Taur Matan Ruak and the Cycles of History

Taur Matan Ruak in Jakarta, Indonesia March 24, 2011

This is Major General Taur Matan Ruak, Chief of the Defence Force of Asia’s youngest nation, Timor Leste. He hugged me enthusiastically on the sidelines of the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue. I was thrilled to see him again. Like most Timorese, he is warm, friendly, affectionate, Catholic – hinting back to nearly 350 years of colonial rule by Portugal.

The last time I spent time with him was in the jungles of Indonesia’s then 27th province – East Timor – in 1999. Taur Matan Ruak led the revolutionary force, the Falintil guerrillas.

Hiding from the Indonesian military – East Timor 1999

Taur Matan Ruak in black beret

It took us more than a day of travel – by car, by river, by foot – to reach their mountain hideout. It was a difficult time – in the middle of a push for independence supported by the United Nations – and a scorched earth policy carried out by the Indonesian military.

About 200,000 East Timorese are thought to have died in more than two decades of Indonesian rule. By 1999, an independence vote triggered massive destruction and violence, with pro-Indonesian militias killing thousands and destroying more than 70% of its infrastructure.

Hundreds of thousands of Timorese evacuated into Indonesian West Timor. More than a year after the independence vote (under UN auspices), more than 80% of Timorese still had no jobs. Today, that number is down to 30%. Timor Leste has no debt and has a 300% surplus, but it still struggles to control the culture of violence that was embedded in the fabric of its society.

I lived in East Timor on and off for nearly a year. After having seen our home/office torched, our messenger beaten, our team forced to evacuate the violence twice and return twice, after living through the conflict between the Indonesians and Timorese, I would never have been able to predict how quickly the two nations can put the past behind them – reconciliation to build the future. (It reminded me of what Bill Clinton told his Filipino audience in Manila last November about forgiveness and moving forward – “to abandon the grievance”).

In 2002, when Timor Leste became the world’s newest nation, the heads of states of its former rulers, Indonesia and Portugal, were invited – and attended. Its new president & former rebel leader Xanana Gusmao stated what they fought for and what they now have: “Independence! As a people, as a territory, as a nation! One body, one mind, one wish!

Timor Leste’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao with Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono

In the last week of May in Jakarta, it was wonderful to see Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao ask a hall of more than 1,000 soldiers and military officers from more than 34 nations to consider whether war is necessary and to speak philosophically about conflict and ways to deal with it. I remembered he was an artist and philosopher. The man who was jailed in Indonesian prisons was honored by Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono.

And Taur Matan Ruak hugged me, and we talked about old times and the cycles of history.

Hernani Coelho, Deputy Chief of Staff, Presidency of the Republic with Taur Matan Ruak

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9 Responses to Taur Matan Ruak and the Cycles of History

  1. Jeanette Ang - Chan says:

    Thank for your reply. Yup! I salute Prime Minister Murayama courage in aplogizing and taking steps for compensation but unfortunately, As a whole Japan, They are still very stubborn ( is my describing word correct? hmmmm) about 'apologizing' . If only they did what Prime Murayama did, maybe and a big chance of maybe that 'nuclear meltdown' might not happen……….Anyway, I still pray that they get up quick and may the pain from the disaster be healed immediately.

  2. Jeanette Ang - Chan says:

    Yup! As a Chinese, I'm have yet to learn what is TRULY FORGIVING. What happen to Japan is really sad and tragic. As much as I want to help. I cant help thinking what they've done to China year 1937 and well known as THE RAPE OF NANKING. If you went to island in Masbate, Whenever the children there hear the sound of airplane , They shout TORA TORA and go hiding. The things they've done to this 2 country at the time of WWII and 1937 in China is really inhumane ! If you just listen to the survivors of that years, Gosh! It's still very SCARY! So my question now is : Is that really a KARMA for them? or is it a lesson for me to forgive and help them no matter what. but well, I decided now to help coz I am a human with consience. ( you may look up at the WIKIPEDIA the gruesome picture of what they did, until now, JAPAN still denied )

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