Subject: JRH: Time to break E.Timor chains
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 1998 21:19:39 PDT
From: "sonny inbaraj" <ozasian@hotmail.com>

Time to break East Timor chains
By Jose Ramos-Horta

With Indonesia in tumult, Australia has a chance to change its policy on Indonesia's annexation of East Timor and work for its independence -- without fear of retribution -- writes Nobel peace co-laureate Jose Ramos-Horta. This comment first appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sept 10, 1998.


RECENT revelations about the cover-up of the murder of five newsmen (two Australians, two Britons and one New Zealander) are only the tip of the iceberg of Australia's sordid record on Indonesia and East Timor. Writing in the Herald, Hamish McDonald threw additional light onto something that was known for years but has always been dismissed.

The Balibo Five were captured alive -- not caught in crossfire -- and subsequently murdered on Oct 16, 1975, as was my friend Roger East less than two months later. Exposure of the ugly truth will not bring them back but I hope it will shake Australia out of a long record of moral weakness and lack of political courage.

While I understand the dilemmas and constraints on policy-makers (similar dilemmas and constraints will one day trouble the leaders of an independent East Timor) as actors on the international stage, there has to be a limit to the immoral Kissinger-like pragmatism that loses sight of a nation's own dignity and moral responsibility.

A principled foreign policy may have its costs in the loss of some trade advantages, but who said that standing up for Australia's high moral standards does not carry costs? In the long run, entangling Australia's interests with a despotic regime carries even greater costs, to its self-esteem and economic interests when the tide changes.

In the end, the personal ties of friendship between successive Australian prime ministers and the Indonesian dictator did not prevent Suharto's demise nor Indonesia's economic meltdown -- taking much of the Australian money poured into Indonesia with it.

For much of the past 23 years, Australian officials (and American, British and Japanese, to mention some of the most notorious) engaged in a cover-up of the East Timor tragedy with omissions, half-truths and outright lies, to protect their links with one of Asia's most despotic and corrupt rulers. Reports by credible institutions such as Amnesty International, or even by survivors of East Timor massacres, were dismissed with ready-made answers, as "unfounded" or "unsubstantiated allegations."

At this stage what can Australia do to correct 23 years of failures?

First let me say that while the East Timorese should rightly feel angry at Australia's shabby record, let us put aside the betrayal for the sake of a future of peace and prosperity.

Whatever the final outcome of the ongoing diplomatic negotiations -- an independent East Timor or one that remains associated with Indonesia -- the East Timorese would have to develop a strategic partnership with Australia and New Zealand, the two countries that can help us survive and prosper in the face of competing interests from our other countries.

There are some important steps Australia can take privately and/or publicly. Privately it should inform Jakarta that its de jure recognition of the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia is going to be changed gradually. After all, it was a conservative government that in 1976 invalidated Australia's recognition of the Baltic states as part of the then USSR. The Howard government can undo Australia's recognition of Indonesia's illegal annexation of East Timor as Malcolm Fraser did in regard to the Baltic states.

However, this change of policy does not have to be announced with great fanfare. It can and should be conveyed to Indonesian leaders in private and without any ambiguity. Canberra should be able to tell Jakarta: "We stood by you on the East Timor mess but we are paying too high a price for your policies. We hope you understand that we cannot continue on the same path."

Indonesia's apologists, such as former ambassador Richard Woolcott, have had their day in advising and influencing successive Australian governments on this diplomatic fiasco.

The East Timorese resistance leadership assures Australia and the mining companies operating in the Timor Gap region that they should not fear an independent East Timor, because it will be, in fact, a more reliable partner than a giant, unstable Indonesia. We are prepared to live with the Timor Gap Treaty while the two sides renegotiate the treaty's terms to adjust to the new political situation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should establish an inter-departmental task force covering political, diplomatic, security, economic, trade, development and humanitarian issues to create a detailed road map, assisting in resolving the conflict and in the subsequent reconstruction and nation-building. Non-governmental organisations with experience in East Timor should be invited.

Now is the time for Canberra to press hard for a consular office in Dili. This is needed to closely monitor developments on the ground and to better supervise and co-ordinate Australia's assistance to East Timor, which I hope will be sizeable in the next few months.

THE argument that an independent East Timor would cause the unravelling of the Indonesian empire is a bogus one. The domino effect should have worked with the independence of PNG and it didn't: West Papua did not break loose and join PNG. Brunei's independence did not cause Malaysia's disintegration. Jakarta's problems in West Papua and Aceh are of its own making and the East Timorese should not be asked to pay for Indonesia's other colonial problems.

But what if Indonesia does break up? So what? It would not be the start of World War III. After all, the far more powerful and dangerous USSR disintegrated but it sent no tremors around the world. In fact, the two pillars of Western political, security and economic co-operation, NATO and the EU, were enhanced with the break-up of the USSR. A fragmented, hence, weaker Indonesia, would be in Australian, New Zealand and US interests. Malaysia and Singapore would also not be displeased by a weaker Indonesia.

President B.J. Habibie's offer of a "special status with a wide-range autonomy" is a good start but will never work on the ground, against the wishes of the people, if it remains conditional on Jakarta's demand that the world community accepts the illegal and savage annexations of East Timor. Jakarta cannot expect the people of East Timor to simply forget 23 years of murders, mass killings, rape, torture, looting, land confiscation and corruption.

Refusing to release Xanana Gusmao is certainly not a sign of good faith. And Indonesia needs to work hard to prove its good faith to a people that it has brutalised relentlessly for more than two decades.

The much-publicised troop withdrawal in August was a charade confirming our profound suspicion and distrust of the Indonesian leaders, who seem incapable of honesty and humility. Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, explained why Jakarta refuses to release Xanana: "It is for criminal acts that he has been brought before the courts and convicted."

The Indonesians seem to have learned well the lessons of their Dutch colonisers and Japanese conquerors of World War II. From the Dutch, they learned how to turn a nationalist leader into a common criminal. Sukarno, Indonesia's founding father, had a similar fate under the Dutch to Xanana's position in an Indonesian jail.

>From the brutal Japanese Army they learned how to brutally repress a rebellion, loot and rape.

In early July, South African President Nelson Mandela urged Habibie to release Xanana. In response, Habibie said Xanana was a "common criminal" not a political prisoner. Mandela persisted and said, "This is what the apartheid regime said about me."

Our detractors may repeat ad nauseam that we are an aberration of colonialism, a non-viable entity that will not be able to stand on its own, that we would fight each other if the Indonesians Army leaves the island, etc.

All and every intellectual argument to the contrary will not change the fundamental reality on the ground. The people of East Timor will not accept Indonesia's rule and are prepared to go to even greater lengths to convey to Jakarta and the world their determination to be free.

The demonstrations by thousands of East Timorese in June and July are only a small example of this determination. So far they have shown remarkable discipline in listening to Xanana's and my own appeals for calm and non-violence. Any attempt by Jakarta to continue its colonial rule under the disguise of "special status" will be challenged by all of us on the ground in East Timor and internationally.

So far the people are listening to our appeal for moderation. How much longer are they going to remain patient?

In Xanana, Bishop Carlos Belo and Bishop Nascimento, the East Timorese have three outstanding leaders of the same stature as a Mandela or an Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

There are many others: Mario Carrascalao, former governor and ambassador; the Rev Arlindo Marcal, head of the Protestant Chruch; Dr Armindo Maia, former vice-rector of the University of East Timor, all of whom command strong loyalty among East Timorese of all ages and walks of life.

Between them they can ensure that there will be no retribution, no lynch mobs, in post-independence East Timor.

Through their courage and self-sacrifice, the East Timorese have earned the right to be free. Australia should now stand by their side.


Jose Ramos-Horta is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and Vice-President of the National Council of the Timorese Resistance. This comment first appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sept 10, 1998.

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