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Out of the Ashes

Out of the Ashes: Destruction and Reconstruction of East Timor

James J. Fox
Dionisio Babo Soares
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Out of the Ashes
    Book Description:

    Out of the Ashes is a collection of essays that examine the historical background to developments in East Timor and provide political analysis on the initial reconstruction stage in the country's transition to independence. The volume is divided into three thematic sections - background, assessment and reconstruction - bringing together the experiences and knowledge of academic researchers and key participants in the extraordinary events of 1999 and 2000. After years of Indonesian rule, the people of East Timor voted to reject an offer of autonomy choosing instead independence from Indonesia. This decision enraged pro-integrationist militia who, backed by the Indonesian military, launched a program of violence and destruction against the inhabitants of East Timor. President Habibie eventually agreed to the presence of a United Nations peace-keeping force, but by this stage East Timor had been ravaged by destruction. The new East Timorese government faced the challenges of the future with an understanding that the successful struggle for independence was both a culmination and a starting point for the new nation. As the events of 1999 recede, many of the issues and challenges highlighted in Out of the Ashes remain of central significance to the future of East Timor. These essays provide essential reading for students and interested observers of the first new nation of the 21st century.

    eISBN: 978-0-9751229-0-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Xanana Gusmão

    Out of the Ashes: Destruction and Reconstruction of East Timor marks the beginning of what, I hope, will be a continuing assessment of East Timor’s development as it enters the 21st century as the world’s newest democracy. Like a phoenix, Timor Loro Sa’e will rise from its ashes to take its place in the community of nations.

    The book provides an introduction to the culture and society of East Timor, discusses the political, diplomatic and military background to events in 1999 and then looks at the initial phase of the reconstruction. Looking to the future is now as important as...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface to the ANU E Press publication
    (pp. xi-xii)
    James J. Fox and Dionisio Babo Soares
  6. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. xvii-xxi)
  8. Map of Timor
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  9. Map of East Timor
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  10. Background

    • 1 Tracing the path, recounting the past: historical perspectives on Timor
      (pp. 1-27)
      James J. Fox

      The island of Timor, in one of its mythic representations, is described as a half-submerged crocodile, wary and waiting. In another mythic representation, Timor is mother earth, accepting, long-suffering, supportive of all who rely upon her. Geologically, Timor has been described as a ‘tectonic chaos’. Linguistically, the island is a babel of languages and dialects. Historically, for centuries, it has been a divided island and a source of continuing dispute. Its local populations have long resisted outside interference and have been fiercely defensive of their different local cultural traditions. From these perspectives, Timor is not one place, but many.


    • 2 From province to nation: the demographic revolution of a people
      (pp. 28-40)
      Terence H. Hull

      When the history of East Timor comes to be written, the transition of the region from a colony to a province of Indonesia, and finally to an independent nation will stand out as a major political and social transformation in South-east Asia. However, historians will encounter serious difficulties as they attempt to describe the social and personal changes of the people of East Timor because the political manifestations of change carry with them important but confusing redefinition of who the Timorese are, where they live, and the size and structure of the population. In this chapter some aspects of demographic...

    • 3 East Timor: education and human resource development
      (pp. 41-52)
      Gavin W. Jones

      The Portuguese colonialists did very little to educate the population of East Timor. Until almost the very end of their 450 years of colonisation, education was established solely to meet the demand for colonial administrative officials. The Portuguese left the country with an embryonic education system, and a predominantly illiterate population. The literacy rate at the end of Portuguese rule is estimated to have been only 10 per cent (Saldanha 1994:60). Since literacy rates for the adult population as a whole reflect the educational situation prevailing decades before the present, the adult literacy rate for East Timor in 1990 (33...

    • 4 Political developments leading to the referendum
      (pp. 53-73)
      Dionisio Babo Soares

      B.J. Habibie was appointed President of Indonesia after student demonstrations ousted the former President, Soeharto, from power in 1998. On 27 January 1999, Habibie agreed to hold a ‘consultation’¹ with the East Timorese where they would be asked to choose between wide ranging autonomy within Indonesia and independence. The consultation or referendum was conducted by the United Nations under its mission in East Timor, UNAMET (United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor) and saw a 99 per cent turn out on the ballot day. 94 388 East Timorese representing 21.5 per cent of voters supported the proposal for wide-ranging autonomy...

    • 5 The diplomacy on East Timor: Indonesia, the United Nations and the international community
      (pp. 74-98)
      Grayson J. Lloyd

      The diplomatic history of the East Timor issue means that the future, notwithstanding the momentous nature of recent breakthroughs, will present conundrums to test the most skilled diplomat. Since July 1983, the diplomatic approach to the East Timor issue has focused on the UN-sponsored tripartite dialogue between Portugal and Indonesia. While the tripartite dialogue process was complex, it was the principal construct that led to the current diplomatic resolution. Of course this process has not operated in isolation. International and organisational pressure of various kinds across the economic, political and cultural realms contributed, as did various acts of defiance initiated...

    • 6 The CNRT campaign for independence
      (pp. 99-116)
      Fernando de Araujo

      An historical event, such as the struggle for independence and the birth of a new nation, can be told from many different perspectives. My account is just one perspective and hopefully in the future, other participants and witnesses to this event will contribute other perspectives to enrich our understanding of the history of the struggle for independence in East Timor. The writing of history is always contingent upon the position of the writer, no matter how hard some people convince us of their claim to ‘truth’ or ‘objectivity’. In this case, my position is that of a nationalist in the...

    • 7 Experiences of a district electoral officer in Suai
      (pp. 117-125)
      Catharina Williams

      During July and August 1999, I was a district electoral officer with UNAMET in East Timor. In this chapter, I hope to convey some of the flavour of this experience.

      The task of running the popular consultation within East Timor fell to UNAMET. For this purpose they selected 200 centres, most of which ended up being run by a multinational team of three – two district electoral officers and a member of the civilian police. The latter’s tasks included keeping an eye on security, and liaising with the Indonesian police.

      The entire process of preparing for the ballot was of...

  11. Assessment

    • 8 The popular consultation and the United Nations mission in East Timor – first reflections
      (pp. 126-140)
      Ian Martin

      On 22 October 1999, Xanana Gusmão, the independence fighter who had assumed the leadership of a seemingly broken Falintil two decades before, who had been captured by the Indonesian army in 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment, returned to East Timor. Eight days later, he was present at Dili’s Comoro airport as the last political and military representatives of Indonesia departed the territory it had invaded in 1975. With him were representatives of the United Nations and of Interfet, the Security Council-mandated multinational force led by Australia – the only Western country which had recognised de jure Indonesia’s annexation of...

    • 9 The TNI and East Timor policy
      (pp. 141-167)
      Harold Crouch

      As long as President Soeharto remained in power, there was no possibility that the Indonesian government would consider the prospect of an independent East Timor. Soeharto, after all, had been responsible for the initial invasion and could hardly have been expected to disown what he regarded as one of his regime’s important achievements. For almost a quarter of a century, Indonesia had borne the world’s condemnation while the Indonesian military (TNI)¹ had reduced the guerilla resistance to a few hundred and the captured resistance leader himself had admitted that his forces had been defeated militarily. Although anti-Jakarta demonstrations broke out...

    • 10 East Timor: the misuse of military power and misplaced military pride
      (pp. 168-178)
      John B. Haseman

      On 20 October 1999, the Indonesian parliament ratified the results of the United Nations ballot in East Timor, thereby creating Asia’s newest independent entity. Not yet a country – several years of UN administration is likely to follow – East Timor has finally gained its freedom after almost 400 years of colonial rule by Portugal and 23 years of failed integration as a province of Indonesia.

      The path has not been easy and the price paid by the East Timorese has been very high. The euphoria that began with Indonesian President B.J. Habibie’s January 1999 announcement of ‘autonomy or independence’...

    • 11 The strategic implications of an independent East Timor
      (pp. 179-189)
      Alan Dupont

      East Timor’s independence and the turmoil that has enveloped Indonesia since President Soeharto’s political demise in May 1998, will have far-reaching strategic implications for South-east Asia and Australia’s relations with Indonesia. It is sobering to recall that only a few years ago, the region was still basking in the glow of its economic and diplomatic successes. There was much talk of Asian economic miracles and a growing belief that South-east Asia was in the midst of an historic transition to peace and prosperity based on the establishment of a genuine security community and enhanced intra-regional trade. National economies were expanding...

    • 12 East Timorese refugees in West Timor
      (pp. 190-206)
      Januar Achmad

      The gunshots started on 3 September 1999, one day before the result of the referendum was known. Residents of Dili had already started to leave their homes, although all the shops were still open. Most of the Indonesian bureaucrats’ families had left for West Timor before the 30 August referendum. At 9.15 am, in Dili, on 4 September 1999, the result of the referendum was announced by Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN in New York. Despite the Habibie government’s naive belief in a positive outcome, the pro-independence group had won with a huge 78.5 per cent of the...

  12. Reconstruction

    • 13 Reconciling worlds: the cultural repositioning of East Timorese youth in the diaspora
      (pp. 207-217)
      Fiona Crockford

      It is Saturday 13 November 1999, a world away from Dili, as East Timorese in Sydney gather to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Dili massacre. As usual, St Mary’s Cathedral in the city’s centre provides the focal point for the public mourning of the scores of young Timorese who were massacred at Santa Cruz cemetery on 12 November 1991. For Sydney’s East Timorese community, St Mary’s has become a familiar landmark, part of a diasporic landscape upon which they have faithfully reinscribed their collective trauma and memory over their years in exile. And yet, this year’s commemoration of martyred...

    • 14 An international strategy for the new East Timor: some preliminary thoughts
      (pp. 218-227)
      Andrew MacIntyre

      East Timor is an unlikely candidate for statehood. It is very small, very poor and war-torn. It has very little human capital, very little infrastructural or administrative capacity and a very large and possibly antagonistic neighbour. And yet a new state is indeed in the process of being born. Economic circumstances dictate that aid will be indispensable for the foreseeable future. Political and strategic circumstances dictate that the cultivation of international supporters willing to come to its assistance in the event of threats to its national security will also be indispensable for the foreseeable future. How East Timor positions itself...

    • 15 Questions for the United Nations team managing East Timor
      (pp. 228-233)
      C. Peter Timmer

      East Timor is starting from scratch. Even in the context of war-torn societies, the historical record is sparse indeed on lessons for a new country with so little in the way of institutions, physical capital and experienced civil servants with which to form a government. What follows then is a series of questions for the UN managers in charge of the transition process from the burned out shell of the Indonesian (and Portuguese) legacy to a sustainable and independent East Timorese government. Some speculation on plausible answers is provided, but as much to stimulate serious thinking very early in the...

    • 16 The Joint Assessment Mission and reconstruction in East Timor
      (pp. 234-242)
      Sarah Cliffe

      On October 29, a group of 24 people drove into Dili from Comoro airport. They watched through the windows of the UN bus as a vista of burnt houses, bombed banks and businesses and waving kids spread out before them. For some of the group, this was their first visit back to the country in 24 years – for all it was the first sight of the reality behind the news footage of destruction. This was the first group to arrive in East Timor to assess reconstruction needs, as part of the Joint Assessment Mission (JAM) of East Timorese and...

    • 17 Fiscal issues for a small war-torn Timor Loro Sa’e
      (pp. 243-261)
      João Mariano Saldanha

      The magnitude of the destruction in Timor Loro Sa’e after the post-referendum ballot has been amply documented.¹ As a consequence, Timor Loro Sa’e has been left with no civil service, no fiscal institutions, and little means to gather revenues, to make expenditures and to receive international aid. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which is administering the transition of Timor Loro Sa’e toward independence within two to three years, has created a Central Fiscal Agency (CFA) and a payment bureau as the embryos of a Ministry of Finance and a Bank of Timor, respectively. It is expected...

    • 18 Challenges for the future
      (pp. 262-276)
      Dionisio Babo Soares

      The new East Timor faces a number of social and political challenges particularly since differences among various factions within the resistance remain. Despite these factions’ commitment to uphold a common ground – i.e., independence – they remain undecided over whether to advocate democracy first or build the country first and worry about democracy later.

      East Timor must face other challenges which, if not resolved to the satisfaction of the various factions, could further heighten the divisions which have been left unresolved by past political conflicts. These challenges concern cultural values, the legal system, human rights, land rights, language and political...