The NI Interview: Acacio Marquez
The NI Interview
Faith in the freedom of East Timor runs deeply through the veins of its people, one of whom tracked the Hawk jets that bombed his people to their nesting grounds in Britain. He spoke to David Ransom.
photo by DAVID RANSOM
Among the first signs of economic ‘Asian ’flu’ infecting Western countries were the worried faces of arms dealers reviewing their contracts with the Indonesian regime. Without a constant supply of such weaponry it will be much more difficult for President Suharto and his cronies to keep the people of East Timor – or, for that matter, Indonesia itself – in their place. The story of Acacio Marquez shows why. In 1975, when the Indonesian army invaded East Timor, Acacio was ten years old and living on a small farm with his parents. Forewarned by his uncle, a resistance commander, he fled with his family into the mountains. ‘There we saw the British Hawk aircraft and also the Bronco planes from the United States. I saw this with my own eyes. I know that a lot of innocent civilians died as a result of their bombing.’
The memory has stayed with him ever since. After two years of near-starvation in the mountains he was captured by the Indonesian army. He was taken back to his village with his mother.
‘They came to the villages with Landrovers and arrested the remaining men, who went “missing” and were never seen alive again,’ says Acacio. ‘My father escaped to the mountains – every family had links with the underground. Before long I was arrested and put in a prison camp for two years. In 1989 I was arrested again because I took part in a demonstration when the Pope visited East Timor, and I was tortured with electric shocks in Dili. I was released after a week, then arrested once more because I was found taking supplies to the mountains. I escaped and left for Jakarta.
‘In Jakarta my situation was very hard. At that time there were only a few East Timorese there. I lived alone and sold newspapers to try to earn a living. The Indonesian people were friendly enough, and most of the ones I met also supported the democracy movement, wanted Suharto to be finished with as quickly as possible.’
Acacio was not prepared to live out his life in lonely exile, and his odyssey took a new turn. ‘I left Indonesia because I wanted to tell people around the world the real situation in East Timor. I went first to Hong Kong and Macao, where I got Portuguese citizenship. I came to London because Britain is the number-one arms supplier to Indonesia. I came to tell the people in Britain that the arms that are sold to Indonesia are used to oppress the East Timorese people.
‘As soon as I arrived I took part in a demonstration outside the Department of Trade and Industry. After this we organized to do more in London and Liverpool and Leeds and at the Farnborough Air Show, where we went with members of the Kurdish community.
‘In May last year I and three others were arrested in Preston, where we trespassed and entered the British Aerospace factory. After we were arrested we refused to give our names to the police, so they put us in prison. Last November we entered British Aerospace again and were arrested once more and kept in police custody.
‘We refused to co-operate with the British Government because we know that Hawk aircraft are being used in East Timor, killing people in the mountains. What we are doing is for peace, to stop the continuing conflict. Twice more we refused to co-operate and spent three weeks in prison altogether. But we are not criminals: we are not like the British Government in East Timor, supporting the Indonesian regime.’
Famously, last year, a jury refused to convict ‘Ploughshares’ trespassers who set about Hawk aircraft with hammers. The New Labour Government in Britain has introduced a human-rights dimension to its foreign policy and the notion of ‘coherence’ across the whole range of its objectives. This did not, however, prevent the shipping of more Hawks to Indonesia under a contract signed by the previous government.
Even so, Acacio is disarmingly sanguine. ‘I have a letter from the British Foreign Office, saying they will visit East Timor when the British take on the presidency of the European Community for the first six months of 1998,’ he says. ‘I hope the British Government will keep its promises.’
He reckons it’s up to the British people to make sure that they do, and he’s confident that they will: ‘My personal message is to thank the people in many countries around the world for their support and loyalty when it comes to the situation in East Timor.’
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