Accomplices to Terror
The latest betrayal of East Timor should come
as no surprise
by Carmel Budiarjo
As East Timor descended into chaos in September, with militia
thugs and Indonesian troops burning buildings, killing thousands,
and forcing at least 200,000 people to flee into the countryside,
an obvious question arose. How could Western powers have entrusted
security during the August 30 referendum on independence to the
police and, for good measure, leave 15,000 government troops in
After all, it was abundantly clear to anyone with even a basic
knowledge of Indonesia's army that leaving it in charge would
put the inhabitants in grave peril. This is the same military
force that spent the past quarter-century terrorizing, killing,
and torturing the East Timorese. It certainly showed no inclination
to let them opt for independence. Well before Indonesia and Portugal
signed the accords in May this year -under UN auspices-to hold
a referendum, the newly created militias were already running
riot through the territory with the army's connivance.
Why, then, did Western nations and countries friendly to Indonesia,
such as Australia, commit such a blunder? It s simple, actually.
Since Indonesia came under military rule with Suharto's seizure
of power in 1965, the country has offered investors unlimited
facilities to exploit its natural resources, tap a huge market
in the world's fourth most populous country, and sell weapons
to the armed forces. It mattered little that up to a million people
were slaughtered in the six months following Suhartos rise to
power, or that murder and massive human rights violations were
the hallmark of the regime throughout the 32 years he remained.
The same nations shut their eyes to the reign of terror from
l989 to l998 in Indonesia's northern-most province, Aceh, which
is abundant in oil and natural gas. Thousands were tortured and
killed-their bodies dumped in mass graves, women raped, and thousands
of children orphaned. Nor did the West seem troubled by the goings-on
in West Papua, at the eastern edge of the country. Tribal people
there have been robbed of their ancestral lands in order to make
way for US mining companies eager to exploit its copper, gold,
and silver. Together, these two provinces account for as much
as 70 percent of Indonesia's foreign exchange earnings.
Despite heavy repression in both places, the spirit of resistance
has remained strong, and, like the people of East Timor, the inhabitants
also have demanded the chance to secede by means of referenda.
Armed liberation movements have taken root, seriously threatening
In Western capitals, however, the Suharto regime was considered
a safe and legitimate destination for military aircraft, water
cannon, and sophisticated assault weapon systems. Even when his
government was on the verge of collapse in early l998, with huge
student demonstrations swirling around Jakarta, both the US and
Britain were reluctant to call for his removal. When the British
Foreign Office published its annual report on human rights in
April l998, only weeks before Suharto was forced from power, Indonesia
was still being lauded as a country with which Britain could engage
in constructive partnership on human rights. A photo of Foreign
Secretary Robin Cook, published in the report, showed him in a
warm handshake with the dictator.
Suharto's removal has done little to rein in the armed forces.
They continue to insist on exercising a "dual function,"
which includes 3S designated seats in Parliament. This gives them
a critical say in who becomes the country's president. It's also
been up to the army to keep East Timor and Aceh under control.
Yet, this hasn't stopped the US and Britain from trying to cozy
up to the post-Suharto regime, their eyes firmly focused on yet
more lucrative deals.
Thus, when the authorities insisted that they would agree
to a referendum in East Timor only if security was fully under
Indonesian control, the West-and, at their behest, the UN-agreed.
In early September, the results were announced: Almost S0 percent
of voters want independence. What followed was another shameless
betrayal. As the militia and army ran riot with impunity, the
West procrastinated. And the people of East Timor again paid the
Carmel Budiardjo directs the Tapol and Indonesia Human Rights
Campaign. A former activist in Indonesia, she was imprisoned by
the Suharto regime from 1968-71.