Month: September 1999

One Planet

Three weeks after the East Timorese people voted for independence from Indonesia, U.N. peacekeeping troops finally landed Dili. The mobilization, however, is minimal: only about 3,500 U.N. troops (eventually there will be 7,500) versus around 30,000 Indonesian troops and paramilitaries. Wow. So far, the U.N. presence has been bogged down, fighting paramilitaries street-by-street in Dili. A small contingent of U.N. troops have moved into Baucau, East Timor’s second largest city, but the rest of the country remains under the control of the paramilitaries and Indonesian troops, which has prevented the U.N. and aid workers from reaching some 190,000 starving refugees (about one-fourth of the total population) camped in the mountains and surrounding countryside. The U.N. has air-dropped food to some of the refugees, but even this has been a fiasco. The air drops have been hampered by a lack of airplanes (only one French plane and two Australian planes are being used for the aid flights), and the drops reveal the locating of hiding refugees to marauding, hungry militiamen. Truckloads of food sent out to the refugees from Dili have been intercepted and confiscated by militias. Sources include: “Dili Residents Return From Camps,” AP, 9/21/99; “Aid drops suffer amid rapid military build-up,” Sydney Morning Herald, 9/22/99; and “Indonesian Troops Torch As They Go In Dili,” Reuters, 9/24/99.

The East Timor militias have threatened to regroup in Western Timor and fight the advancing U.N. troops. Eurico Guterres, Commander of the Aitarak (“Thorn”) militia wants to plunge East Timor into a civil war, and other militia commanders have called openly for a partition of East Timor. “We will eat the heart of those who come to East Timor,” one of them declared. Truckloads of militiamen and Indonesian police have moved out of Dili and Baucau towards Liquica and the Western border. Many militia have crossed over into Western Timor and are holding over 100,000 Timorese refugees in camps, while denying aid workers and members of the United Nations Humanitarian Committee for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the camps. The government of Indonesia is beginning to build barracks and permanent housing on the border, ostensibly to resettle refugees, but more likely to be used as a base camp for the militias to run a long-term insurgency in East Timor. In the meantime, militias under the protection of the Indonesian police have taken over Kupang, the capital city of West Timor. Fighting between local residents of Kupang and the “arrogant militias” may erupt very soon.Sources: “Pro-Indonesia militia leader defiant as peace force approaches,” Agence France Presse, 9/19/99; “Indonesia to House Militias on E. Timor Border,” Washington Post, 9/14/99, A26; “City ready to erupt, warns aid worker,” Sydney Morning Herald, 9/24/99.

Under an agreement with the U.N, some Indonesian military troops are beginning to withdraw from East Timor, but their role in the whole conflict is becoming clearer. Numerous sources are coming forward to tell what they know. Most damning is Tomas Goncalves, former head of a militia group named the Peace Force and Defender of Integration (PPPI). He fled East Timor in March and spoke with a journalist from the South China Morning Post on Sept. 16. He claims that the East Timor militia rampage was planned back in February in a meeting between all of the East Timor militia commanders and the Indonesian military intelligence chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Yahyat Sudrajad. The Feb. 16th meeting was arranged by Sudrajad, head of the local branch of the notorious Indonesian special forces unit KOPASSUS. The colonel urged the militiamen to kill pro-independence leaders and their families (including their children), and he made arrangements to fund, feed, and arm the militias. At the meeting, the militiamen agreed to begin their terror campaign on May 1, but were unable to restrain themselves, and the killings began the next day. Goncalves, who is Catholic, fled East Timor because he “could not kill priests and nuns and attack the church.”From: “Killings were ‘planned in February,'” Australian Financial Review, 9/17/99.

Another damning report comes from Allan Nairn, a reporter for The Nation who has extensively covered excesses by the Indonesian military and KOPASSUS. Nairn was captured and detained in Dili on Sept. 14, a week before U.N. troops landed. While at the military headquarters in Dili, Nairn saw Aitarak militiamen living and working out of the back half of the military base. One of the officers who questioned him said that the militiamen “live here, they work out of here.” Nairn said: “You can see them going out on their motorbikes and their trucks, fully armed to do their attacks on Dili.” When Nairn was transferred to the police station in Dili, he saw the same arrangement there. Nairn reminds us: “Organizationally in the Indonesian military, the only person that both the army and police report to is General Wiranto.” When Nairn was flown out of Dili to Jakarta, he also shared his plane ride with militiamen. “I actually recognized by face some of them from the streets of Dili as being among the street-level militia leaders. But it turns out all these men were police intelligence and they were being rotated back … after having fulfilled their assignments in Dili.” From: “U.S. Journalist Detained in E. Timor,” AP, 9/14/99 and “Deported American activist says military chief behind Timor killings,” Agence France Presse, 9/20/99.

East Timor: 24 Years After

On August 30th, East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Indonesia, in spite of a wave of militia violence encouraged by the Indonesian military. Yet the West (including the U.N., the U.S., Britain, and Portugal, the former colonial ruler) have abandoned East Timor to a bloody massacre–one that rivals the murder of over 200,000 East Timorese when Indonesia first invaded in 1975.

The violence has been much worse than U.S. newspapers have reported. Militias have stormed and looted churches, Red Cross stations, and U.N. offices, killing aid workers, priests, and U.N. personnel. Immediately after the vote, militias targeted Indonesian journalists reporting on the Timor election for the fledgling independent Indonesian media and drove most of them from the province. Many native Timorese employed by the U.N. have been murdered and the rest driven from their homes; a long list of independence leaders have been killed. Many have fled to Australia and have told stories of seeing bodies stacked to the ceiling of warehouses in Dili, the capital city. Others report a pall of smoke hanging over the capital city from the burning of corpses and some witnesses have seen bodies being dumped in the sea from military ships. Dili, which a week ago held over 50,000 refugees taking shelter from militia violence in the countryside, is now a ghost town, with most of its buildings gutted and flattened.

The militias and the military have emptied numerous towns and villages across East Timor and burned shops and houses; an estimated 200,000 people–nearly one-quarter of East Timor’s population–are refugees in their own country. Witnesses describe seeing thousands of refugees loaded onto trucks and boats for shipment out of East Timor. Others are being force-marched toward the border with West Timor; an estimated 1,000 refugees per day are crossing the border. Nearly 100,000 people are being held in camps in West Timor. These camps are being guarded by the military and militiamen who have driven aid workers away and kept journalists from entering the camps.

U.N. personnel who were stationed in East Timor to “supervise” the voting process have fled. The only U.N. personnel left are 70 people trapped inside the U.N. compound in Dili along with 1,000 refugees. Surrounded by militiamen carrying M-16s and driving stolen U.N. vehicles, these people have no access to food or medical care.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian mayor of Dili has declared that the killing will continue until the U.N. declares the vote invalid. The level of destruction within East Timor points to a planned campaign of terror by the Indonesian military with strategies similar to those used during the invasion of 1975. For example, as refugees flee, they are being intercepted by militia and military men who sort out anyone who is suspected of being a pro-independence supporter–these people are shot on sight or loaded onto trucks for shipment “elsewhere.”

While the Indonesian military is busy destroying East Timor, the U.N. and the West continue to make useless appeals to the Indonesian government to “restore order.” Clearly B.J. Habibie, the Indonesian President, no longer controls the military; rumors in Jakarta say he has completely capitulated to General Wiranto. For its part, the military is acting in the same way it did for decades under Suharto’s rule to any perceived threat against Indonesia’s sovereignty: by producing a well-coordinated massacre of government opponents. Any efforts to stop the killing have to be aimed at the Indonesian military.

Timor’s pro-independence leaders and international aid agencies are all united in their call for U.N. peace-keeping troops in Timor (in fact, they’ve been asking for this for months now) and economic sanctions against Indonesia, including a freeze on IMF and World bank loans, suspension of trade, an end to weapons sales to Indonesia, and a cut-off of all aid funds.

But western nations have refused to consider any of these requests. East Timor is not Kosovo, as U.S. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger is quick to point out: “We have to recognize that Indonesia is in Asia, that the Indonesians will respond much better to a solution…that is dominated by the Asians and not dominated by the United States.” Conversely, Kosovo was in Europe, which makes it part of our national territory? In fact, Indonesia has long been a client of the U.S. military, and numerous U.S. corporations do business there. Starbucks, for example, buys coffee beans grown in East Timor, and coffee is Timor’s largest export.

Bill Clinton has been even more cowardly: “If Indonesia does not end the violence, it must invite–it must invite–the international community to assist in restoring security.” Aside from the sheer idiocy of asking the Indonesian military to invite U.N. peace-keeping troops into East Timor, Clinton’s message is clear: what counts is “security” for U.S. business, not justice, not the lives of the Timorese, not respect for the democratic process. So far, the U.N. Security Council–which ought to know better–agrees. Even though the U.N. has never recognized Indonesia’s claim to East Timor, it still refuses to send in peacekeeping troops until Indonesia asks for them.

As to economic sanctions, Western nations all fear that even the tiniest economic move against Indonesia could precipitate a new Asian economic collapse, which could cause a chain reaction of economic collapse around the world–just as the 1997-98 depression brought down first Asia, then Russia, then Brazil, and eventually brought collapse to the rest of Latin America. Supposedly, Asia is undergoing an economic recovery. And, according to the economists, East Timor is too small to survive as an independent nation, anyway.

Bullshit. The very things that make East Timor attractive to Indonesia will help it survive as an independent nation. East Timor is not a poor country, even if its native people live in poverty. East Timorese agriculture provides enough corn, rice, beans, beef, and other food to feed its own population, unlike most Third World nations. Its coffee industry brings in $30 million per year in foreign currency. In addition, the territorial waters off the coast of East Timor hold one of the richest undeveloped supplies of oil and natural gas in the world. At this moment, the value of East Timor is being measured in spilt blood, while Western nations with the power to stop the killing simply turn their backs.

Of course a new government in East Timor might remember how the U.S. provided the weapons, planes, ships, and military training for Indonesia to invade East Timor in 1975 after the U.N. had recognized the tiny nation’s right to independence. A new government in East Timor might remember that Britain and France have continued to sell weapons and planes to the Indonesian military so it could violently crush uprisings by the native peoples of East Timor, Aceh province, and Irian Jaya. A new government in East Timor might remember that Australia unilaterally recognized Indonesia’s claim to East Timor and thereby gained a 50% share of any oil extracted from the waters of the Timor Gap.

But fortunately, activists and Timorese exiles around the world are willing to push for action. In Australia, 25,000 people (including union leaders, office workers, students, and politicians) stopped traffic in Melbourne. The militant Australian dock workers union, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), has organized a boycott of Indonesian ships at docks throughout Australia, Britain, and West Coast ports in the U.S. Member unions of the Australian Council of Trade Unions have stopped processing Indonesian crude oil, have stopped providing postal and telephone services and garbage pickup to the Indonesian Embassy and consulates, and have halted shipments of air freight on the Indonesian Garuda airline.

On Sept. 11, 700 protesters invaded the Sydney Airport and stormed the international terminal, halting all flights out on Garuda, especially those to the Indonesian tourist island of Bali. The same scene was repeated at airports in Melbourne and Brisbane, with protesters shouting “Free Timor now!” and “Little Johnny Howard, nothing but a coward” (in reference to Prime Minister John Howard’s refusal to send troops to East Timor without Indonesia’s prior approval). After the airport protests, bus loads of East Timorese exiles took over the 16-floor Sydney office building of Garuda Airlines, chanting “Indonesia out, U.N. in.” In Canberra protesters spray-painted “Shame Australia!! Shame!” on the parliament building, and in Brisbane students painted a bloody cross on the floor of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade office.

And in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia itself, thousands of students are battling riot police to gain access to the parliament building to protest the military’s massacre in East Timor. If they can do it in the heart of the beast, there’s nothing that should stop us from speaking out.

My sources included dozens of articles from the Sydney Morning Herald (, the BBC online, Agence France Press online, and the Reuters news wire. All of these can be accessed on the Web through, click on the “Full coverage” link under the News & Media headline, then click on the “Crisis in East Timor” link.

To reach the Seattle East Timor Action Network, call 206-633-2836 or visit their website at The national group can be contacted at 718-596-7668,, or

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