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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - Adrian Wijemanne > Timor, East Timor, Sri Lanka and Thamil Eelam

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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne

Timor, East Timor, Sri Lanka and Thamil Eelam.

24 May 2002

1. Thirty seven rose to thirty eight without the slightest perceptible tremor of apprehension in the hearts and minds of members of the Sinhala nation, myself included. So cryptic a statement needs instant elucidation, especially as I venture to speak for so many. What I have to offer in explanation is a lesson in geography but one which has an enormous relevance to the question of war or peace in Sri Lanka.

2. The island of Timor is one of the easternmost of the long chain of islands which make up our nearest neighbour to the east, the state of Indonesia. The extent of the whole island of Timor is 31,000 square kilometres which is exactly half the size of the island of Sri Lanka. Timor is divided into two nearly equal halves, namely, West Timor and East Timor. The latter was a Portuguese colony from the early 1500�s and, unlike Sri Lanka, continued as a Portuguese colony until 1975 when the Portuguese withdrew. The newly independent state of East Timor was invaded by Indonesia almost immediately, its fledgling government was overthrown and East Timor was annexed by Indonesia as one of its many provinces. East Timor is about a quarter of the size of the island of Sri Lanka i.e. about 6,300 square miles. Its population today is around 740,000.

3. Immediately after annexation by Indonesia a long war of independence fought by several guerrilla movements began. In due course they coalesced around Fretilin led by Xanana Gusmao whom the Indonesian government succeeded in capturing some years ago since when he was in an Indonesian jail almost up to the moment of independence. The former colonial power, Portugal, worked steadily throughout this period to secure the independence of East Timor, the majority of whose people had been converted to Roman Catholicism during colonial rule. Those efforts paid off, culminating in an UN held referendum on independence in 1999 which confirmed the overwhelming desire of the people of East Timor to be independent. An UN appointed interim administration under Australian leadership took over from Indonesia and on 20th May 2002 it became an independent state under the newly elected President (Xanana Gusmao) and parliament dominated by Fretilin led by the new Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan was on hand for the ceremony and East Timor became the UN�s newest and 192nd member state.

4. So what about the thirty seven and thirty eight with which we started this article? Thirty seven is the number of UN member states which are smaller in land area than the putative state of Thamil Eelam which is 7,100 square miles in extent. At 6,300 square miles the new state of East Timor falls into this category of UN member states which are smaller in land area than the putative state of Thamil Eelam. Thus did thirty seven become thirty eight? Even more significant is the fact the new state of East Timor has a population � 740,000 � which is about a third of that of the putative state of Thamil Eelam.

5. It is one of the world�s poorest countries, with coffee as its only export. It does, however, have off-shore oil deposits and the first act of the newly independent government of Mr. Alkatiri was to grant a drilling concession to Australia on terms very advantageous to East Timor.

6. The international community was not deterred by smallness of size or doubts about economic viability in recognizing the independence of a very small state. President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia who was on hand at the inauguration of the new state vowed to bury the past of war and destruction and commence a new chapter for Indonesia which would be a clean break from the past. So far it has been a great success story for the UN but everyone recognises that a long haul lies ahead. The new state has few resources but it does have a surfeit on international goodwill. Its emergence on the international stage has great lessons for Sri Lanka if only its government and the Sinhala people will learn them and turn from war to peace and prosperity.



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