Significant Landmarks in the Struggle for Independence
In the lead up to Restoration of Independence Day on 20 May 2016, FM will present a number of short profiles on places of significance in the struggle for Independence in Timor-Leste.
If you today were to visit Suco Aisirimou in Aileu District, you would encounter a massive bust of President Nicolau Lobato in the center of a peaceful clearing, looking out over the community as a purveyor of Timorese pride and memory. Commemorated in 2014, this statue stands in Aileu not only as a recognition of the sacrifices made by Timorese heroes who fell in their fight for independence, but also as a testament to the grand history of Aileu in the political and armed fight against Portuguese colonialism and Indonesian occupation.
Aileu’s location over the crest of mountains just a few hours south of Dili has made it a natural secondary base of operations for Timorese independence and resistance struggles. Following the attempted coup by the UDT on August 11, 1975, the Fretilin Central Committee fully operated from Aileu to continue anti-UDT operations. It was there in Suco Aisirimou that Fretilin fully committed to an armed approach to liberation with the foundation of Falintil. From the hills of Aileu a movement for independence was born that would carry the Timorese people through 34 years of resistance to occupation.
Aileu continued to serve as the base for operations through the remainder of 1975 as the Fretilin counter-offensive pushed UDT loyalists towards the Indonesian border and filled the power vacuum left by the departing Portuguese administration. As the Fretilin Central Committee consolidated its victories against the UDT, Fretilin prisoners (UDT leaders and ordinary party members) were also brought en masse for imprisonment in Suco Aisirimou and Aileu.
During the initial Indonesian push through against the pro-independence forces, Aileu once again served as a place for refuge for the Timorese people. As Dili prepared for the imminent invasion of the Indonesian military, most of the population evacuated the city, and many families fled to seek shelter in the hills of Aileu.
In more recent times, Aileu has continued to stand as a place of refuge during times of conflict in Dili and the country. Most notably, during the explosion of violence from Indonesian forces following the referendum in 1999, many families across the north coast again made the climb south into the hills to wait out the violence in the relative safety.
For as long as Timor-Leste has waged its fight for independence, Aileu has been a crucial haven—for Fretilin’s base in 1975, for Falintil’s formation, and for Timorese families seeking refuge in Portuguese colonial times, Indonesian occupation, and surges of violence in the capital. Today, the statue of President Nicolau Lobato stands in that clearing in Suco Aisirimou as if to silently capture to weight of the decades of blood, sweat, and tears shed in Aileu in the fight for independence.
Based on the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste’s (CAVR) Chega! Report (2005), for more on Aileu refer to Chapters 3 of the Report available here: http://www.cavr-timorleste.org/en/chegaReport.htm