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Subject: Why Aceh and not East Timor?
Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1998 17:16:53 +0000
From: "ETISC" <>

ETISC Discussion Paper 7

Why Aceh and not East Timor?

General Wiranto has apologised for military excesses in Aceh, and the Indonesian Human Rights commission has been allowed to investigate mass graves. A few troops have been withdrawn.

Meanwhile in East Timor, military security is as tight as ever, and no concessions have been made to the spirit of reform that is being forced upon the Habibie government. Certainly there is no apology for military excesses since 1975, nor investigations into the many mass graves in East Timor, such as at Lacluta and Tacitola, nor into the whereabouts of the 250 youths who are still missing from the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre.

Why are Aceh and East Timor being treated so differently?

1. Because Aceh is Moslem. Moslems account for 85% of the Indonesian population, and therefore their numbers and influence are much needed by the Habibie government, for the sake of current and future national stability. East Timor is Catholic. Catholics account for only 3% of Indonesia's population. Moreover the East Timorese are unlikely to be to wooed towards an Indonesian patriotism merely by an apology or a grave investigation.

2. Both Habibie and even Wiranto possibly have an eye on the future presidency. In these slightly more liberal days, when votes of people might actually matter in the 1999 elections, it is good to be seen as a good bloke.

3. Indonesia is financially bankrupt. It can save money by withdrawing its 12,000 troops from Aceh and it is probably regarded as a reasonable risk that Aceh will stay stable. Anyway most of the troops will only be withdrawn to Medan, in the neighbouring province of North Sumatra, from where they can easily be re-deployed. However a similar withdrawal from East Timor would be too much of a political risk. It would also be more of a military risk, for any genuine troop withdrawal would entail taking troops by ship to Bali or Java.

4. Indonesia intends to grant some autonomy to East Timor, but is totally opposed to a referendum or independence. Habibie and Wiranto know that any relaxing of their grip on East Timor will immediately open the way to uncontrollable demands for independence.

East Timorese should take note of this inequality, and in return demand equal treatment, and indeed MORE - because East Timor was never part of the Dutch East Indies.

East Timor International Support Center

Other ETISC Discussion papers in this series

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