Have the Occupants of East Timor Already Started to Withdraw?
(East Timor: Indonesian Occupation and Genocide. - A. Barbedo de Magalhães. - Ed. Presidency of Oporto University, 1992. - p.13, 14 and 15)
On 17 April, the Cambodian regime of Lon Nol, who had come to power in 1970 with American support, was overthrown. With the takeover of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge, the Communist regime of Pol Pot came into power. Nearly two weeks later, Saigon fell into the hands of Vietnamese Communists.
Two years earlier, in 1973, the Communist movement Pathet Lao had formed a coalition cabinet with the previous Vientiane government and had expelled American 'advisers' and Thai troops. In April 1975 the Pathet Lao took power alone, abolishing the monarchy and transforming the country into the Lao Popular Democratic Republic.
These Communist advances in Indochina, where the United States had been so deeply involved both in military and political terms, along with the humiliating defeat in Vietnam, left the Americans traumatised and the Western countries (as well as those belonging to ASEAN), along with Australia and Japan, very worried indeed.
In addition to these concerns, developments on the Horn of Africa and in Africa were not favourable to the West. In September 1974, Hailé Selassié, Emperor of Ethiopia, was ousted, and in 1975, Angola and Mozambique attained independence under Marxist regimes.
In this context, the military regime of General Suharto, which had come to power by destroying one of the largest communist parties in the world, the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party), appeared to be the greatest barrier to Communist advances in the region, and was thus an essential factor in the defence of Western interests. The fact that PKI was pro-Chinese an that Jakarta had maintained good relations with Moscow (though relations with Peking had been broken off after the 1965 coup) encouraged the Eastern bloc, led by the USSR, to show prudence and understanding in its relations with the Indonesian government.
In addition, it was known that the Sea of Timor, between Portuguese Timor and Australia, had sizeable oil deposits. In the negotiations which took place in 1974-75 between Portugal and the Australian government to fix the maritime border, the latter did not manage to achieve all of its objectives. Therefore, the Australian ambassador in Jakarta reminded his government, in a telegram dated 17/8/75, that this border
"... would be more easily negotiable with Indonesia rather than with Portugal or with an independent Portuguese Timor".
In this context, the Indonesian President General Suharto met with the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Wonosobo on the island of Java. At the end of the meeting the international press commented on
"Australian support for the integration of Timor with Indonesia", affirming that
"the Australian Government feels that this solution for the island of Timor would ensure greater stability in the region".
Curiously, it was only after this Australian/Indonesia position was made public that ASDT transformed itself on 11 September 1974 into a more radical movement, FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor). This new designation of the former ASDT, as well as the Marxist language of certain intellectuals belonging to the Front, were skilfully used by Indonesia to convince the world of the danger of the establishment of a Communist regime in East Timor, and thus to gain Western support for its pro-annexation policies.
In July 1975 the Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Jakarta wrote in a report to the British Foreign Ministry:
"(...) seen from here it is in Britain's interest that Indonesia should absorb the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible; and that if it comes to the crunch and there is a row in the United Nations we should keep our heads down and avoid siding against the Indonesian government".
While the American Embassy received instructions from Kissinger not to get involved in discussions on East Timor with the Indonesians, and to eliminate references to the territory in its reports, the American ambassador Newson commented
"(...) if Indonesia were to intervene the United States would hope they would do so effectively, quickly and not use our equipment".
On 5-6 December 1975 President Gerald Ford of the United States of America and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited Jakarta, where they are said to have assured General Suharto that supplies of American weapons should not be affected by the military action which would begin after their departure.
As The Nation revealed fifteen years later, the greatest concern of Secretary of State Kissinger, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace and great American strategist, was not that of preventing the invasion or even avoiding the use of American weapons in Indonesian aggression against East Timor, but rather that of keeping public opinion from finding out about American involvement and thus provoking a reaction on the part of the United States Congress cutting off military support to the invading power.
In the invasion, American made Hercules transport planes were used, along with other equipment supplied by the United States. American military aid to Indonesia was doubled the following year. In September 1976 the U.S. supplied Indonesia with the first Bronco OV-10 planes, especially conceived to put down armed insurrections. With these planes, with American helicopters designed for the war in Vietnam, and with military equipment supplied by other countries who allegedly support human rights (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland,...), the Indonesian armed forces razed hundreds of Timorese villages and carried out authentic genocide against the Maubere people.
The fact that two American journalists, Alain Nairn and Ami Goodman, witnessed the Santa Cruz massacre and were beaten and injured by Indonesian militaries, together with the fact that Max Stahl filmed the massacre, led, seven months later, and for the first time, to a North American Representative Chamber's decision, in 25 July 1992, cutting the 2,3 million dollars support for the instruction of Indonesian militaries in the United States. A few months later (October 1992) the Senate, together with the Representative Chamber, confirmed the cutting.
Still in July 1992 the Mayors of the United States, gathered in Houston, in Texas, approved a resolution presented by Dave Karp exhorting the Congress and the President of the United States to clearly manifest their support for action favouring the self-determination of East Timor.
Similarly, a few months after his election, in his first meeting with Suharto, in Japan, President Clinton dedicated a significant part of the schedule talking about East Timor, greatly embarrassing and annoying the Indonesian General and President. In 1993 the United States voted favourably, for the first time, a resolution passed in the UN Human Rights Commission condemning Indonesia.
More recent are the letters of Congressmen, asking the American President not to forget, in the APEC meeting, in November, in Jakarta, to talk not only about human rights but also about the East Timorese right to self-determination.
These are signs of a slow but positive and significant evolution, to which the recent words of the American Ambassador in Lisbon - referring to a solution that wouldn't jeopardise the Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor - add a large portion of ambiguity. Indeed, her words can be interpreted as an unacceptable provocation, or as a warning that, what is important for the United States is solely to clean her image and not to solve the Timor problem in accordance to the International Law and the UN Resolutions.
When recently (94.10.05) and ambiguously the Pope spoke about 'the legitimate aspirations' of the Timorese, rather than referring only to their religious and cultural human rights, as it was common practice in the Pope's rare references to East Timor, the Pope left in the air the hope that Rome was, at least, no longer betting exclusively in integration, it might be willing to 'accept' other solutions...
Even more important, perhaps, is the 23rd September resolution of the Australian Labour Party (in Government) which, in the middle of a very inextricable text, ends up recognising the right to self-determination after having recognised, for so many years, the de facto and the de jure integration of East Timor in Indonesia.
It could also be made a reference to the anticipated initiative of the Japanese Government regarding the raising of the East Timor question in the next APEC meeting in Jakarta...
In Indonesia itself, not only the citizens commited to the defence of human rights but also (and even) some militaries start to speak about self-determination. Others try to keep everything immutable, while in the sphere of the established power, there is at least the feeling and the talking about the necessity of a change in behaviour.
For many this will only amount to cosmetic changes. For others it might be something deeper, crossing the road of self-determination. The fact that someone remembers that the Indonesian Constitution defines the Indonesian borders, excluding East Timor, might be a symptom...
It is true, on the one hand, that the invasion and the occupation of East Timor, being materialised by the Indonesian Army and Military Forces, was indeed strongly supported, politically and materially, by the United States, Australia, Great-Britain, Japan, France, Germany, and so on. In this sense, the 'Western' Governments, interposed by Indonesia, have also become invaders and occupants of East Timor.
In these circumstances any draw back in the support given to the occupation, is a 'withdrawal'.
But one can naturally ask the questions:
- Why withdrawal?
- Withdrawal for what?
- Withdrawal from what?
The answer to the first question is linked to the factor that mobilised several governments to give their first steps towards 'withdrawal'. This factor is the shame of seeing their involvement in a such a monstrous crime against humanity both exposed and denounced. While the public exposure did not take place, though those governments were sufficiently informed, they did not do anything, instructing their Ambassadors to lie as much as necessary, whenever they thought it was due, so as to keep their crime covert.
If this is the immediate motivation for the withdrawal, its objective is solely to clean up their own image, leaving the hatable to the Indonesians or, why not, to Portugal, that did not de-colonise as it should have done, or to the Timorese who got involved (or let themselves get involved) in a civil war.
In this case, they only withdraw from the shame of seeing their names linked to the genocide of the East Timorese people. They would gladly welcome a 'vast reconciliation' or any other scenario that would obliviate the past and quiet the Timorese protests, to whom it would be offered little more than a few economic improvements and respect for human rights.
Without forgetting that these are important aspects, crucial even for so many Timorese that live and suffer horrors in their occupied Motherland, the question is whether or not this is sufficient, whether or not this should be enough for the International Community.
There could be another motivation for a more radical change:
- Indeed, without solving the East Timor question in accordance with its right to self-determination, it is not possible to develop political overture in Indonesia. And without this political openness, Indonesia risks itself to accumulate tensions until one explosion, worse than the Yugoslavian one, will end up occurring.
But once again, Timor will only not be an obstacle to the opening of the regime if the international protest is not silent. Because if it is, where will the problem be? For many years the problem of East Timor 'did not exist', internationally, nor internally, simply because no one talked about it! Why shouldn't it stop' existing again if, once more, no one talked about it?
Suharto is a very skilful politician. And, if common sense - rare in politics - prevails, he will know that the choice that best serves not only the Timorese but also the future of Indonesia, is the rapid overture to a negotiated solution that will lead to a true self-determination of East Timor in a relatively short term. For that to happen, positive and factual steps must be taken in the following months.
However, to prevent the more radical and unreasonable sectors of the Indonesian Armed Forces from obstructing this possible, common sense attitude from happening, it is essential to have the constant attention and pressure of the International Community. Otherwise the genocide of the East Timorese people will continue to occur, and Indonesia will become a too hot gunpowder barrel, uncontrollably explosive...
Oporto, 23rd October 1994
A. Barbedo de Magalhães