Subject: JP: Conspiracy against East Timor

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Jakarta Post December 29, 2001


Conspiracy against E. Timor

Aboeprijadi Santoso, Radio Netherlands, Amsterdam

U.S. documents on President Gerald Ford's endorsement for Indonesia's military takeover of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, declassified on the 25th anniversary of the invasion, are a fresh reminder of the human cost of a great political debacle.

For the Dec. 7, 1975 invasion was an aggression that directly led to the occupation of the territory for the next quarter century, much of which could only have been sustained by a force that resulted in human rights abuses on a massive scale.

The thrust of the "Ford-Kissinger-Soeharto" conspiracy might have been widely assumed, but now the details are published for all to see.

While then-president Ford and secretary of state Henry Kissinger did not regard the issue of East Timor as a particularly important one, president Soeharto on Dec. 6, 1975 wanted them to know that Jakarta had planned action, and sought their response.

Only days earlier, on Dec. 3, he had given the green light to his generals for the attack on East Timor. As the U.S. guests signaled their "understanding," the invasion was delayed until they returned home, and began during the early morning hours of Dec. 7.

The first exchange took place amid cold war tension that accompanied the fall of Saigon at Camp David in the U.S. on July 5, 1975, with Ford and Kissinger confirming their commitment on detente with the Soviet Union.

But they were worried about the consequences of Vietnam's victory and concerned about keeping Indonesia as a strategic ally, while president Soeharto stressed the importance of U.S. economic aid for Jakarta to ensure stability in Asia.

The issue of Portuguese decolonization of East Timor was only raised as a final point. "The only way (to solve it) is to integrate into Indonesia," Soeharto said, promising "Indonesia will not use force against other countries."

But, he added, "those who want independence are communist-influenced (Fretilin) (so) the problem is how to manage the self-determination process with a majority wanting unity with Indonesia."

By November, Kissinger had approved Indonesia's strategy to handle that problem. In a confidential memo to then-president Ford, he said, "Jakarta has been maneuvering to absorb the colony through negotiations with Lisbon and covert military operation showing considerable restraint."

"Actually, it's a kind of Lawrence of Arabia campaign," the operation commander, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Dading Kalbuadi, proudly told this writer in 1995, referring to the infamous British officer who attempted to win the heart and mind of the locals to win control of Arabia.

In reality, Jakarta had stimulated the open conflict among the Timorese parties -- which Kissinger described as just "a small-scale civil war" -- by public broadcast via Radio Kupang, political infiltration, local mobilization and military campaign from Atambua in a special operation using the local Raja's, spies and combat troops.

By mid-September, however, these efforts led to all-out war with heavy fighting in Maliana and Batugade, followed by another battle and the massacre of a handful of Australian journalists in Balibo.

That was Indonesia's first aggression against other country -- contradicting Soeharto's promise at Camp David in the form of a brutal violation of Indonesia's own 1945 Constitution.

Yet Kissinger concluded that "a merger with Indonesia is probably the best solution if the inhabitants agree." Since the U.S. took the position of eschewing any involvement in East Timor, its role was passive. All Kissinger, a Hungarian, worried about was that Jakarta would use U.S.-supplied weapons.

By Dec. 6, at the second summit in Jakarta, East Timor was again a minor issue for the U.S., but Soeharto argued that by now "Indonesia found itself facing a fait d'accompli."

With Portugal unable to control the situation, Fretilin prevailed and unilaterally declared independence, ending more than 400 years of occupation. So "to establish peace and order," Soeharto urged, "we want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action."

Without inquiring about Jakarta's plan, Ford promptly responded by saying "we will understand, and will not press you on the issue."

Soeharto gave the U.S. leaders only the vaguest indication of his plans. By contrast, weeks earlier, his generals provided Canberra's diplomats with a barrage of more or less accurate information concerning Jakarta's covert operation from August to October 1975.

Australian documents released last year suggest it was a trick to make Australia appear complicit in Jakarta's aggression.

In any case, Soeharto had already met twice with then-PM Gough Whitlam, and found the Australians ready to accept Jakarta's preference for annexing East Timor into Indonesia; indeed, when the Australian journalists were murdered in Balibo, Canberra did not even raise a formal protest.

By early December, after Jakarta gained urgently needed clear consent from its most important Western allies, its army opened up a dark chapter in East Timor's history -- its most violent since the bloody purges of 1965-1966, as it turned out.

Fretilin's declaration of independence on Nov. 28, 1975 had actually taken Jakarta by surprise and triggered the invasion.

Timorese eyewitnesses, during interviews in Lisbon in 1993 and 1994, said the attacks were brutal and involved "indiscriminate killings" at Villa Verde and other parts of Dili.

Such was the nature of the war -- according to anonymous Indonesian officers in 1995 -- that the army, facing a popular guerrilla insurgency campaign, was often unable to distinguish between people who were Fretilin, and those who were not.

As the war dragged on into the early 1980s, it was neither "a small guerrilla war" as Soeharto expected, nor the one in which Jakarta could "succeed quickly," as Kissinger hoped.

Kissinger, whom the Timorese acidly dubbed "Dr. Death," has recently made reconciliation with the Timorese leaders Xanana Gusmao and Jose Ramos-Horta.

It should be noted here that then-foreign minister Adam Malik -- the only Indonesian politician who recognized East Timor's rights to independence -- did not seem actively involved in all key events. A freedom fighter in August 1945, Adam might have recognized that Jakarta's adventure in Timor contradicted much of the spirit of Indonesia's own struggle for national sovereignty against colonial aggression.

If Adam Malik deserves a tribute, Soeharto and the generals who continued the war after the invasion, should be held responsible for the human catastrophe that followed.

As people fled Dili and Baucau, the army attempted to pacify the rest of the country by force. In the end, more than 100,000 people perished in the Matebian hills from a combination of war and starvation when Indonesian troops encircled them during the late-1970s.

With the U.S. and Australian key documents brought to light, one can only wonder what took place on Dec. 3, 1975 when Soeharto met with his top officers -- Ali Moertopo, Yoga Sugama and Benny Moerdani -- and decided to invade East Timor.

Given the consequences of the invasion, the four generals could be charged with war crimes.

Despite the human catastrophe caused by the invasion, the East Timorese resisted and, ultimately, chose independence. The experience should serve as a stark lesson for those leading military operations in Aceh today.

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