Hawke response on Timor 'totally inadequate'

Wednesday, November 20, 1991

By Norm Dixon

Aid organisations, solidarity groups and others supporting East Timor's right to self-determination have severely criticised the Australian government's weak stand on the Indonesian army massacre of mourners in East Timor [see page 24]. This pressure, together with community outrage at the massacre, has forced Prime Minister Bob Hawke to concede that Indonesia may have to seek an "amicable settlement" with those struggling for East Timor's independence.

The Indonesian military sought to give the impression that the attack was an act of panicked self-defence. A November 14 statement by the regional commander, Major-General Sintong Panjaitan, claimed that there was a pistol shot and that a grenade was thrown before the army opened fire.

"Soldiers thought they heard the order 'fire' when the order was 'don't fire'", he explained lamely. Panjaitan admitted to just 19 deaths. The day before in Jakarta, the chief of Indonesia's armed forces, General Try Sutrisno, conceded that up to 50 people had died.

These official accounts have been contradicted by eyewitness reports. Russell Anderson, an Australian who was in Dili, told ABC Radio on November 13 what he saw: "There was a group that left from the [Motael] church that was about 3000-4000 ...

"When they got to the cemetery, the military started to arrive in truckloads. They got out of the trucks and lined up. People by that stage were getting quite worried and a lot had moved away. There was about a thousand left outside of the cemetery and there were quite a few people in the cemetery ... then the military just started firing, for no reason they just started firing into the crowd."

Allan Nairn, a reporter of the US New Yorker Magazine, witnessed the massacre and was badly beaten by Indonesian troops as was his colleague, US public radio journalist Amy Goodman. Nairn told ABC radio: "The army massacred dozens and dozens of people — unarmed civilians who were shrinking back as the soldiers fired into the crowd. ... The soldiers marched down from two directions armed with M-16s and they fired into the crowd ... and bodies were just dropping right and left. They just kept on firing ..."

A spokesperson for the Indonesian pro-democracy group INFIGHT in Jakarta said supporters in Dili had confirmed the deaths of 97 people. "Our contact in Dili says there was no provocation from Fretilin. No-one made any provocation toward the Indonesian army ... we are sure about that."

Military build-up

The situation in Dili had been tense since the announcement on October 24 that a visit to East Timor by a Portuguese parliamentary delegation had been suspended. Prior to the delegation's scheduled arrival, a large number of troop reinforcements were brought in to prevent pro-independence demonstrations. A wave of arrests

Pat Walsh of the human rights office of the Australian Council For Overseas Aid told Green Left that three Australian tourists had reported an "overwhelming" military presence in East Timor.

In a letter to the Portuguese ambassador to Australia, they reported that 94 new battalions of soldiers had been deployed, along with artillery, tanks and other military equipment.

"We witnessed truckloads of soldiers trundling through the streets of Dili, battalions exercising in village squares, massive freighters in Dili harbour unloading heavy military vehicles, and all along the road throughout the island we saw small squadrons of soldiers moving either openly or surreptitiously through the bush."

The massacre was condemned by Portugal, East Timor's former colonial ruler and recognised by the United Nations as the legal administering power of the territory. Portuguese President Mario Soares called on UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to end the atrocities and human rights violations in East Timor. Portugal also called on the European Community to consider severing all relations with Indonesia.

The response of other Western nations has been muted. The US State Department expressed "regret" over the "violence" and called for "prompt and full investigation". The British government announced it was considering humanitarian aid for the East Timorese but ruled out any arms embargo against Indonesia.

Investigation

In stark contrast to his tearful reaction to the Chinese Tienanmen massacre in 1989, Bob Hawke simply urged the Indonesian government "to conduct a thorough investigation, publish a full and factual account of what happened and why" and to see that "those responsible for breaches of human rights should be appropriately dealt with".

Hawke's much-quoted call for a "dinkum" inquiry, however, did not extend to it being conducted by a body independent of the Indonesian government. The clear implication was that Australia would accept as an explanation that this outrage was caused by a few troops losing control for a moment rather than the reflection of a general policy.

In Seoul on November 13, Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, deftly avoiding the use of the "m" word, told reporters he raised the "event" in Dili with Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas. Evans said Alatas was sympathetic to holding a "full and credible inquiry". But Alatas refused to allow the investigation to be conducted by an independent body.

Australia's ambassador to Indonesia, Phillip Flood, told ABC radio on November 13 that he did not believe the killings were the result of a deliberate Indonesian policy: "I am quite certain that no-one in Jakarta would have authorised an action of this kind".

AKSI, a national organisation in solidarity with the Indonesian cribed the Australian government's response as "totally inadequate and indeed stupid".

"This is not a case of 'the local military getting out of control'", AKSI said. "These murders are the inevitable consequence of military occupation of a country against the wishes of its people."

AKSI has demanded that the Australian government completely withdraw all military cooperation with Indonesia and campaign for the United Nations to send an independent fact-finding mission to investigate the massacre. It also wants Australia to campaign for the UN to force Indonesia to withdraw its military forces and begin talks with representatives of the East Timorese people on the future they desire for their country.

The Australian Council for Overseas Aid also demanded that the Australian government suspend all military aid and equipment sales to Jakarta. Australian Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson Vicki Bourne said that the government should condemn the massacre and support the sending of an independent fact-finding mission.

The national director of the Australian Freedom From Hunger Campaign, Bob Debus, said, "This latest atrocity highlights that Indonesia's military solution in East Timor is not working, nor is it acceptable to the international community". Debus called on Hawke to urge Indonesia to join international talks on East Timor. "The United Nations, Portugal and Fretilin are interested in talks, but Indonesia refuses to come to the table", Freedom From Hunger reminded Canberra.

Australia is one of the few countries in the world that has accepted Indonesia's rule over East Timor. The UN does not recognise Indonesia's sovereignty. In the past Australia has refused to support negotiations between Indonesia and the East Timorese resistance. Evans is on record as saying: "We simply cannot lend ourselves to an exercise which is premised on non-acceptance of the sovereign incorporation of East Timor into the Republic of Indonesia".

The Australian government is more interested in exploiting the potentially rich oil reserves beneath the Timor Sea than in the right to self-determination of the East Timorese people.

Fretilin

The East Timorese liberation movement, Fretilin, has called on the international community to impose a complete arms embargo on Indonesia. Fretilin's Jose Ramos Horta told ABC radio from Paris that "It is immoral that the industrial countries continue to supply weapons to Indonesia in the face of these atrocities which have been going on for 16 years. Western countries, including Australia, have turned a blind eye to it."

Horta pointed that the US provides helicopters, tanks, aircraft and machine guns to the Indonesian military — "the same machine guns, M-16s, that were fired on the children, women, almost killed two Americans and killed a New Zealander at the cemetery". Britain also supplies hundreds of millions of pounds worth of weapons each year to Indonesia.

"Australia, since the invasion, supplies lethal military support to Indonesia. Indonesian military and intelligence officers are trained in Australia. The same people who murder our people, our children and our women are trained in Australia by Australian defence and intelligence personnel", Horta added.

Issue