East Timor's freedom in the balance

May 5, 1999


East Timor's freedom in the balance

By Jon Land

On April 27, as Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Indonesian President B.J. Habibie joked and chatted following their discussions on the situation in East Timor, the people of East Timor were bracing themselves for the next round of attacks by the pro-integration terrorist gangs.

Both Howard and foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer expressed "confidence" in the Indonesian military's willingness to ensure a "peaceful and stable" environment for the August 8 plebiscite, in which the East Timorese will vote to accept or reject the Indonesian offer of autonomy.

The summit on East Timor in Bali proved yet again the unwillingness of the Howard government to place any substantive pressure upon the Indonesian regime to halt the violence in East Timor. There is no commitment to disarm the military sponsored pro-integration gangs. Habibie insists that the Indonesian military and police will play the main role in overseeing security in East Timor during the August vote.

The meeting in Bali achieved no more than having the Indonesian government state publicly that it still supports the result of the April 21-23 United Nations negotiations involving Portugal and the UN secretary-general. At those negotiations Indonesia's foreign minister, Ali Alatas, agreed to a consultation of the people of East Timor to determine whether they accept or reject the autonomy offer. The negotiations will be formally ratified with the signing of documents at the UN on May 5.

When interviewed after the meeting on ABC TV's 7.30 Report, Howard claimed: "What we have tried to play is a constructive role, we have tried to use our influence. We haven't walked away from the problem, nor have we been unnecessarily bellicose about it. I think we have got somewhere as a result."

Commenting on General Wiranto and the Indonesian military's provision of security in East Timor, Howard stated: "I am a lot more confident now than I was a week ago that the Indonesians are very serious about trying to restore a measure of stability in providing a reasonably decent, open and non-intimidatory climate for the ballot". He added, "Indonesia needs the understanding and the benevolence of the rest of the world because of her economic difficulties".

In an article in the April 29 Sydney Morning Herald, National Council of Timorese Resistance representative Jose Ramos Horta said: "The scale of the horror now visited upon the people of East Timor parallels 1975-1977, its darkest years, when 200,000 people were slaughtered in the brutal and illegal takeover".

Horta called for economic sanctions to be placed immediately on the Habibie regime. "At the very least, all aid monies in the pipeline should be suspended for six months, until well after the vote on August 8 on the future of the country. All military sales and cooperation should be suspended immediately and Indonesian military attachs expelled."

Much of the establishment media in Australia responded coolly to the outcome of the Bali summit, with a number of articles and news reports critical of Habibie's lack of commitment to ensuring the disarming of the pro-integration gangs. Even Greg Sheridan, the Australian's foreign affairs editor and a Suharto apologist, called it a "minimal-result summit" which left key questions unanswered.

Some news reports have described the vote on August 8 as a "vote on independence", which it is not. It is merely a vote on the question of autonomy.


Confusion about the situation in East Timor has also been created by the media's constant use of the terms "civil war" and "warring factions". Such terms imply that the pro-integration forces exist independently of the support of the Indonesian military; they do not.

These terrorist gangs and their leaders are able to carry out their activities only because of the support they receive from the Indonesian military. The pro-integration forces are no more than an adjunct to the Indonesian military presence in East Timor.

These terms also imply that the independence movement and the armed wing of the resistance, Falintil, are currently engaged in armed conflict with the pro-integration gangs and the Indonesian military. This is totally false.

Falintil has upheld a unilateral cease-fire, which it declared last December as an act of good faith and a sign of commitment to a peaceful transition to independence. Falintil maintains the right to act in self-defence and the right to protect defenceless civilians.

The full detail of the UN plan for the vote on autonomy will not be revealed until after May 5. It is understood to include provision for a UN monitoring team of some 450 to 650 personnel to oversee the vote. It will include a police force which will liaise with the Indonesian military and police on security matters, and it is likely that Australia will be requested by the UN to provide a contingent of police for the team.

This rotten plan entrenches the control of the Indonesian military and police, who will be responsible for overall security in the lead-up to the vote. UN police will merely act in an "advisory" capacity.

It also gives legitimacy to the fake attempt by Habibie and Wiranto to create a "peaceful" environment for the vote through the Commission on Peace and Stability. This commission was established by the Habibie regime after the bogus peace settlement signed on April 21. (Pro-independence leaders signed this agreement only in order to show that they remain committed to peace in East Timor. The pro-integration gangs continued to carry out violent attacks throughout East Timor during and after the signing of the agreement.)

Indonesian troops out!

There are two clear demands that must be made upon the UN in relation to its role in East Timor. First, the UN must ensure that it facilitates a fair and free act of self-determination, in accordance with past UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions which reaffirm the right of the East Timorese people to such a process.

Secondly, in order for this to be possible, the UN must oversee the immediate withdrawal of Indonesian troops and the disarming of the pro-integration terrorist gangs. It is ludicrous to entrust the Indonesian military or police with any responsibility for East Timorese people's security.

As well, independent monitoring teams of representatives of human rights, trade union, church, student, women's and East Timor solidarity organisations should be enabled to play a role in verifying the demilitarisation of East Timor and the act of self-determination.

It is crucial that an intensive international solidarity campaign raise these demands and place as much pressure as possible on the UN and those governments playing a direct role in the negotiations or UN plan to have the demands met. Such a campaign must also assert the right of the legitimate representatives of the East Timorese people, such as Xanana Gusmao, to be involved in the negotiations.

Reports from East Timor tells of daily murders and terrorising by the pro-integration gangs, which remain defiant in their pledge to continue their violence. A joint statement by East Timorese humanitarian organisations presented to British deputy minister of foreign affairs Derek Fatchett on April 28 highlighted that between last November and March 31, 18,091 East Timorese have been internally displaced by the pro-integration groups' attacks.

The statement also reported: "In the first three months of 1999, Yayasan HAK has documented at least 40 dead, 22 wounded, eight illegal detentions, two women raped by militia. Among those dead and wounded, women and children are included.<>70> Many more have been since killed and brutalised.

If there is to be peace and self-determination in East Timor, there must be a significant increase in international support for the East Timorese independence struggle, more solidarity with those organisations within Indonesia that support independence for East Timor, such as the People's Democratic Party, and concerted opposition to the despicable policies of the allies of the Habibie regime, such as the Howard government.<>><>41559MS>n<>255D>

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