East Timor activist discusses the conflict
East Timor activist Kristen Sundall talked with a group of students yesterday about her experiences in the province and the recent atrocities there.
The talk, sponsored by Pax Christi, began with a video made by British freelance journalist John Pilger on the history of the conflict between Indonesia and East Timor, including testimony from some of the Timorese who watched siblings being murdered and maimed.
Sundall is an activist for the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), a group formed in 1991 in response to the Santa Cruz massacre and in opposition to the U.S.'s sale of M-16s used in the massacre.
Sundall first traveled to Indonesia a year ago when student groups began meeting and becoming active.
"It was powerful to watch them come together," she said. "Movement toward independence was inevitable."
In May 1999, the United Nations conducted a vote regarding the independence of East Timor. Following this decision, the Indonesian government began forming and arming militia groups.
ETAN put together an observer project that sent members to East Timor in late August to aid those being threatened and to assist in voter registration.
When the registration process was complete, groups promoting independence and Indonesian integration were allowed 10 days to campaign.
The Indonesian government began campaigns to discourage people from voting or to instruct them to vote incorrectly, Sundall explained.
"I personally witnessed rice being distributed to the people and them being told, `If you accept this, you must vote against independence,'" she said.
The ETAN activists received threats and intercepted radio messages instructing border guards to kill them if they tried to leave, she explained.
"Eventually it wasn't possible for us to function in the town," Sundall said. "We became targets ourselves and dangers to those seen with us."
On Sept. 5, the part of the group was evacuated. The team found space on a departing U.N. convoy and were able to get two members, including Sundall, out of the town before the results of the vote were announced.
"We were stopped frequently and our car was searched for East Timorese. It was very reminiscent of Nazi Germany," Sundall said.
All News Stories for Friday, September 17, 1999