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East Timor: Nation Loses a Treasured Political Elder

Francisco Xavier do Amaral, known affectionately as “Avó Xavier” or “Avó Xavi” (Grandfather Xavier), succumbed to illness on Tuesday morning at the national hospital in Dili. He was 75 years old. Xavier do Amaral was a founding member of Fretilin, the political party for which he read the unilateral declaration of independence in November 1975 on the eve of the Indonesian invasion. (The Archive and Museum of the Timorese Resistance has the original document online.)

Upon hearing of his death, Facebook users reposted this video interview of him in 1975 with Australian media – here we get a sense for Xavier do Amaral's age and experience at the time, as he was older than most of the passionate, young student nationalists who formed Fretilin.

Xavier do Amaral took part in the mountain-based resistance against Indonesia until he and his supporters mostly from his home-based the mountain region of Turiscai and Maubisse, were accused of betrayal by Fretilin in 1977. (Listen to the accusations here on “East Timor Calling” radio archive of a September 1977 broadcast on the Timor Archives blog.)

Xavier do Amaral was imprisoned in the mountains only to be later captured by Indonesian soldiers and taken as a trophy prisoner to Jakarta. He returned to East Timor after Indonesia's scorched earth exit from the territory in 1999.

In 2001, he was elected to the first Constituent Assembly with his party ASDT, mostly with the devotional support of mountain people in central Timor.

View over Xavier do Amaral's region of origin, central Timor. Author's photo

View over Xavier do Amaral's region of origin, central Timor. Author's photo

While he was generally quiet politically, his influence in coalition politics in recent years is not to be discounted. At the time of his death, he was a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, for a third consecutive time.

Immediately following news of his death, Facebook user Baumali Quintao posted a public photo of Xavier do Amaral on his deathbed, generating over one hundred comments. Adeza Freitas posted a photo of the funeral car taking Xavier do Amaral back to his residential compound on the Dili sea front.

Tributes to Grandfather of the nation

Tributes are flowing in from Facebook, Twitter, on blogs and as comments on YouTube, from Cambodia, Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Japan and Portugal.

Many commenters wished Xavier do Amaral a “safe journey” to the beyond in many languages, mostly in East Timor's own official language Tetum.

Justin Amaral wrote publicly on Facebook [tet]:

Husu ba Timor oan sira iha nebe deit atu reza ba ita nia avo francisco Xavier do Amaral nebe fila hikas ona ba aman maromak nia kuana.Francisco Xavier Do Amaral nudar ema ida nebe fo nia vida tomak ba rai Timor Leste [...]

I ask for Timorese people to pray for our grandfather francisco Xavier do Amaral who is returning to God's side.Francisco Xavier do Amaral was a person who gave his whole life for the land of Timor Leste [...]

Alzira Mota Pereira commented on a tribute posted by the Timorese Rede Feto (Women's Network) [tet]:

Francisco Xavier do Amaral, nrn nebe Uniku no ema nebe brani tebes hodi kaer no ukun TL iha tempu Krize 75. “Francisco Xavier do Amaral” ita nia naran morin no Sagrada tebes mai ami Timor oan!!! Viva Proklamador, Viva avo Xavier

Francisco Xavier do Amaral, a unique name and person who was brave enough to take leadership in TL in the Crisis of 75 “Francisco Xavier do Amaral” your name is sweet and very Sacred to us Timorese people!!! Long live the Proclaimer of Independence, Long live grandfather Xavier.

Nailorotiris commented on YouTube:

His charisma, gentleness, honesty and unassuming character will be missed among world leaders.

Nug Katjasungkana wrote in Indonesian [id] on Facebook:

Berdukacita atas meninggalnya Francisco Xavier do Amaral (pejuang pembebasan rakyat Maubere, Ketua Fretilin pertama, Presiden Republik Demokratik Timor-Leste pertama, tawanan politik Pemerintan Republik Indonesia)…

Mourn the passing of Francisco Xavier do Amaral (the liberation fighter of the Maubere people Maubere, first leader of Fretilin, First President of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, the political prisoner of the Republic Of Indonesia)…

NGO Fundasun Mahein wrote on its blog in English:

Our young nation has lost one of its great elders. [...] since the restoration of independence, his role in our struggle for independence has never been truly and properly recognized and valued.

Xavier do Amaral's supporters are known for gathering in Dili at his residential compound. Freelance journalist Meagan Weymes described the scene there today on her blog: “family and supporters had gathered outside the home to pay their respects, singing hymns and crying”.

As the Timorese government has declared a national period of mourning until Thursday, there will doubtless be images of mourning in coming hours and days, both from the capital city but also from his mountain home.

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