Column on East Timor by Campaigner Colin Iles
For the merest moment in time the East Timorese glimpsed the possibility of an end to 24 years of the brutal and illegal occupation that had cost a third of their population.
This was not the first time a holocaust had befallen these gentle, warm-hearted people.
In the Second World War 40,000 were slaughtered as the Japanese took revenge for the support East Timor had given to Australian troops fighting a rearguard action across the island.
When Indonesia invaded in 1975 the world turned not only a blind eye, but major nations from the most powerful, the United States of America, to small ones like ours condoned the Indonesian operation. For all their bravery as allies the East Timorese were abandoned again to their fate. The Indonesian Foreign minister, Adam Malik, admitted that in the first two months 60,000 East Timorese had been killed. Over the following three years this figure grew to over 200,000, a third of the population. For 24 years the brutal and illegal (never recognised by the United Nations) occupation continued, with every now and then a bloody massacre to keep the people at heel.
Then, a few months ago the most cynical and perverted of all scenarios began to be played out. The opportunity was offered by Indonesian President Habibie to the East Timorese to opt for independence if they should so choose through a United Nations conducted Popular Consultation. Indonesia declared it would honour the result however it turned out.
Filled with joy and hope people began their plans for freedom, certain that the assurances of the international community through the UN to stand by them to the final realisation of their choice, ensured at last their years of suffering were coming to an end. But behind the scenes they were being set up for the final solution, aided and abetted, albeit unwittingly, by the UN itself.
The scenario planned by the Indonesian military and high up members of the Indonesian government were very different, for they had no intention of relinquishing this valued real estate, for it was the land they wanted, the people had always been at best a nuisance.
As the supporters of independence came out for the first time openly, a hit list was being compiled, whilst behind the scenes, a bunch of psychopaths were being recruited, trained, paid and armed, to eventually be let loose up on the population.
A campaign of terror gathered way in the months preceding the ballot, more militias being trained, swelling their ranks to many thousands.. People began to be murdered and homes and even villages were razed, whilst some 80,000 terrorised villagers were moved to militia controlled concentration camps.
Still the UN went ahead and, showing incredible courage, not only did nearly every person able to do so register, but on August 30th they voted, almost to a person. The result, an astonishing 4/5ths wanted out from Indonesian oppression – a result not unexpected by most observers, but stunning to the Indonesians. Messages of congratulations poured in from around the world welcoming the birth of this new nation.
Undaunted, the final solution was immediately put into operation. Within hours the militias and the military began in earnest their total destruction of this stillborn child. With a level of brutality incomprehensible to civilised nations the carnage commenced. With threats to the journalists, and all foreigners in the land, there began a rapid exodus of those who had poured in to witness the birth. Now even the UN themselves being put to flight as the militias, unfettered, attacked their quarters. The Red Cross compound was ransacked and the refugees sheltering there shipped away in lorries. The buildings of the Nobel Peace Laureate, Bishop Belo were burnt to the ground and many of his flocked shot and hacked to death, the Bishop himself being flown out to Baucau and from there to exile in Australia
Rapidly the UN retreated, leaving but a few of its members imprisoned and impotent in its remaining compound in Dili. The hundreds of observers and foreign journalists fleeing the land, shattered by the knowledge of their East Timorese friends being slaughtered around them as the capital and other towns were being systematically raised to the ground.
Now the military too have joined the killing and burning frenzy. To date many hundreds are known to have been killed just around Dili. What is happening in other areas can only be guessed. Tens of thousands are being shipped out of East Timor to almost certain deaths elsewhere. Unfolding is a holocaust worse than anything which has preceded it.
As their nation is being wiped off the face of the earth by an evil which beggars the imagination we surely have to ask, what in God’s name went wrong for the hapless East Timorese? They were promised so much by the international community of nations, only to be totally abandoned to a horrific fate.
What we are seeing now is the total destruction of a nation. Despite all the posturing, no one will go to go to their aid, and Indonesia knows this. In East Timor at the moment they have close on 30,000 seasoned, heavily armed troops, with reportedly another 40,000 more poised on the border.
The population that survives the killings is being shipped and scattered to the far corners of Indonesia, laying bare the land, whilst already the plans are afoot for the biggest ‘tranmigrassi’ in Indonesia’s history. In all likely hood the land is to be re-colonised by pro-Indonesian West Timorese, and others from further afield. Never again will there be East Timorese yearning for freedom, for very soon they will all be gone, dead or transported away to exile.
Meanwhile the very international community that promised the East Timorese so much will wring its hands, talk about intervention, knowing full well that no one would dare to take on the Indonesians in a full blown war, and next year, the beginning of a bright new millennium, the dust beginning to settle on their till now fait accompli, the World’s financial donors will flock back to a now stable Indonesia, where Acehnese and West Papuans, having smelled the scorched earth and rotting corpses of an East Timor now obliterated, have learnt how best to keep their own heads.
And it will be business as usual for the financial world, for, as New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Don McKinnon, long time apologist for Indonesian murderers insists, APEC is about economics, not politics – as if the two are not inseparable!
Abandoned. It looks like third time unlucky for a plucky people in a cowardly world.
Wellington, Sept 99.