In the wake of the 11th September 2001 attacks on the United States, the formation of an international coalition against terrorism under American leadership has been based on the conventional premise that Western civilisation has some sort of superior moral status within world order which permits it to be the principal initiator of a war on terror. The idea that the Western powers may have a systematic role in perpetrating terror, undermining democracy and promoting human rights abuses around the world to secure their strategic and economic interests poses a severe challenge to the notion that the West can play a meaningful role in combating terror. Indeed, if established, it demonstrates that the same powers who have no qualms about perpetrating terror and repression in the name of their interests, are hardly going to be key opponents of terrorism. This paper analyses the developments of Western foreign policy towards Indonesia and East Timor in the post-World War II period with the aim of examining the degree to which Western foreign policy is genuinely formulated with the intent to promote human rights, conflict resolution and world peace, and thus put an end to terrorism. Indeed, Indonesia and East Timor are prime examples of how Western foreign policy actually systematically results in the violation of human rights, the support of terror, the creation of conflict and the sabotage of peace. Policy, it seems, is formulated primarily on the basis of achieving regional strategic and economic interests, with humanitarian principles being systematically sidelined. In this context, we must view Western claims to be harbingers of humanitarianism, leading a genuine war against terrorism, with much skepticism.
Indonesia had a central role in United States global planning. According to then head of the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Staff, George Kennan, Indonesia was “Japan’s empire to the South”. While conventional opinion asserts that the U.S. feared the rise and spread of Soviet-directed dictatorial Communism in South Asia, beginning from Indonesia through a PKI win, the facts on record indicate that the PKI was considered a threat due to its popularity and intent to implement egalitarian socio-economic reforms. Australian Indonesia specialist Harold Crouch confirms that “the PKI had won widespread support, not as a revolutionary party, but as an organisation defending the interests of the poor within the existing system,” developing a “mass base among the peasantry” through its “vigor in defending the interests of theé poor.”
I.I Sweeping Indonesia Clean
The massacre that occurred in the attempt to overthrow Indonesia’s democratically elected government under the Presidency of Sukarno has been described by U.S. historian Gabriel Kolko as “a war crime of the same type as those the Nazis perpetratedé
“No single American action in the period after 1945 was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre, and it did everything in its power to encourage Suharto, including equipping his killers, to see that the physical liquidation of the PKI was carried through to its culmination.” Summarising the brutal and bloody nature of the U.S.-backed coup, Director of Research of the California-based Institute for Economic Democracy, Dr. J. W. Smith, records that:
“It took two tries for the CIA to overthrow Sukarno of Indonesia. The reason: Indonesia had massive resources, including oil, and they were going to set up an honest democracy. Twenty-five percent of the nation were following the Communist party so they were going to be allowed 25 percent representation in the government. By the lowest estimate, 500,000 were slaughtered, by the highest, 1,000,000, and by the CIA’s own estimate it was 800,000. Not because they were going to overthrow anybody, as we are always told, but because they were going to vote for candidates the West would not accept. Quite simply, democracy will only be tolerated if people acceptable to the West are elected (pure Machiavelli).” The main victims of this genocide were hundreds and thousands of landless peasants. An authoritative account of the U.S.-backed coup and accompanying massacre has been provided by the 13-year veteran U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official John Stockwell in his study The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. in the New International Security State. The CIA subsequently published a cover story through the Library of Congress, in which it was alleged that the PKI had supported an insurrection that had been put down by the Indonesian army. However, Stockwell notes that in its own internal reports, the CIA referred to the operation as a classic success in which the U.S. had “targeted the world‘s third largest Communist Party and aided the Indonesian army by providing thousands of names of suspected individuals and completely eliminated from the face of the earth not only the party, but the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia who tended to support the Communists. Simply put, this is a classic case of genocide that was engineered by the CIA and cited as a model to be copied elsewhere“. It was only much later – in the summer of 1990 – that the U.S. State Department acknowledged its crucial role in engineering the coup, admitting, as Stockwell relates, that it had even “delivered lists of names, of people who were subsequently killed, to the Indonesian government.“ Former State Department official and CIA specialist William Blum reports that early on in the preparations to engineer a coup, “tens of thousands of rebels were armed, equipped and trained by the U.S. Armyé
“U.S. Navy submarines, patrolling off the coast of Sumatra, the main island, put over-the-beach parties ashore along with supplies and communications equipment. The U.S. Air Force set up a considerable Air Transport force which air-dropped many thousands of weapons deep into Indonesian territory. And a fleet of 15 B-26 bombers was made available for the conflict after being ‘sanitized‘ to ensure that they were ‘non-attributable‘ and that all airborne equipment was ‘deniable‘.“ Declassified UK Foreign Office documents have revealed that Britain too was deeply involved in aiding the blood-bath. Then British Ambassador in Indonesia Sir Andrew Gilchrist had observed as follows in 1965: “I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change.” Hence was justified the series of covert British operations directed from Singapore in support of what Stockwell terms “a classic case of genocide” masterminded by the CIA, and which in the eyes of the British elite amounted only to “a little shooting”. The fundamental reason for the genocidal coup is clear. Sukarno had to be eliminated because under his government, Indonesia was set to become an independent, egalitarian democracy, which implied resistance to U.S.-led Western domination. This could not be tolerated when, as Richard Nixon wrote in 1967: “With its one hundred million people and its three-thousand-mile arc of islands containing the region‘s richest hoard of natural resources, Indonesia constitutes the greatest prize in the Southeast Asian area.“
The Suharto regime that represented the “new political elite“, whose orientation was so favourable to the United States, proceeded to amass an atrocious record of human rights abuses and domestic terror. Its elections were controlled, free unions were not permitted, and numerous prisoners from the time of the coup of 1965-66 remained incarcerated. Describing the Indonesian army which dominated the government, Amnesty added that it is “organised to deal with domestic rather than international threatsé
“Troops are deployed throughout the country, down to village level. At each level, the military has wide-ranging authority over political, social and economic matters. [These] are complemented by a range of elite unitsé All are responsible for grave human rights violations. The most powerful are Kopassus units which have been responsible for grave human rights violations.“ However, since the dictatorship was suitably subservient to the traditional Western demands – allowing Western access to its oil, timber, and other resources – it was consistently supported by the United States and its European subordinates.
General Suharto – who was responsible for orchestrating the repression of innocent civilians both within Indonesia and its various provinces, and in Indonesia’s illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor in the late 1970s – became the West’s beloved bastion in the region. Motivated by strategic and financial interests, the West not only lent the Indonesian military regime huge sums of money, but has provided it with arms that were critical in its subjugation of surrounding territories. In 1975, Suharto commandeered the Indonesian invasion and occupation of the island of East Timor. The Indonesian army has ever since been responsible for committing vast atrocities in the former Portugese colony, to the complicity of Western governments and media. The Indonesian Christians of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta were General Suharto‘s principal advisers for the annexation.
The entire operation was approved of by the Western powers. General Suharto only began publicly affirming that the independence of East Timor would not be accepted after visiting the main foreign investors in Indonesia – the United States, Canada, Japan – and confirming their support of the invasion. Once this was achieved, in July 1975, Suharto commanded his Generals to bring to fruition their plans to create instability within East Timor, to prepare for an invasion whose pretext would be to “restore calm“.
In connection with this coalition, G. V. C. Naidu, a Research Fellow at the prestigious Institute for Defence Studies & Analysis (ISDA) in New Delhi, records that: “In the local elections that were held in early 1975, the Revolutionary Front for Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) won 55 per cent of the vote and the UDT came a close second. Nearly 90 per cent of the people supported these two parties.“ However, as noted above, Operation Komodo masterminded by General Benny Murdani led to the infiltration of UDC by Indonesia and thereby the undermining of the coalition. Thus, as Naidu notes:
“While the battle for political supremacy was beginning to rage between FRETILIN and the UDT, the Indonesian military was quietly supporting and encouraging the UDT, leading to the UDT staging a coup in August 1975. This was challenged by FRETILIN through an armed struggle, leading to the establishment of its supremacy.“
One of the reasons Fretilin won was “because of its larger following“, observes Naidu. With instability having thus been manufactured according to plans, “the Indonesian generals were plotting to intervene militarily.“ In this context it is possible to understand how the Western-backed Indonesian authorities were responsible for provoking the brief civil conflict in East Timor, to the knowledge of Western intelligence. On 17th September 1975, the CIA reported that: “Jakarta is now sending guerrilla units into the Portuguese half of the island in order to provoke incidents that would provide the Indonesians with an excuse to invade.“ ISDA Research Fellow G. Naidu records the reaction of the East Timorese government and the ensuing events:
“Sensing that the Indonesian intervention was imminent, FRETILIN declared independence on November 28, 1975, as a pre-emptive move. Taking advantage of the politically unstable conditions and chaos (in part created by Indonesia itself), Indonesia created a pretext in the form of the Balibo Declaration (named after a small town in West Timor on East Timor’s border but signed in Bali) purported to have been issued by those opposed to FRETILIN, which asked the Indonesian government‘s assistance in East Timor, to embark on an invasion on December 7, 1975.“ The Balibo Declaration of 30th November 1975, which was initiated in September, constituted an integral part of the Indonesian authorities‘ operation to create a justification to invade. Indonesia has often pointed to the Balibo Declaration as an adequate pretext for integrating East Timor into Indonesia. The declaration was in fact signed by one representative from each of the four smallest parties in East Timor – UDT, Apodeti, Kota, and Partido Trabalhista. However, the signing occurred without the knowledge or consultation of the East Timorese people. The Declaration was actually signed by only four individuals in Bali (Indonesia) not in Balibo. Furthermore, these individuals were members of the minor parties in East Timor. The declaration was not signed by the fifth and largest party, Fretilin, which actually constituted the democratically elected de facto government of East Timor. As noted by the independent Australian human rights group, the East Timor International Support Center (ETISC), Fretilin more fully represented the wishes of the people of East Timor than UDT, Apodeti, Kota, and Partido Trabalhista, who in fact did not have any popular support. This is indicated clearly by several facts.
As observed by the American anthropologist Professor Robert Lawless of the University of Florida, “Fretilin had support from East Timor‘s youths (such as junior civil servants, teachers, urban workers, and students)“ while “UDT and Apodeti gained support from East Timor‘s old generation (such as, the higher civil servants, the native chiefs, and some Chinese businessmen)“. The former Australian Consul in Dili, James Dunn, describes the reaction of the East Timorese to the establishment of Fretilin‘s de facto government:
“This administrative structure had obvious shortcomings, but it clearly enjoyed widespread support or cooperation from the population, including many former UDT supporters… Indeed, the leaders of the victorious party were welcomed warmly and spontaneously in all main centers by crowds of Timorese. In my long association with the territory, I had never before witnessed such demonstrations of spontaneous warmth and support from the ordinary people.“ UN-accredited observer Matthew Jardine elaborates on the reasons for this widespread support:
“FRETILIN (the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor)é demanded immediate independence from Portugal. FRETILIN volunteers began to move out from Dili into the rural areas, teaching villagers to read and write Tetum, establishing agricultural cooperatives, helping organize labor unions and other groups, and promoting local culture by encouraging the creation of nationalist poems, songs and dances. Thanks to these activities, FRETILIN became, by early 1975, the most popular of the three parties.“ In conclusion of the above facts, those who signed the declaration were never authoritative representatives of the East Timorese population. Indonesian scholar Waruno Mahdi of the Fritz Haber Institute, currently a doctoral student at the University of Hamburg specialising in Indonesian affairs, writes:
“The Bali Beach Hotel declaration of September 7, 1975, (also refered to as the Balibo Declaration) requesting inclusion of the territory into Indonesia, served as sole legal basis for the annexation. But the East Timorese signers of the declaration had never been legitimized as representatives of the East Timorese population. They had no mandate to offer their country for annexation. They were at that time furthermore completely dependent on the apparatus of the regime for their safety and freedom. At least some of them have meanwhile distanced themselves from the declaration.“ In fact, not only was the declaration not initiated or written by these East Timorese individuals, but it was only signed by them under severe coercion and threat of death, as was later revealed. East Timor specialist Professor Antonio Barbedo de Magalhaes of Oporto University notes that: “The Timorese leaders who sought protection from the Indonesian side of the frontier, after the short civil war won by FRETILIN, were, on the other hand, forced to sign a request for integration.” Afterwards, the request was “reformulated and given the name of ‘Balibo Declaration‘ and signed in Bali (not in East Timor), under threats of death made by Indonesian militaries, as some of the subscribers would denounce later in the United Nations.“ On this issue, the ETISC similarly observes that:
“[O]n 29 November 1975, the Balibo Declaration, a document which had been written by the Indonesian intelligence, was presented to the leaders of the UDT and Apodeti parties, who were coerced into signing it under threat of being repatriated into the hands of their former adversaries, Fretilin. It was signed in Bali (Indonesia) but given the name of ‘Balibo Declaration‘, Balibo being an East Timorese border town, to give the impression that it came from inside East Timor. It asked for the assistance of the Indonesians in East Timor. It was an Indonesian strategy to use the disgraced UDT and Apodeti leaders as a means of replying to Fretilin‘s declaration of independence and of preparing the world for the planned all-out invasion of East Timor. The Indonesian generals needed an excuse to invade.“ As the ETISC notes elsewhere in regard to the Babilo Declaration and the equally fraudulent Act of Integration: “The signatories to both these documents signed them under the threat of death or other unspecified punishments. Evidence to this effect has been given by Guilherme Maria Gonéalves (Apodeti) in the case of the Balibo Declaration, and by Antonio Sarmento in the case of the Act of Integration.“
II.III Explicit Western Approval of Indonesia‘s Invasion
In accord with the grim reality behind ‘decolonisation’, it was covertly decided by Western governments that the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination would be ignored and suppressed for the sake of various political and economic designs. That Fretilin intended to pursue a variety of egalitarian social programmes to utilise domestic resources for the benefit of the indigenous people clearly had a role in motivating this policy, in accordance with the ‘domino’ theory. The United States had thus given the Indonesian regime its secret approval of the invasion, with President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger having visited the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, only hours before the invasion commenced. Former CIA operations officer Phillip Liechty affirms:
“Suharto was given the green light [by the U.S.] to do what he did. There was discussion in the Embassy and in traffic with the State Department about the problems that would be created for us if the public and Congress became aware of the level and type of military assistance that was going to Indonesia at that time [approximately 90 per cent of its arms]. It was covered under the justification that it was ‘for training purposes‘.“ The British ambassador in Jakarta had informed the Foreign Office well before the Indonesian invasion on 7th December 1975 that “the people of Portugese Timor are in no condition to exercise the right to self-determination“, and that “the arguments in favour of its integration into Indonesia are all the stronger“. These “arguments“ were by no means humanitarian, considering that the “integration“ of the sovereign state of East Timor “into Indonesia“ actually entailed the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the East Timorese people as shall be discussed. Rather, the “arguments“ were as follows:
“Certainly, as seen from here, it is in Britain‘s interests that Indonesia should absorb the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible, and that if it should come to the crunch and there is a row in the United Nations, we should keep our heads down and avoid taking sides against the Indonesian government.“ As we have already seen, the United States had similar feelings. In September 1975 a U.S. State Department official stated, “we are more or less condoning the incursion into East Timor“ since “we regard Indonesia as a friendly, non-aligned state – a nation we do a lot of business with.“
Then Australian Ambassador to Jakarta, Richard Wilcott, who was also notified by Indonesia of the oncoming invasion, similarly advised in a secret cable to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs on 17th August 1975, to “leave events to take their courseé and act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia of their problems.“ He admitted that this was a “pragmatic rather than a principled stand“. Elaborating, he mused:
“I wonder whether the [Australian] government is aware of the interest of the Ministry of Minerals and Energy in the Timor situation. It would seem to me that the Department might well have an interest in closing the present gap in the agreed sea border and this could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesiaé than with Portugal or independent East Timor.“ Clearly, hegemonic economic interests in both Indonesia and Timor were crucial in the formulation of Western policies.
II.IV Impact of the Invasion and the Ensuing Conflict
It is important that one understands exactly what was implied by Indonesia‘s “incursion into“ East Timor which the Western powers were condoning. Two years after the invasion, an East Timorese Catholic priest described the Indonesian imposition as “a barbarous genocide of innocent people“, where the population was being “wiped out by an invasion, a brutal conquest that produces heaps of dead, maimed and orphaned.“
A Chinese Timorese, Mr. Siong, narrated a similarly horrific experience:
“At midday [on December 7] they take six of us to work at the harbour… [where] we have to pick up… dead bodies… There were a lot of iron pipes on the wharf and we must tie the dead bodies on to them with parachute rope and throw them into the sea…. [Chinese Timorese from a Dili suburb] came in groups of two or three or four, stood on the wharf and were shot. One group after the other coming and coming, killed and thrown in the sea. Two were couples, one with young children who went with relatives. The other couple were elderly, and the rest were men…. Next they bring the ten [men who had been working with us]…. The Indonesians tell them to stand in line and face the sea and then they are shot with a machine gun. Four people in that first sixteen of us… were father and son, but the Indonesians didn‘t know this. There on the wharf they kill the father, and the son must tie and throw his father into the sea. Then they kill the other son and his father is one of the six of us who must tie and throw his body.“ Such massacres of East Timorese civilians continued systematically throughout the occupation. For instance, another East Timorese citizen named Vigilio, in a personal letter to a former soldier of the Australia Army who had been a close friend of his father‘s, wrote to him of how Indonesian forces had entered their village of Kraras in August 1983. They had “looted, burned and devastated everything and massacred over 200 people inside their huts, including old people, the sick and babiesé four battalions encircled Bibileo and fighter aircraft bombed the area intensively during the following weeks.“ The Indonesian army, he wrote, had “captured about 800 people“ who were “massacred by machine-gun fireé
“é on 27/9/83 they called my father and my wife, and not far from the camp, they told my father to dig his own grave and when they saw it was deep enough to receive him, they machine-gunned him into the grave. They next told my pregnant wife to dig her own grave, but she insisted that she preferred to share my father‘s grave. They then pushed her into the grave and killed her in the same manner as my father.“
Soon after writing that letter, Vigilio and his brother, who had managed to escape, going on to join the Fretilin resistance, were captured and killed. Indonesia’s invasion, in addition to the slaughter of whole villages, involved aerial bombing (which included the use of the chemical weapon napalm) and starvation campaigns. According to Amnesty International, by 1985 up to half a million people had been killed or displaced.
In May 1982, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Rod Nordland was given permission by the Indonesian authorities to stay in East Timor for 11 days. Summarising his observations during his fact-finding mission, he subsequently reported that:
“East Timor, the former Portuguese Colony which had been annexed to Indonesia by force in 1976, is a land where sub-nutrition and hunger became general… There are thousands of political prisoners… Even if many of the Timorese interviewed showed a clear fright to talk, some of them did yet talk, there was namely one who stated: ‘Please, tell the world to help the Timorese people‘. We were later informed that at least six of the interviewed, were conducted afterwards to the general headquarters of the Secret Military Services and questioned for hours on what they had said during our inquiry… Virtually, there are no civil rights in East Timor. The Indonesians tell the farmers to whom they must sell their coffee and at what price. No one can leave their villages or the place of their residence without permission. Telephone calls or telegrams out of Timor are forbidden. No one can leave the province without a special permission, which is rarely granted.“ It is certain that more than 200,000 East Timorese were killed in the years since the invasion. It should be stressed however that this oft-cited figure is actually very conservative. According to specialist Gabriel Defert based on statistical data available from the Portuguese and Indonesian authorities, and from the Catholic Church, between December 1975 and December 1981, an average of 308,000 Timorese lost their lives; this constituted about 44 per cent of the population before the invasion.
II.V The Arms Ban and the Escalation of Genocide
The Western powers thoroughly supported this reign of terror and genocide, even when they appeared not to. For instance, in reaction to the illegal invasion and occupation, the United States imposed a secret arms embargo on Indonesia from December 1975 to June 1976. Unfortunately, the embargo was so ‘secret’ that Indonesia was unaware of it and the U.S. failed to adhere to it. Professor Benedict Anderson of Cornell University later exposed this deliberate fraud in his testimony before Congress in February 1978, citing a report that had been “confirmed from the Department of Defense printout” showing that there never was an arms embargo. During the period in which the arms ban was supposed to be effective, the U.S. in fact initiated new offers of weapons to the Indonesian military regime. Anderson pointed out that: “In flat contradiction to express statements by General Fish, Mr. Oakley and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Holbrooke, at least four separate offers of military equipment were made to the Indonesian government during the January-June 1976 ‘administrative suspension’.” This included “supplies and parts for OV-10 Broncos, Vietnam era planes designed for counterinsurgency operations against adversaries without effective anti-aircraft weapons, and wholly useless for defending Indonesia from a foreign enemy.” Indeed, the U.S. increased arms sales to Indonesia after the invasion, supplying counterinsurgency aircraft that “changed the entire nature of the war”, according to retired U.S. Admiral Gene La Roque. Transport aircraft, armoured cars, rifles, mortars, machine guns and communications equipment were supplied by the U.S., all of which “contributed significantly to the military successes of the Indonesian Armed Forces in their 1977-79 offensive”. Contracts were signed worth over é200 million for the Rapier air defence system, along with further Hawk sales in each year from 1984-86. The 1984 Rapier deal had involved “various agreements on training and transfer of technology”. It was established that “many Indonesian military officials will be going for training in Britain while Bae personnel will be closely involved in back-up and other services in Indonesia”. British historian Mark Curtis, a former Research Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, records that these crucial arms deals were signed in correspondence to the intensification of slaughter. As the contracts for the Rapier air defence system were being signed in 1983-85, 3,500-4,500 people were massacred by army death squads in Indonesia. In 1991, on the same day that a co-production agreement between British Aerospace and Indonesia for the Hawk fighter-trainer and a light attack fighter was reported, the American press noted that “foreign human rights investigators and Western diplomats in Jakarta now estimate that up to 5,000 people have been killed or have ‘disappeared'” in Indonesia’s Aceh province in recent months. “Although there has been killing on both sides, human rights activists say most of it appears to originate with the Indonesian army.”
Importantly, Curtis notes the contrast with simultaneous Western policy toward Bosnia-Herzegovina. During the Bosnian war, the international community imposed a full blockade on the Bosnian Muslims despite the invasion of the Serb Army, denying them arms and ammunition. The same powers, however, imposed no such blockade on the Indonesian Army as it invaded and occupied East Timor. On the contrary, as award-winning British journalist John Pilger has reported, both Britain and the U.S. were converting Indonesia into a veritable war machine. Arms sales to Indonesia continued with impunity throughout the 1990s. The British government’s annual report on arms exports for 1997 discloses that from May to December 1997, 34 licenses were issued for Indonesia. The report mentions licenses for arms ranging from machine gun spares to communications equipment and military simulators, though it fails to make clear the exact nature, amount and value of the equipment covered by each license. Actual deliveries in the same year included 23 armoured combat vehicles and 4 Hawk aircraft valued at é112.49 million, which were allowed to go ahead even though the government retained the power to revoke these licenses. This is in contrast to the fact that five licenses for war-torn Sierra Leone were revoked in 1997.
Nevertheless, British complicity in the Timor crisis persisted unabated. TAPOL and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) jointly refer to parliamentary written answers that “show that the number of licenses” granted by the British Government “for Indonesia had increased to 92 by the end of 1998” with only “seven licenses” being refused. Paul Berber of TAPOL observed in March 1999:
“The Indonesian armed forces are even now implementing a ‘shoot-on-sight’ policy to curb unrest and are supplying arms to militias intent on undermining the peace process in East Timor. British equipment has been used before to repress the people of Indonesia and East Timor and there is a grave danger that it will be used againé Indonesian armed forces have admitted to using British equipment in East Timor”. Robin Cook MP, who was soon to be British Foreign Secretary in Tony Blair’s Labour government, had slammed the Tories in 1994 for arming Indonesia, noting in Parliament that Hawk fighters had been “observed on bombing runs in East Timor in most years since 1984”.
These arms sales constituted direct support of Indonesia’s military occupation of East Timor. For example, on 17th April 1999 one thousand pro-Indonesian paramilitary members took control of the streets of East Timor’s capital Dili to begin marauding through the city, attacking civilians, shooting into buildings, and ransacking and burning homes. As the U.S.-based East Timor Action Network (ETAN) reported:
“é the [internal Indonesian] documents contradict the claim by Indonesia that paramilitary groups are not under ABRI’s [the Indonesian military’s] control. An analysis of the documents by the East Timor International Support Center… says that ‘these forces are perceived by ABRI administration to be part of their operational structure’…” Award-winning American journalist Allan Nairn similarly reported: “It is by now clear… that the militias are a wing of TNI/ABRI, the Indonesian armed forces”. Nairn also brought to light ongoing American complicity in the catastrophe: “Although the U.S. government has publicly reprimanded the Indonesian Army for the militias, the U.S. military has, behind the scenes and contrary to Congressional intent, been backing the TNI”, and condoning violent militia operations against East Timorese civilians. Allan Nairn had previously exposed U.S. military training of Indonesian troops implicated in the torture and killing of civilians in early 1998. U.S. support of Indonesia escalated in correlation to the increase in violence. “[T]he Indonesian military continues to arm and train paramilitary units now attacking civilians in East Timor”, reported ETAN. “Support for a peaceful transition to self-determination is urgently needed as ABRI and paramilitary violence continues to escalate in the occupied territory. In the past two months [before April 1999] dozens of East Timorese have been murdered and more than 10,000 forced to flee their villages”. In spite of “the intent of the ban on military assistance to Indonesia passed after the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre” it was revealed “last spring” by “ETAN, members of Congress, and journalist Allan Nairn” that “U.S. forces continued to train some of Indonesia’s most notorious military units.” In fact, from 1991 to 1997 the U.S. State Department had licensed more than 250 military sales to Indonesia, with items ranging from machine guns and M-16s to electronic components, from communications gear to spare parts for attack planes, along with the sale of IMET and JCET military training. Even while bills were passed in the U.S. effectively banning the sale of particular military training programmes to Indonesia, ETAN reported in a June 1999 press release entitled ‘Campaign of Terror Threatens to Derail August East Timor Vote’:
“The State Department and Pentagon report $106 million in projected arms sales to the Indonesian military for 1999, along with plans to train the Indonesian police. The Pentagon is also working to restore training programs for the Indonesian military which the U.S. Congress has passed legislation to end. Among the troops the U.S. has trained for years is the notorious Kopassus elite forces, which have in turn trained death squads in East Timor and are implicated in recent massacres thereé [T]he Department of Defense is doing its best to circumvent congressional intent by pressing for new military training programs and weapons shipments to the Indonesian military.”
All this was in spite of the fact that in the months leading up to June, more than 40,000 people had been driven from their homes by death squads backed by the Indonesian military. The Indonesian invasion was also accompanied by significant Western political support. For example, the American United Nations Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan was assigned the task of blocking any possible UN action. A secret cable on 23rd January 1976 from Moynihan to the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger, disclosed Moynihan’s considerable success in this task. In his memoirs, Moynihan makes clear why the UN failed to undertake meaningful action to save the lives of East Timorese:
“The United States wished things to turn out as they did and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” Moynihan was certainly aware of the ramifications of the invasion, as well as what his task was supposed to achieve. He refers to a February 1976 estimate by an Indonesian client in East Timor “that some sixty thousand persons had been killed” by August – “10 per cent of the population, almost the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union [due to Hitler’s forces] during the Second World War.” Echoing this stark absence of Western diplomatic benevolence, in April 1993 then British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd visited Indonesia and signed an agreement for a é65 million British loan to the country. While he was there, Hurd dismissed the relevance of the terror, torture and massacres occurring at the hands of the Indonesian regime at the time:
“Referring to human rights issues, Hurd said that Western countries cannot export Western values to developing nations without making adjustments to local economies and cultures. Differences in cultural life and economic level are decisive factors for the adoption of Western values by developing countries, he said.” The nature of the interests behind this indifference to humanitarian crisis could be discerned shortly after the massacre in Dili in November 1991, where at least 400 East Timorese were killed (according to ETAN there were at least 271 people killed, 278 wounded, 103 hospitalized, and 270 ‘disappeared’). Amnesty International affirmed that the myriad of witnesses to the incident were “credible”, and their “allegations that civilians were deliberately killed or ‘disappeared’ after the massacre have been corroborated by other reliable sources”. AI further condemned those “who have effectively turned their backs on the reality of the systematic human rights violations in East Timor [and] have accepted uncritically Indonesian government promises of commitment to human rights [which] are emptyé The lack of concerned pressure from the international community [has] contributed to the perpetuation of systematic human rights abuses in East Timor.”
President Clinton had demonstrated his government’s concern for this humanitarian catastrophe by announcing at a U.S. banking conference, not his condemnation of the atrocities, but the more important fact that “we have a lot of opportunities in the country… I would like to talk to [Suharto] about our willingness to become a partner of Indonesia”. Similarly, when Suharto visited Washington in 1995, despite the necessary rhetorical public remarks about America’s deep human rights concerns, the visit remained entirely cordial. In fact, a senior Clinton official revealingly declared that Suharto was “our kind of guy”, exposing what the U.S. expects of its regional Third World clients. Events a year after the invasion of East Timor provide ample explanation for this admiration for the Indonesian military regime and its policies of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Negotiations began between an Australian company and Indonesia on extracting the vast oil resources on both the island itself and in the Timor Gap, the seabed between Timor and Australia which is just of the coast of East Timor. By December 1989, the negotiations were finally settled with a joint agreement to exploit the Timor Sea, the Timor Gap Treaty, involving Australian, British and U.S. companies, among others. A month after the Dili massacre, the Australian government alone approved with Indonesia eleven oil production contracts for exploitation of a jointly controlled area of the sea. As Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans put it, the gains to be made from East Timor under the Timor Gap Treaty in terms of oil amounted to “zillions of dollars“. We may remind ourselves that the demarcation of the territorial waters in the economic interests of the most powerful Western nations had already been discussed with the Portuguese government before the invasion; the results had not been in conformity with the wishes of the major powers. Accordingly, the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta reminded his government on 17th August 1975:
“I wonder whether the (Australian) government is aware of the interest of the Ministry of Minerals and Energy in the Timor situation. It seems to me that this department might well have an interest in filling the gap in the agreement on maritime borders, and this would be more easily negotiable with Indonesia by closing the present gap than with Portugal or independent East Timor“. As Timor specialist Professor Barbedo de Magalhaes records in conclusion about this array of military and economic policies:
“Taking into account the political and diplomatic support that the mentioned States gave to the Indonesian Government and the supply of planes and other war equipment used to fight the Timorese Resistance and the covering up that they did of the crimes committed against the People of East Timor, we can say that it were the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Vatican, Japan and other powers who invaded and occupied the territory through the Indonesian intermediary. The soldiers were Indonesian but the interests and the support were mainly those of the Western powers. Only the fact of being ‘their own war‘ can explain so much support, so much connivance, so much silence and so many lies, from the representatives of the Western governments (and also the relative silence of the Soviet Union and its satellites)“. The activism of a handful of dedicated individuals and organisations eventually resulted in the widening publicity of the responsibility of the Western powers for the Timor crisis, which soon led to public outrage, and consequently pressure for the Western powers to transform their policies. Eventually it was decided that a referendum supervised by the United Nations would be held in order to allow the East Timorese to cast their vote either for full independence, or for autonomy within integration into Indonesia.
III.I The Referendum
The UN-supervised elections were eventually held on 30th August 1999 after continual delays for many months due to pro-Jakarta paramilitary violence. In an intense climate of fear and terror, the East Timorese people emerged courageously to cast their votes. Seventy eight per cent of registered voters chose independence, despite violent Indonesian army efforts to terrorise the population into accepting Indonesian hegemony.
The policy of the Western powers behind the front of United Nations is, however, disconcerting and revealing. In response to public outrage at Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, the Western powers under U.S. leadership insisted on holding elections in a repressive, militarised environment which had been perpetuated by intensive Western military aid to Indonesia. Throughout the period leading up to the elections, the East Timorese people were living in constant terror due to ABRI/TNI-backed death squads. Pro-integration paramilitaries armed and trained by Indonesia were threatening and slaughtering pro-independence civilians and activists with escalating impunity.
The tactic bears an uncanny resemblance to U.S. tactics in Guatemala, El Salavador and Nicaragua. Elections can only be meaningful if certain significant conditions are met ensuring that the people are able to make an independent choice free from external pressure. In a militarised environment characterised by coercion, terror and repression of those who are supportive of the independence movement, the relevance of elections becomes negligible. Given that the Western powers had made no significant efforts toward demilitarising the region and halting the ongoing repression of the East Timorese by Indonesian forces, their covert aim is clear.
As the London Guardian commented on Indonesia’s paramilitary atrocities: “What we are witnessing is a campaign aimed at terrorising east Timorese people into voting for autonomy within Indonesia. Alternatively the aim may be to create conditions in which there can be no vote in the promised July referendum and then to aim at a partition of the territory.” East Timor specialist John M. Miller further noted that the Indonesian military was simply “afraid that in a free and fair vote the East Timorese will reject continued Indonesian rule paving the way for East Timor’s independence… The tragedy is that a fair vote is impossible in this atmosphere of terror and intimidation” – an atmosphere perpetuated by Western financial and military support for the perpetrators of this atmosphere. III.II The Escalation of Atrocities With Western Support
Thus, in light of the previous policies of violence, repression and deception pursued by the Indonesian authorities, it came as no great surprise when death squads allied with the Indonesian military, horrifyingly renewed and escalated the traditional policies of slaughter and ethnic cleansing. The escalation of the ongoing campaign to subjugate East Timor occurred in the aftermath of the UN-supervised elections when it was found that the indigenous population voted against the interests of the Indonesian army and its Western supporters. Pro-Indonesian head-hunters rampaged through East Timor as vain appeals were made to the international community to “prevent the genocide”. By 6th September 1999, more than 200 East Timorese were reported dead overnight and over 150,000 fleeing. Witnesses reported seeing “at least 100 heads on stakes”, lining the road from Dili to Atambua. Other reports stated that Indonesian troops were ‘cleansing’ town after town, “herding refugees on to the roads or into trucks and buses, and dumping them across the border in West Timor”, and that there were “increasing fears that authorities may be forced to abandon the ballot, making it impossible to either verify it or check on claimed irregularities.” Indonesia’s objectives included “shipping the whole population of Dili and other major towns to West Timor and replacing them with West Timorese who are against independence.” Already credible sources within East Timor reported that 3-5,000 Timorese had been slaughtered prior to the August elections, which was almost twice the number of people killed in Kosovo before NATO’s intervention. Similarly, the London Observer reported that as far as “the leaders of Indonesia’s military machine” were concerned, “rule from Jakarta was anything but finished”, and that plans were made for “the total eradication of the pro-independence East Timorese population”, in the event of undesirable election results.
“Documentary evidence, clandestine intercepts and eyewitness accounts show that the atrocities in East Timor have been carefully conceived over nearly a year by the Indonesian army. The aim, quite simply, is to destroy a nationé The army’s preparations to launch a campaign of terror in East Timor were spotted as early as July 1998 when it was reported that the Indonesian army was starting to establish civilian armed militias in East Timor.”
The Western powers, including the United Nations, although professing ignorance, were in fact fully informed of Indonesia’s plans and tactics.
“Western intelligence services were also aware of the army’s plans, and warned the UN many months agoé On 4 March, representatives of Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation in Jakarta cabled their headquarters that the Indonesian military was ‘clearly protecting and in some cases operating with’ militias. Basing their reports on intercepted satellite telephone conversations between senior officers in Dilli and Jakarta, they said that the militias would implement a ‘scorched earth policy’ if the vote went against them.”
This information was passed by the Australian government to the UN, which had “also received documents from resistance sources revealing the Indonesian plans. Even their own security briefing for the third week of August noted ‘continued Indonesian army involvement’ in the militias and preparations for a ‘full scale offensive after the [referendum]’.” One Indonesian military document, leaked to the East Timor resistance in June, revealed that “the province had been split into four ‘killing zones’… The Indonesian army has also provided the militias with helicopters, communications equipment, cars and computers.” Additionally, “tens of thousands of pounds of Indonesian government development grants were channelled into the militia forces.” Further orders were given in early May in another army document urging that: “Massacres should be carried out from village to village after the announcement of the ballot if the pro-independence supporters win.” The East Timorese independence movement “should be eliminated from its leadership down to its roots.” Another document, sent from the Interior Ministry to the government’s Minister in charge of politics and security, affirmed the plans to violently ‘cleanse’ East Timor of its primarily pro-independence population: “West Timor must be made ready to receive huge numbers of refugees and their security forces. The evacuation routes must be planned and secured.” The Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights has documented the consequent genocidal atrocities of the militias, concluding from its inquiry that they were directed, controlled and funded by the Indonesian army. Max Lane reported for the Australia-based Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET):
“For the first time since 1974, a public split has emerged within the Indonesian army‘s top generals over how best to preserve the political authority of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI). The split has been provoked by the inquiry, launched by the Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights into the events in East Timor that followed the August 30 referendum. The commission‘s inquiry is headed by the outspoken human rights lawyer Munir, who led the campaign which exposed the military‘s role in the kidnapping and disappearance of student activists in 1998 and 1999. The inquiry has revealed the extent to which the TNI organised the militia that terrorised East Timor before and after August 30. To date, it has confirmed that militia gangs, such as Aitarak (headed by the murderous Eurico Guterres), Besi Merah Putih and others were installed as the official civil militia in East Timor and, as such, were organised, funded and directed by the Indonesian government. The inquiry also stated its opinion that the ‘Ganardi document‘, which set out a scorched earth plan should Jakarta lose the August 30 referendum, was a genuine documenté The commission believed that charges against the officers should be seriously considered. However, the commission cannot itself prosecute Wiranto or any other generals; only the Wahid government can make such a decision. The uncompromising nature of the questioning from Munir and other commission lawyers has provoked a publicly hostile response from military spokespeople. In November, General Sudrajat, spokesperson for Armed Forces Headquarters, stated that the TNI‘s soldiers ‘would be angry if their generals were treated roughly‘.“ Most revealing of all of course is the fact noted above that: “Western intelligence services were also aware of the army‘s plans, and warned the UN many months ago.“ These ties were also reported and clarified by the British press in 1999:
“Indonesian military forces linked to the carnage in East Timor were trained in the United States under a covert programme sponsored by the Clinton Administration which continued until last year. The Observer can also disclose that the [British] Government has spent about é1 million in training more than 50 members of the Indonesian military in Britain since it came to power.” The report, in concordance with the confirmations of numerous human rights organisations, further noted that the U.S. training programme which continued into 1998 had been in violation of Congressional bans. The training had also accrued to the Kopassus units, notorious for carrying out mass atrocities, and who were responsible for orchestrating and participating in the latest militia-driven ‘scorched earth policy’ – as the West knew all too well. While the beneficiaries of Western arms and military training were rampaging through East Timor, looting and burning down homes, forcefully expelling families, murdering and raping civilians, in accordance with extensive plans of which Western intelligence was fully informed, the Pentagon declared that: “A U.S.-Indonesian training exercise focused on humanitarian and disaster relief activities concluded August 25” – i.e., five days before the UN-supervised elections which accompanied the massive escalation of violence. It is thus quite apparent that the Western powers and the United Nations were fully aware of Indonesia’s long-standing plans to brutally enforce its occupation of East Timor if the Timorese voted for independence. While being aware of the plans of the Indonesian military, the West nevertheless continued to supply arms to the regime up to the election period in accordance with its own “long-standing ties” to the army, anticipating exactly what these arms were going to be used for in the event of an electoral victory for the pro-independence movement. This policy clearly demonstrates the West’s unequivocal support of the anticipated Indonesian violence designed to sabotage the elections. In this light, the UN-supervised elections take on an entirely different appearance. It seems that the very powers who organised the referendum did not wish it to be free and fair, and wished to suppress an indigenous vote for independence. While the ETISC reported that “these [paramilitary] forces are perceived by ABRI administration to be part of their operational structure”, the West knowingly pandered to Indonesia’s duplicity, preferring, as Noam Chomsky observes, “to delay, hesitate, and keep to evasive and ambiguous reactions that the Indonesian Generals could easily interpret as a ‘green light’ to carry out their grim work.” The international community’s “green light” to the slaughter was harshly criticised by a doctor from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who had spent nine months working in a clinic in East Timor, before being deported not long before September 1999. Dr. Dan Murphy stated in the first week of September, as the atrocities were escalating: “The U.S. government could stop military aid, stop joint military exercises, deny World Bank funding, recall our ambassador… The administration’s current actions reflect complicity, and tacitly give a green light to the terror.” The award-winning Pacifica radio journalist Amy Goodman reported on the mounting U.S.-sponsored death-toll: “The Indonesian armed forces are ethnically cleansing the East Timorese; they are burning homes, forcing people out by the thousands at gun-point if not killing them outright. If the U.S. would say to Indonesia, no more arms, no more international aid or loans, the violence would stop today.” Despite having been long aware that the militias were sponsored and directed by the Indonesian army, the Western powers pretended otherwise by publicly accepting Indonesian claims that the militias were independent of the military, simultaneously supplying crucial military aid. They also continued to interact with Indonesia with disregard for its complicity in the massive post-election scorched earth operation in East Timor, stating instead that internal security in East Timor “is the responsibility of the Government of Indonesia, and we don’t want to take that responsibility away from them”. Britain was, of course, following in the footsteps of its American instructor, as was evident on the eve of the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) on 9th September 1999, when U.S. President Clinton declared the termination of military ties with Indonesia, although he curiously failed to cut off arms sales. Instead, he announced that East Timor was “still a part of Indonesia”.
III.III Belated UN Intervention
Under massive pressure from numerous public bodies, the West belatedly ended significant military ties and halted loans, assenting to the intervention of a UN peacekeeping force in East Timor with the permission of the Indonesian government. That the intervention only occurred with the permission of the same military regime that had orchestrated the violence, of course, signified that the international community only continued to overlook Indonesia’s complicity in the massive post-election brutalisation of East Timor. Just as the UN-sponsored elections were fraudulent from the beginning, the terror campaign to sabotage the vote having been jointly orchestrated under Western connivance with Indonesia, the proposed UN intervention via the establishment of a peacekeeping force only extended this pretence. UN intervention was in fact designed to impress and deceive the public at home while the Western powers and their Indonesian client regime could continue to mutually secure their strategic and economic interests. The reality of the matter was that, rather unsurprisingly in light of the previous revelations, “nothing is actually happening to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees… to survive, or to protect them from the murderous militia and army.” Instead, “guarantees at the highest level are not bringing action on the ground.” The continued calculated, evasive and ambiguous reactions of the West meant that, despite the declaration of a UN peacekeeping mission, “UN officials do not know when or how they can continue their mandate of supervising the transition to independence.” Similarly, while U.S. envoy to the UN Richard Holbrooke spoke of a “robust mandate” for the UN force, in fact the Security Council resolution to be passed on this issue was “expected to be loosely worded and contain loopholes.” And in a further insult to the East Timorese people: “Britain’s UN envoy, Jeremy Greenstock, a member of UN chief Kofi Annan’s crisis mission to Indonesia, said he believed the head of the Indonesian armed forces, General Wiranto, would hand the negotiations to his best people. But he said such decisions were up to the General.” The UN thus rewarded the complicity of the Indonesian military by granting responsibility for the main decisions on negotiations about the UN mission, to the very head of the Indonesian armed forces who had been covertly directing the brutalisation of East Timor himself – to the awareness of Western intelligence services, who had also previously informed the UN. General Wiranto’s responsibility for the Indonesian operation in East Timor, including the direction of both military and paramilitary death squads, was well understood by the West.
Reports in late October 1999 further indicate that the UN mission had only been able to account for about 150,000 people out of approximately 850,000. While 260,000 were “languishing in squalid refugee camps in West Timor under the effective control of the militias after either fleeing or being forcibly removed from their homes”, an estimated 100,000 had been relocated to other parts of Indonesia, with the rest presumed to be hiding in the mountains. Over 200,000 East Timorese remained in Indonesia against their will. Terrorised refugees were lacking food and medical supplies while unexplained ‘disappearances’ constituted a daily occurrence. While Indonesia continued to publicly profess its renunciation of East Timor, militia backed by the Indonesian army continued to threaten East Timorese inside and outside the territory. Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights reported that militia groups in West Timor were committing “systematic and organized human rights violations”, while Indonesian security forces “let these things continue”. Indonesia also refused to cooperate with the UN’s investigations of human rights. As the catastrophe therefore endured under UN auspices, the mass media blacked out the ongoing disaster. Indeed, with public outrage subdued as a result of the widely trumpeted self-congratulatory observations on the humanitarian benevolence behind the UN mission, ETAN reported in March 2000 that:
“[The] Clinton adminstration is considering restoring ties between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries despite continued Indonesian military (TNI) and militia activity on the East-West Timor border and in East Timor’s enclave of Oecussié Military violence continues against civilians in Indonesia.”
Meanwhile, “Pentagon and State Department officials are planning high-level contacts and so-called humanitarian operations”, although current law “prohibits weapons transfers and military training.” Such rekindled U.S. military support would only exacerbate the “situation for refugees in West Timor and other parts of Indonesia” which “remains dire”, with refugees in camps facing “ongoing threats and intimidation by TNI-supported militias, little to no medical care and high levels of malnutrition.” East Timor itself is “not yet secured against militia and Indonesian military (TNI) threats”, with Oecussi having also “come under regular militia attack, with the support of the TNI.” Even “international peacekeepers” have come under TNI fire. “The Indonesian military remains massed on the border, where it conducts exercises”, while thousands of militias are similarly “still active along the West Timor border”. Over 200 refugee sites inhabited by evicted East Timorese are scattered throughout West Timor. More than 100,000 total refugees are in the province, with another 11,000 to 30,000 still elsewhere in Indonesia.
III.IV Western Interests in Indonesia and East Timor
The interests motivating the Western powers’ policies in the region clearly have been systematically opposed to elementary humanitarian principles, focused rather on strategic and economic concerns. In September 1999, a Western diplomat in Jakarta affirmed that: “The dilemma is that Indonesia matters and East Timor doesn’t.” President of the Asia Pacific Policy Center Douglas Paal was even more explicit: “Timor is a speed bump on the road to dealing with Jakarta, and we’ve got to get over it safely. Indonesia is such a big place and so central to the stability of the region.”
Throughout the history of this sordid conflict, the Western powers under U.S. leadership have formulated their consistently anti-humanitarian policies with intent to protect their multiple “business interests” in the strategic region, namely: “Nike’s subcontractor factories; the mines of Freeport McMoRan; the oil drilling of Texaco, Chevron and Mobil,” as Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman of Corporate Watch observe. Mokhiber and Weissman add that the Western powers feared the distinct possibility that a win for East Timorese independence would, in the style of the ‘domino’ theory, extend to Indonesian separatist movements in Aceh and Irian Jaya, where Mobil is heavily invested and Freeport McMoRan runs the world’s largest gold mine, respectively. In light of such concerns, it was necessary to designate the status of East Timor to that of “a speed bump on the road to dealing with Jakarta”. Other than the immediate “business interests”, however, the U.S. considers good ties with the Indonesian military regime of crucial geopolitical significance in relation to the protection of broader regional interests. Indonesia is viewed as a counterweight to the rival superpower China, and a dependable ally in the region.
Indonesia too had significant oligarchic interests in maintaining hegemony over the country. According to the Catholic Institute of International Relations:
“Lucrative Coffee plantations and oil deposits are situated in the Western districts of East Timor, the very areas which the militias are now desperately trying to retain for their Indonesian masters. Who owns them? Important oil concessions are held by two of Suharto‘s children, Tutut and Tommy. The army has had a large hand in running the coffee plantations and retired military men are desperate to hang on to their investments.“ Western connivance with Indonesia has always been the major ongoing determinant in East Timor‘s humanitarian crisis. Not only did the Western powers, co-working with their Indonesian client-regime, manufacture the conditions of crisis in East Timor while pretending that the crisis was the result of the actions of isolated “rogue elements“; by keeping to continuous evasive and ambiguous reactions, in which the Indonesian authorities were neither blamed nor condemned, and in which military ties were maintained until the very end, the West allowed Indonesia to bring its scorched earth policy to bloody fruition. Subsequently, a UN intervention was undertaken under immense public pressure, monopolising on the covertly engineered catastrophe as a vehicle for the establishment of international military hegemony over East Timor. The UN role has turned out to provide a means for the continuation of Western complicity, allowing the Western powers to annul the significance of the independence movement and ensure that East Timor remains under the hegemony of Western business interests.
III.V The Real Agenda for Intervention
An analysis of the ramifications of ongoing Western policies in East Timor reveals the more sordid anti-humanitarian motivations thereof. As the London Guardian reports:
“The real agenda for the UN ‘peacekeeping‘ is to ensure that East Timor, while nominally independent in the future, remains under the sway of Jakarta and western business interests.“ This has also been candidly confirmed by Richard Woolcott, a former Australian ambassador to Indonesia and then secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Writing in the Australian Financial Review, Woolcott revealed how Western governments and oil companies were entering into negotiations over the future of East Timor‘s considerable oil and natural gas reserves, including those in the Timor Gap. He openly admitted that East Timor‘s independence could endanger the already negotiated Timor Gap Treaty which legislated for the West‘s corporate plundering of regional resources: “[A]part from an issue of regional significance, such as the possible fracturing of Indonesia, the changes could lead to substantial financial implications for the government if the Timor Gap Treaty, signed in 1989, were to unravel.” Observing how Western corporations had been exploring for oil and gas for some time in accordance with the terms of the agreement, with oil production commencing in the Elang Kakatua and Kakatua North fields in July 1998, he pointed out that if Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor was no longer recognised, the agreement could be nullified resulting in substantial financial claims. In this context, it is clear that significant Western corporate interests have been protected under the auspices of the UN mission, thereby halting any process of genuine, substantial and meaningful independence. The covert aim of the operation appears to be the maintenance of Jakarta‘s sway over East Timor to uphold the privileges of the Timor Gap Treaty. As Woolcott emphasised, the principle of self-determination “is not a sacred cow“. The position of the Australian Labour Party is particularly revealing. In 1999 Labour called for the renegotiation of the Timor Gap Treaty to transfer Indonesian royalties to the autonomous East Timorese administration run by the UN Security Council powers, i.e. the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany among others. According to the estimate of Labour‘s foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton, the UN administration in East Timor would have access to $A150 million a year in oil and gas royalties. On 25th October, six days after the Indonesian People‘s Consultative Assembly endorsed the East Timorese ballot results, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1272 (1999) establishing the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). UNTAET would be “endowed with overall responsibility for the administration of East Timor and will be empowered to exercise all legislative and executive authority including the administration of justice.” The profits to be reaped would accrue to the Western administration in East Timor under UN-auspices, not the population, as with legal and political control over the enclave. East Timor has, in other words, been relegated to the status of a colony. Thus, despite the latest UN-supervised elections to establish a Constituent Assembly held on 30th August 2001, East Timor’s politico-economic structure remains under the hegemony of Western international agencies. The UN administrator of East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, still holds absolute power under the terms of the UN protectorate. Even in the aftermath of the elections, the UN is set to remain in charge until some time next year at least. Although the former independence movement, Fretilin, was predicted by the UN to win the election by a massive 90 per cent landslide, the party’s popularity has been on the wane. Fretilin barely managed to scrape 57 per cent, taking 55 seats in the 88-seat Assembly – two thirds short of the majority required for drafting the national constitution. Despite prolific promises and other such rhetoric, Fretilin, closely allied with the UN administration, has failed to alleviate the escalating impoverishment and inequity in East Timor. In contradiction to the party’s past outstanding record of mass support and promotion of egalitarian social reforms, Fretilin has expressed its intent to implement free market capitalism under Western tutelage. On 6th September 2001, World Bank officials and UN administrator Vieira de Mello held high level discussions with Fretilin representatives in Dili on what the new government would comprise. They also met with Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin’s Secretary-General, to discuss the drafting of East Timor’s constitution. Clearly, the UN remains the principal authority in the enclave, while the new government that is set to come to power in the future will be structured and dominated by international agencies, principally the World Bank and the IMF, and thus foreign investors. The implications are disastrous. Former Chief Economist of the World Bank, former Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s council of economic advisers, and winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, has scathingly revealed the hidden agenda of the global economic system under U.S./Western domination. In a detailed interview with Gregory Palast of the London Observer, Professor Stiglitz noted that IMF and World Bank programmes systematically manufacture social, political and economic crises around the world wherever they are applied, culminating in mass impoverishment, increasing inequality, reduction of meaningful democracy through the imposition of structural reforms and other enforced policy formulas, and even internal conflicts, all in the name of securing Western access to regional resources, resulting in huge elite profits for foreign investors and corresponding declines in domestic socio-economic conditions. George J. Aditjondro, an Indonesian Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Newcastle, reports that “foreign nationals are making all strategic decisions“ in East Timor.
“For the next two to three years, the Timor Loro Sa‘e people – many of them prefer to be called, the Maubere people – are still to be administered by UN officials through the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which is headed by a Brazilian diplomat, Sergio Vieira de Mello, as Special Representative of the Secretary Generalé His administrative power is supported by the economic muscle of the World Bank, which has appointed a senior official, Klaus Roland, to be the Bank‘s director responsible for reconstruction of the country.“
Professor Aditjondro notes that the destruction of East Timor and the forced deportation of at least a quarter of its population seems to have fallen quite nicely within the matrix of interests of the Western powers, creating “a bonanza for Australian businesses and a handful of Timorese business partners.“ An estimated “$1.2 billion will be up for grabs for businesses from all around the world in Timor Loro Sa‘e during the next two to three years. This has come as very good news to the Northern Territory (NT) business people and administratorsé One of the attractions of opening shop in the newborn (or reborn) nation without a functioning state apparatus is that wages are still very low.“ He cites a revealing news bulletin catering mainly for the Timorese business community: “The going rate is about $5 a day, $25 a 5-day week or, at an exchange rate of Rp 4000, Rp 20,000 and 100,000 respectively.“ “This $5 or Rp 20,000 daily wage is not only the ‘going rate‘ among the expatriate business community,“ comments Aditjondro, “but is also endorsed and practised by the UN authorities themselves.“ According to sources in Dili, “the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which coordinates the dozens of international and national NGOs involved in the relief work in the country have suggested the Rp 20,000 daily wage rate to the foreign NGOsé
“Then, the UNTAET cafeteria itself pays a daily wage of between $2 to $3 to its Timorese employees, while a meal at the cafeteria costs $6. Obviously, this top-down exploitative labour policy turns Timor Loro Sa‘e into a paradise for expatriate business peopleé There are still other attractions for these foreign businesses in Timor Loro Sa‘e: they do not have to pay tax to any government authority. In addition, they also – for the time being – often do not have to pay rent for the buildings in which they are squatting, as well as no water and electricity bills on some occasions. With a captive market of a couple of hundred foreigners, a handful of big businesses could practically have a monopoly over certain commodities and services.“
Aditjondro goes on to document extensively the massive Western corporate annexation of virtually the entire infrastructure of East Timor in the wake of the UN intervention. Elaborating on her concerns, Tooth elaborated that: “Her claims of discrimination against East Timorese workers are based on the lack of work in East Timor, while foreigners are seen to be winning highly paid contracts with the UN…
“Unemployment is estimated to be as high as 95 per cent. It‘s a figure the UN disputes without offering an alternative. And those East Timorese who do find jobs find stark wage disparities between foreigners and locals. UNTAET has set a maximum wage of five American dollars a day for unskilled Timorese workers, while foreigners working for the same organisation could be earning ten times that in hardship allowance alone.“ It is unsurprising then that then U.S. President Clinton himself summarised the interests in the region quite remarkably in a single sentence, when attempting to justify the UN mission: “This mission is in America‘s interests for several reasons. Indonesia‘s future is important to us not only because of its resources and its sea lanes, but for its potential as a leader in the region and the world.” Australian diplomat Richard Butler further clarified that: “[I]t has been made very clear to me by senior American analysts that the facts of the alliance essentially are that: the U.S. will respond proportionally, defined largely in terms of its own interests and threat assessments.” It is for this reason that the humanitarian crisis of East Timor has existed, and been able to continue: the economic and strategic “interests” – and the indigenous “threat” to these – that render humanitarian considerations irrelevant.Did you like this article?
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