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Jakarta Post

Whoever is president, Timor Leste is a priority

  • Kristio Wahyono

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Tue, June 10, 2014   /  09:15 am

When it was a non-self governing territory under the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), Timor Leste was the first neighbor former president Abdurrahman '€œGus Dur'€ Wahid visited in February 2000.

Two years later, Gus Dur'€™s successor, Megawati Soekarnoputri attended a ceremony to mark the territory'€™s independence and the swearing in of president-elect Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao in Dili. Megawati dismissed objection from the House of Representatives and the People'€™s Consultative Assembly (MPR).

Whoever wins the presidential election in July, either Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo or Prabowo Subianto, should consider a Dili a priority trip before engagement in the regional and multilateral levels.

The new president will also need to maintain the tradition for a new ASEAN member head of state to visit the nine regional neighbors as well as attend the ASEAN summit scheduled for Nov. 9-10.

A trip to Timor Leste will be strategic as the two nations could address issues such as strategic partnership, economic cooperation and, if necessary, sensitive matters. In May 2012, President Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono visited Dili to attend the 10th anniversary of the country'€™s independence and inauguration of president-elect, José Maria Vasconcelos, known as Taur Matan Ruak.

Back in 1986 Taur was deputy chief of staff of Fretilin'€™s armed wing, which was responsible for all guerrilla operations throughout, what was then, East Timor and Yudhoyono was the commander of the 744th Battalion in the territory.

Yudhoyono made his first trip to Dili as President in April 2005. He laid a wreath at the Santa Cruz Cemetery, a move deemed to be the clearest symbol yet of the improving ties between the two neighbors since Timor Leste broke away from Indonesia in 1999.

But in recent months allegations of human rights violations involving Prabowo have intensified. Jemma Purdey voiced the opinion that as an soldier Prabowo had four tours to East Timor and led units that were '€œinvolved in some very extreme instances of violence'€. Many believe that Prabowo also played a role in the 1983 massacre in Kraras, known as the village of widows, which killed many East Timorese. Prabowo protested in the strongest terms and refuted the scurrilous allegations in a letter to the editor of The Jakarta Post on Dec. 27, 2013.

During my immediate past tenure as Indonesian representative in East Timor (2000-2003) then president Gusmao asked me to facilitate and seek information concerning the remains of Timorese national hero, Nicolau dos Reis Lobato.

It is not clear where, when and how he was actually killed and '€œbrought to Indonesia'€. Reports at the time said Lobato was shot by the unit led by, then captain, Prabowo.

New pleas have been submitted to the Indonesian diplomat in Dili on the occasion of every commemoration of Timor Leste Independence Day. The issue has been highly sensitive in relations between the two countries for years. Lobato is one of the founding members of the Fretilin Party and regarded as the first prime minister of Timor Leste. He was killed in an ambush in December 1978, three years after Indonesia entered East Timor.

Human rights violations between April 1974 and October 1999 committed by both ABRI/ Indonesian Military (TNI) and Fretilin/Falintil '€” including the 1978 and 1983 incidents '€” are comprehensively recorded in the five-volume book with 3,557 pages of the (Independent) Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) titled Chega!

Over the last decade the situation has dramatically changed. The TNI has stepped up cooperation with its Timor Leste counterpart, encompassing education, training and capacity building. The agreement was reached when TNI Comm. Gen. Djoko Santoso met his Timor Leste counterpart Taur in 2009.

A year later Taur visited Indonesia to follow up cooperation on maritime security, military staff and college training and education and border control, particularly in the Tunubibi and Tilomar posts.

Despite the negative perception of the TNI'€™s past role in Timor Leste, as far as Prabowo is concerned, I believe the time is right for him to announce his first state visit to Timor Leste if elected president, considering his past duties in the territory.

The important reason why Timor Leste should be the first country Jokowi or Prabowo visits is related to Gusmao'€™s resignation as prime minister sometime in September or October. The frontrunner in the race for the post is almost certainly Minister for State Agio Pereira.

Whoever leads Indonesia and Timor Leste, smooth transition of power in the two countries is required. Assuming that Dili receives confirmation from Jakarta concerning the new president'€™s visit before the ASEAN summit, Gusmao should postpone his resignation until November or December.

Gusmao will leave the stage amidst growing state failure and rampant mismanagement. Despite the huge international support and oil money, Timor Leste remains fragile. The country has accumulated more than US$10 billion since independence in 2002 from offshore and oil gas exploitation, yet according to Siktus Harson, on ucanews.com, it remains a low-income country, with extreme poverty and complex social problems.

State failure in Timor Leste has the potential to severely impact on regional security and subsequently should be of common responsibility for the region, particularly its next-door neighbor, to prevent it from happening.

The writer, a former Indonesian representative to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), is a guest lecturer in Yogyakarta and Bandung.

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