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The Timorese student associations that had been formed on the UNTIM campus and within Indonesia (ETSSC, IMPETTU and RENETIL) became the mainstay of the pro-independence campaign for the ballot and continued to be active afterwards. They have become key organisations of Timorese civil society.
East Timorese students and academics played a vital role in the clandestine resistance. Many were subject to torture, arbitrary arrest, disappearance, rape and murder. Some joined the Falintil armed forces in the mountains.
A clandestine student organisation was formed in 1997 (the East Timor Youth Solidarity Organization - OSK-TL) to encourage non-violent resistance against Indonesian occupation.
RENETIL (Resistencia Nacional Dos Estudantes De Timor Leste) began as an organization of East Timorese students attending universities in Indonesia in 1988. Its work organizing the resistance led to many of its leaders being jailed. While RENETIL was clandestine, IMPETTU was a legal organisation for Timorese students in Indonesia.
In 1997, Indonesian military opened fire at UNTIM caused damage to the university building and wounding some students. Many were arrested. Students began to speak up, writing protest letters to the UN and the International community demanding an independent investigation.
In June 1998, 17 days after Soeharto resigned, the East Timor Students Solidarity Council (ETSSC) was formed as an open body representing the views of UNTIM students, academics and high school students. ETSSC focused on empowering ordinary East Timorese in political and community development. The Council organised public meetings, demonstrations and dialogues.
When the UN mission arrived in East Timor in mid 1999, the Students Solidarity Council set up regional offices in all of East Timor’s thirteen regions. Over 3,000 students established regional education centres and disseminated information about human rights and conducted voter education, often in areas too remote to be reached by the United Nations. Many ETSSC students where attacked and at times killed by Indonesian military and pro-integration militia.
Since the ballot and the devastation in 1999, members have been involved in various community activities including teaching in primary schools, providing capacity building workshops and community study groups, and rebuilding secondary schools. ETSSC’s Student Resource Centre (SRC) provided language and computer skills training, Tetum training for NGO workers, social, cultural and environmental research and media monitoring projects for the many tertiary students who had their education interrupted.
ETSSC, IMPETTU and RENETIL continue to work to secure a democratic future for East Timor through education and training, community development, participation in the election process and other nation building programs.
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