetil, which Indonesianized the struggle by participating in the Indonesian pro-democracy movement and forging links with Indonesian human rights activists. It was these links that enabled the East Timorese to have an impact; without them, they were marginalized and bereft of support inside Indonesia. It also internationalized the struggle by receiving human rights reports from inside East Timor and distributing them to Indonesian and international human rights organizations. It worked with the clandestine front inside East Timor to coordinate the visits of foreign diplomats and activists to the territory. It would achieve significant victories in the 1990s.

At the end of 1988, the resistance was once again modified with the aim of creating a unified, nation-wide structure. This modification was known as the Structural Readjustment of the Resistance, whereby the CRRN would be replaced by the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM – Concelho Nacional da Resistencia Maubere). Falintil would be the armed forces of CNRM, not the military wing of Fretilin. Accordingly, although Gusmao retained his position as commander in chief of Falintil, he resigned from Fretilin and assumed the presidency of CNRM. Although this change had positive consequences for the cause of national unity during the occupation, it caused serious tensions between the Fretilin leadership and Gusmao. Jose Ramos-Horta also resigned from Fretilin and became the CNRM's special representative abroad.

However, the CNRM was never more than a concept whose real significance lay in its ability to satisfy the international community's expectations of a cohesive liberation movement. It served as a legitimate contact point with the promoters of self-determination in the UN and other international bodies. According to Dr Juan Federer, the Director-General of International Relations for the CNRM, it was 'a necessary and useful symbol, which allowed us to fit into expected international moulds as a representative national liberation movement.' Federer dismisses the image of unity and organisational cohesion promoted to the world during the independence struggle. The CNRM would later become the CNRT (Conselho Nacional da Resistencia Timorense – National Council of Timorese Resistance), supposedly uniting all East Timorese in the diaspora. It too was a poorly functioning outfit whose real value was the appearance it gave outsiders that a cohesive liberation movement was in existence. Federer notes that 'much attention was given to devising pompous sounding titles and the creation of enough of them to co-opt all the vociferous East Timorese pro-independence activists. Little or nothing existed in terms of substantive constitutional documents, definitions of functions, work procedures, information and reporting mechanisms, or work programs and their implementation.' The point of such groupings was to 'keep alive the fiction that the East Timorese resistance was a well-constituted pro-independence movement, and as such that the struggle fitted into moulds the world could understand.'