The controversy over the appointment of Lieutenant General Herman Mantiri as Indonesia's ambassador to Australia may be a little confusing to the Suharto dictatorship. After all, Mantiri has only carried through policies on East Timor which the Australian government has consistently backed.
The controversy has been stirred by Mantiri's defence of his troops' massacre of at least 200 unarmed people at Dili in November 1991. Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans described the slaughter as "an aberration". Mantiri has publicly given that claim the lie on at least two occasions.
In a July 1992 interview with the now banned magazine Editor, he said: "We do not regret anything. What happened was quite proper ... They were opposing us, demonstrating, even yelling things against the government. To me that is identical with rebellion, so that is why we took firm action ... The policy was correct."
Evans has tried to claim that that statement was also an aberration, but Mantiri repeated it in May 1993, saying, "What they [the troops] did was quite proper".
Mantiri's unrepentant support for repression is a logical consequence of the Indonesian dictatorship's determination to rule East Timor despite the wishes of its people. For 20 years, the Australian government has supported the Indonesian occupation, but it is embarrassed by some of the consequences, such as mass murder (when it becomes publicly known).
The ALP government, back in 1974, gave carte blanche to the Indonesian dictatorship's plans to invade East Timor. Gough Whitlam met with Suharto and told him that an independent East Timor was unviable, even a threat. The current Labor government was happy to divide the spoils of the Indonesian aggression in the Timor Gap Treaty.
Evans and the Labor government have been ready and willing to strengthen the Indonesian military, agreeing to such favours as the $100 million combat rifle contract and the Kangaroo '95 joint military exercises. East Timorese who flee to Australia to escape brutality and murder are jailed in Port Hedland.
Evans is fortunate that Mantiri will not take seriously the former's suggestion that he "explain" his statements on the Dili massacre. A real explanation would go like this: "The people we were robbing resisted, so we killed them. You are sharing the proceeds of the robbery, so why should you object?"
But it is only a few companies, not most Australians, who are engaged with Suharto/Mantiri in looting East Timor. Public opinion is increasingly at odds with Australian foreign policy on East Timor — so much so that parliamentarians who support the essentials of that policy are now trying to conceal the fact by signing petitions against Mantiri's appointment.
Just as the Dili massacre was not an aberration, neither is Mantiri's appointment. It simply reflects the Suharto dictatorship's understanding that the Labor government's supposed concern about human rights in East Timor — or anywhere else — is pure pretence.
There is growing anger at Labor's support for the murderous Suharto dictatorship. This is bound to increase if Mantiri takes up his position in late July. Protests and demonstrations are to be welcomed — against both Mantiri and his accomplices in the Australian government.