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The Future of East Timor: An Interview with Constancio Pinto

The Council for National East Timorese Resistance (CNRT)

The Council for National East Timorese Resistance (CNRT)

Now I'm just going to move on briefly to the situation in Indonesia and how you think that impacts East Timor's prospects. First, the Indonesian parliament has endorsed the independence vote in East Timor, but do you think that the election of Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri could affect this decision, either adversely or favorably? And, second, what is their relationship with the military and will they be able to exercise more control over army - and militia - action in East Timor than their predecessors?

Well, we are very happy to see that the Indonesian parliament elected Abdurrahman Wahid to be the President of Indonesia, and then they also elected Megawati to be the vice president. So now we see there's a balance between the legislative and the executive body in Indonesia. Because the legislative body, the speaker is Amien Rais, also a prominent leader. And we have Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati in the executive body, people committed to democracy and so on.

So I don't think that their position will affect East Timor's independence. They already ratified the vote, they voted unanimously. There was no opposition to it. So I think we are going to have a very stable relationship with Indonesia in the future.

With regards to the military in Indonesia, whether they're going to control the Army or not, it is still in question. As you know, the Indonesian army is the most powerful institution in Indonesia. The army has been the only solid organization throughout Indonesia since 1965 and the 1950s up to now. And the people who at one point worked for Suharto, the generals, some of them are still there. And also because of the problems within Indonesia and also the East Timor problem, there is still some sense of either humiliation or anger among the military -- no, between the military and the civilians. So I don't know whether they're going to be able to control the army.

But since Abdurrahman Wahid is one of the most moderate leaders in Indonesia, and is someone who has a very close connection with the army and with every organization within Indonesia, I think he will be able to control the army. But I'm very cautious about it.

Are you -- well, I think you've answered this question - but are you more optimistic about an independent East Timor being able to maintain good relations with Indonesia now that there's this new administration? More so now than you would have been if for example Habibie had been elected?

Yes. Even under the Habibie government, we were willing to maintain our relationship with Indonesia. But under a Habibie government it would probably be difficult because of the army. The army seemed to be very influential in the Habibie administration.

But now that Indonesia has a civilian government, a democratically elected government, I think we will have very good relationship with Indonesia. And geographically East Timor is not far from Indonesia and I think we have to be able to keep the region stable. To keep East Timor a peaceful island and country, we need to have good relationship with both Indonesia and Australia and also the small islands in the Pacific.