In the post-colonial period of Indonesia-East Timor relations one
issue looms larger than most, and yet is unknown or misunderstood
by many observers. It is the East Timorese Oecussi Ambeno Enclave.
The Enclave is located on the north shore of Indonesian West Timor
some 70 km to the west of East Timor proper. It is comprised of
approximately 2700 square km with nearly 50,000 inhabitants. These
citizens of independent East Timor find themselves 'inside' Indonesia.
The effect of geography upon countries and communities is often
understated, however, it is a factor that shapes their past, present
and future. As will be revealed, Oecussi's unique geography points
towards a unique relationship with Indonesia.
Historically, the Enclave has had a distinct relationship with both the
western and eastern regions of Timor. The Portuguese were the first
Europeans to arrive in the 16th century at Lifau, Oecussi, which served as
the capital of Portuguese Timor until the arrival of the Dutch. A hostile
local kingdom and the prospect of a better harbour caused the Portuguese
to shift their capital to Dili in the 18th century. The Portuguese
tradition and the Enclave's history as the birthplace of Catholicism in
Timor are the source of considerable pride in the Enclave, inspiring
strong sentimental attachment by many in East Timor. At the end of the
19th century the Dutch and Portuguese formalised their shared borders in
Timor, ensuring that the Enclave remained attached politically and
sentimentally, if not geographically, to Portuguese Timor. Towards the end
of Portuguese rule, a ferry linked the Enclave to East Timor proper and
there was a limited air link between Dili and the Enclave.
The people of the Enclave share both historical and ethno-linguistic
ties with much of West Timor. Trade and family links extend across the
border deep into West Timor, from Atambua to Kupang, but are centred
largely on Kefamenanu, West Timor's fourth city. The indigenous language
of the Enclave is Baiqueno, a dialect of Meto, one of West Timor's major
ethno-linguistic groupings. The Enclave is in the unique position of not
entirely being of one area or the other. Politically it is clearly East
Timorese, but ethnically, geographically and economically its centre of
gravity is West Timor.
During the Indonesian invasion, and subsequent occupation of East
Timor, Oecussi did not experience much of the violence visited upon the
rest of East Timor. Early armed resistance was light, and the
pro-independence Falintil (Forças Armadas da Libertaçao Nacional de
Timor Leste) guerrilla activities in the Enclave were non-existent.
However, Oecussi's underground resistance organisations thrived and played
an important role in the national resistance to the occupation. Despite a
relatively peaceful occupation, the events of 1999 witnessed wholesale
violence. Oecussi experienced mass destruction of property, theft and the
murder of many pro-independence activists. Indeed, the Passabe Tumin
massacre of September 1999 resulted in Oecussi suffering the country's
second-largest mass killing.
The International Force for East Timor (InterFET) arrived in Oecussi on
22 October 1999, some time after it had secured the rest of the country.
Subsequently, East Timor and Oecussi came under the administration of the
United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor (UNTAET). Oecussi's
experiences under UNTAET highlighted some positive and negative trends
with regards to its future as an East Timorese Enclave 'inside' Indonesia.
While the Oecussi-West Timor border has not experienced the same
pro-Indonesia militia activities as seen on the East Timor- West
Timor border, Oecussi suffers from acute isolation due to East Timor's
First, there is the matter of transportation. The Enclave should be
viewed as being an island within an island. Its connections with West
Timor have been seriously disrupted. Its physical links with East Timor
have been largely severed. During UNTAET there existed a complete reliance
on UN air and sea assets for movement of personnel and goods between the
Enclave and East Timor. These operations largely excluded East Timorese
and will end with the departure of peacekeepers in 2004. While a small
ferry service commenced in May 2002, it relies on a heavy and
unsustainable subsidy from an international donor. Efforts to develop a
system of land access between East Timor and the Enclave have not borne
fruit. Communications are very poor. UN telephone systems and a very
limited Telstra service are the only means of communication with the
outside world. This isolation has limited the possibilities of Oecussi
residents to participate in the national life of East Timor. The
population of the Enclave does not enjoy the same access to services and
information as the rest of the country. Furthermore, the current lack of
trade activity due to the Enclave's isolation has hampered its economic
recovery and development.
Improved movement of personnel and goods is vital to the future
development of the Enclave and normalization of relations with West Timor.
Some have argued that this is vital to its survival. The Enclave's
long-term economic prospects are tied to West Timor more than anywhere
else. Given its geography, history, tenuous communications and
transportation links with East Timor, Oecussi's source of indigenous
income will most probably be based on its relationship with West Timor.
What to do with an Enclave that finds itself so isolated?
During the UNTAET period little was done to ensure the long-term
sustainability of the Enclave and thereby to secure East Timor's future
sovereignty over the territory. However, some initiatives have shaped
thinking on a future policy for Oecussi.
In June 2000, the international District Administration proposed that
Oecussi should be developed along the lines of a Special Economic Zone
(SEZ). Such an initiative called for a soft border regime with Indonesia
with reduced tax and tariff rates and unique land and labour codes. In
other words, a commercial framework designed to make the Enclave
attractive. Notwithstanding some drawbacks, a SEZ would be well situated
to exploit the market of 1.2 million people in West Timor. In July 2000
the District Conselho Nacional da Resistencia Timorense (CNRT) Congress
called for a "governmental" arrangement in which Oecussi would
be declared a Province rather than a District, thus enhancing its access
to central government funds and improving political influence in the
capital. At the end of the year, and at the urging of the District
Administration, the Minister for Internal Administration called for an
Oecussi Task Force to develop a comprehensive Enclave Policy. It never
In July 2001 some quarters proposed that the Enclave be declared
a demilitarised 'Peace Zone'. This proposal articulates an argument
which serves as a possible starting point for a long-term comprehensive
Enclave Policy. The oft-stated foreign policy of East Timor includes
the fundamental tenet of developing harmonious relations with Indonesia.
As part of broader East Timor-Indonesia relations, a 'Peace Zone'
would accommodate Indonesian economic and security interests in
West Timor. It would thereby assist in the future development of
Oecussi. Furthermore, it is argued that the 'Peace Zone' concept
is premised upon the notion that military solutions for the Enclave
will only serve to antagonise Indonesia and further isolate the
Enclave. The key to the 'Peace Zone' concept is that the future
of the Enclave requires substantial bi-lateral negotiations with
Indonesia on the Enclave as its future depends on West Timor and
Jakarta second only to Dili.
Also, during 2001 two community groups formed to discuss the future of
the Enclave. Based in Oecussi and Dili, the Oecussi Enclave Research Forum
and the Oecussi Advocacy Forum both proposed local governance initiatives
that called for various forms of regional autonomy, or 'Special Status'.