East Timor is the eastern half of Timor Island, which lies about 300 miles northwest of Darwin, Australia. East Timor was a Portuguese colony from the early 17th century until 1974, when the Portuguese began a process of decolonisation. However, the neighbouring country of Indonesia, under the military dictatorship of General Suharto, had other plans, and invaded East Timor on December 7th 1975 — just ten days after the Timorese people had proclaimed their Independence.
Five months prior to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, the British Embassy in Jakarta sent a communique to the government in London informing them of the impending invasion and stating that It is in Britain’s best interests that East Timor is absorbed into Indonesia as quickly and unobtrusively as possible.
Even before December 7th 1975, Indonesian operations had begun to claim casualties, as troops made raids over the border from West Timor. During one of these sorties, Indonesian troops murdered five journalists working for the Australian media. Two of these journalists were British, and the sister of one is now campaigning along with solidarity groups for a new enquiry into their deaths.
The United Nations has never recognised Indonesia’s oocupation of East Timor as valid. Portugal remains the administering power, and the decolonisation process has yet to be completed. Many UN resolutions have condemned the occupation — but, unlike Kuwait, there followed no concrete action.
In his memoirs Daniel Moynihan, the then United States Ambassador to the United Nations, says his job was ensuring that the UN could not function, and he describes it with great pride. Referring to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, he says that The United States wanted things to turn out as they did, and that he had the assignment of making sure that the United Nations could not act in any constructive way to terminate or reverse the Indonesian aggression. He carried out that task with remarkable success.
Moynihan goes on to say in the next sentence that he is aware of the nature of that success. He notes that Two months later, reports surfaced that the Indonesian invasion had killed off about ten percent of the population in East Timor over a period of just two months…. a proportion of the population which he then describes as being about the same as the proportion of people in Eastern Europe killed by Hitler.
So he, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, is taking pride in having stopped the United Nations from interfering with an aggression that he himself equates with Hitler’s invasion of Eastern Europe!
The initial period of the invasion was one of indiscriminate massacre. Indonesia admitted that 60,000 Timorese were killed between December 1975 and November 1976.
Between 1977 and 1979, Indonesia waged a fierce campaign to gain military control of the country, using high-tech counter-insurgency aircraft and armoured vehicles from the US and Britain, as well as napalm and defoliant herbicides similar to ‘agent orange’. Agriculture was completely disrupted and a severe famine ensued, accompanied by epidemics of disease.
It is a conservative estimate that since the beginning of the Indonesian occupation at least 200,000 to 250,000 Timorese — a third of the pre-invasion population — have died. We believe the true figure may lie within the range of 300,000 to 350,000…. half the population.
Despite all efforts of the Indonesian army, the small but determined Timor army, known as FALINTIL, continues to survive and carry out low-level operations. Xanana Gusmeo, the leader of FALINTIL for many years, was also responsible for the formation of the CNRM, the National Council of Mauboro Resistance, an umbrella organisation encompassing all political parties and the clandestine resistance, as well as the diplomatic resistance of overseas Timorese.
In 1989 a new group of Timorese emerged into public view : the unarmed urban resistance, made up mostly of students. Their first public action was a demonstration during the Pope’s visit to East Timor. Since then they have staged a series of incredibly brave but risky small demonstrations (mostly in the capital, Dili) and have channelled information about human rights violations to solidarity groups and other non-governmental organisations outside the country.
In October 1991 a planned visit of Portuguese parliamentarians to East Timor was called off by Indonesia, and a brutal crackdown began, with raids on churches around the country and many arrests. The student resistance, some of whom had seen the Portuguese visit as their last chance to let the world know of their plight, went ahead on November 12th with the most remarkable public demonstration East Timor has seen. It was a peaceful march of thousands of people, many of them teenagers and children, demanding self-determination and respect for their human rights. This march, preceded by a mass, was at the same time a protest and a religious commemoration of a young Timorese who had been killed by Indonesian troops two weeks before. The Indonesian army, in what was clearly a carefully-planned operation, surrounded the demonstration and opened fire when it reached the Santa Cruz cemetery.
The demonstrators ran into the cemetery when shooting began. The soldiers followed — first shooting, then stabbing and beating the wounded who lay on the ground.
Timorese sources have compiled a list of 270 people killed that morning, not including many who are still “disappeared”. In the succeeding days, wounded people were murdered in the military hospital and eye-witnesses were rounded up and executed. The total death toll of November 1991 may never be known….
We do, however, know that the Indonesian soldiers in the military hospital murdered their victims in the most inhuman and barbaric ways. The first method was to inject their victims with acid, but this produced too much noise from their screams…..
The second method was to force their victims to swallow formaldehyde capsules which made them suffocate — this proved to be too slow.
So they adopted the third method, which involved holding the victim on the ground and repeatedly dropping a large rock on his or her head…..
The genocide in East Timor (and in West Papua) is going on right now, today, as you are reading this; and it is continuing precisely because the USA and Britain support it. That is what blocks any possible ending of the genocide. It is happening there and now; through their governments the British and American people are responsible for it, yet there seems to be virtually no lasting awareness amongst the public…..
Some of the survivors of Santa Cruz were given lengthy prison sentences, some up to 25 years or even life imprisonment. A few of the soldiers who fired on the crowd were, after an outburst of international outrage, given sentences of a few months.
A few courageous journalists from outside East Timor witnessed, filmed and photographed the massacre at Santa Cruz. Their report alerted the world at last to what was happening inside East Timor. But as international pressure has increased, internal repression has become even worse. Arbitrary arrest, torture, rape and murder are all commonplace events.
In November 1992, the national leader Xanana Gusmeo was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Indonesian court. He was not allowed to choose his own lawyer or to read a statement to the court. He is now held in Cipinang prison in Jakarta (though his sentence has been reduced to a mere twenty years, in a rare public relations gesture by the Indonesian Dictatorship).
This last year has seen an escalation in terror tactics of the Indonesian military. Black-masked gangs known as “Ninjas” have burned down houses, raped young Timorese girls and kidnapped civilians, and a campaign of “mysterious killlngs” is gaining momentum throughout the country.
There is tension between Indonesians, encouraged by their government to settle in East Timor, and the Timorese people. Clashes between migrants and natives have resulted in the death of some Timorese, and in riots in several towns.
Even though all this has been happening, the British and United States Governments have considerably increased their level of military and financial aid to Indonesia, and continue to be supportive of the Dictator Suharto.
In May 1995 the British foreign office minister Baroness Chalker signed an £80 million loan to Indonesia, saying the country’s human rights record had improved. The 25-year loan, with annual interest of just 3.5%, is the fifth such loan from Britain since 1986.
Britain has supplied Indonesia with British Aerospace Hawk jet fighters, and are helping Indonesia to develop its own aeronautical industry so they can produce their own war-planes.
Britain is also supplying 90 Alvis Scorpion light tanks and 50 Stormer armoured personnel carriers. The deal includes a number of support vehicles, and spare parts. Deliveries started in November 1995.
Alvis vehicles also have a £10 million contract to supply upgrade kits for Saladin, Saracen and Ferret armoured vehicles; these vehicles have been pictured in use against demonstrators on the strets of both Jakarta and Dili.
There are many more significant arms deals, far too many to list here….
And so, against such great odds, the Timorese resistance continues. Students regularly stage small acts of protest, holding up banners and calling out slogans when foreign visitors come to East Timor, though they know that this will mean arrest, torture and long terms in prison, if not death.
FALINTIL continues to operate in the mountains under increasingly difficult conditions and under attack from military equipment provided by Britain and the United States — often bought with your tax pounds and dollars.
The Timorese people will not give up until they are finally given their right to self-determination, a right enshrined in international law — or until they are finally rendered extinct in East Timor.
This may be the outcome if we do not receive the help we desperately need. At the end of 1996 photographs were smuggled out of East Timor, showing young Timorese men bound hand and foot lying in a hole and being buried alive by the Indonesian army.
You do have the chance to make a difference. You have the power to make sure they no longer struggle alone….
FALINTIL is the last resort for freedom in East Timor. Will you help us to stop the rape and killing, or will you just let the people die? Please help FALINTIL to supply the people of East Timor with the resources they desperately need to resist the Indonesian military juggernaut.
For twenty years the politicians have talked, for twenty years the people of East Timor and West Papua have died. It is now time to fight back; please help us by sending a donation to :
27 Cripps Avenue
Published in support of The Democratic Republic of East Timor