Howard hides Timor horror


By Jon Land

As investigations by both the United Nations and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission continue into the Indonesian military's involvement in the killing and destruction which took place in East Timor, the Howard government remains reluctant to divulge vital intelligence that would aid these investigations.

John Howard's highly publicised visit to East Timor on November 28 was well timed to take the heat off, to divert public attention from the government's treatment of East Timorese refugees, its "Timor tax" and new evidence that it knew all along what the Indonesian military was really doing in East Timor.

Secret Defence Intelligence Organisation documents, leaked to the media in late November, provide further proof that the Howard government was aware that the Indonesian military was directly involved in the militia violence in East Timor. The documents state that the terror campaign was conducted with the full knowledge and support of Indonesia's top generals, including the head of the military, General Wiranto.

The contents of the DIO documents, "circulated" in Canberra from November 22, are similar to those leaked earlier in the year. The documents contradict claims by Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer throughout the pre-referendum period that the violence was not the official policy of the Indonesian military and was caused by "rogue elements".

At a special sitting of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on November 22, Wayne Sievers, a former police intelligence officer with the UN mission in East Timor, provided evidence of the direct involvement of the Indonesian military.

Sievers collected material from a range of sources, including East Timorese serving in the Indonesian army and working for Indonesia's security services, material he says implicates Indonesian officials and representatives of the Indonesian military and police at the highest levels.

Sievers told the Canberra Times, "On the morning the result of the vote was announced, we knew what was going to happen, and how it would happen. It was like waiting for the sky to fall in."

The November round of leaked DIO information coincided with the release of a book entitled East Timor: Too Little Too Late, written by Lansell Taudevin, who headed AusAID projects in East Timor from 1996 to March 1999.

Taudevin was requested by the Australian embassy in Jakarta to provide "information" about the situation in East Timor. He advised embassy officials from as early as July 1998 that the Indonesian military was forming the militias and reactivating several of the infamous "ninja" gangs.

One proof of military involvement detailed in the DIO documents is the Liquica massacre of April 6, when more than 50 people were killed by pro-integration militia.

Downer admitted on April 11 that Indonesian troops were present, but claimed "There's a debate about what part they played" and that there were "wildly different accounts of what actually happened". The Howard government opted to support the Indonesian military's version of the events (which claimed only five were killed) rather than that of church representatives, human rights groups and eyewitnesses and the assessment of its own agency, the DIO.

A confidential DIO briefing on April 8 stated: "It is known that ABRI [the Indonesian armed forces] had fired tear gas into the church and apparently did not intervene when the pro-independence activists were attacked. Brimob [the police mobile brigade] were allegedly standing behind the attacked at the church and firing into the air — ABRI is culpable, whether it actively took part in the violence or simply let it occur."

Downer decided that the findings of a report by Australian diplomats who visited East Timor to investigate the Liquica killings would not be released. He told reporters on April 16, "We aren't in a position to be able to prove what happened there".

Downer, along with Howard, continued to claim that the Indonesian military was not responsible for or supporting the violence in East Timor. On April 17, militia gangs rampaged through Dili while Indonesian police and military stood by.

Howard denies that the government ignored the intelligence it was receiving. He told ABC television just prior to his visit to East Timor, "We are seeing a massive and partisan attempt to rewrite history, and it won't wash". He claims that the government made 120 separate representations to the Indonesian government during the year about violence in East Timor.

But the Howard government is actively stalling and blocking attempts by investigators to piece together the truth on human rights abuses in East Timor. It has frustrated attempts by members of the International Commission of Jurists to interview East Timorese refugees in Australia — refugees who are being pressured by the government to return immediately, regardless of the trauma they still suffer from.

In response to requests from the head of the UN administration in East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, for assistance with forensic experts and materials (such as a transportable morgue), Howard said that this was a concern for the states, rather than the federal government.

Howard has also indicated that the government will provide only limited intelligence to the UN investigation into atrocities.

In an interview on ABC radio on November 29, Howard said, "When it comes to intelligence gathering, every national government has obligations that are very important in the national interest which transcend everything else"; the government would only "consider" any "proper approach from the UN".

What Howard and Downer really fear is that investigations and leaks will confirm what the government has denied. They will confirm that they knew what the Indonesian military were up to, that they knew the terror campaign came from the very top ranks of the Indonesian military and that the government they led chose to misinform the public so as to protect the "special relationship" with Jakarta.