Post-Intelligencer: What America Owes ET
May 20, 2002, Monday , FINAL
A REMINDER OF WHAT AMERICA OWES EAST TIMOR
LARRY JOHNSON P-I foreign desk editor
Brooke Nelson and Frank Zucker, two local volunteers with East Timor Action Network-Seattle, dropped by last week to talk about the trip they were about to make to the independence celebrations in East Timor. It was a reminder of why U.S. citizens should be concerned about this newest Asian nation.
ETAN, which has offices around the world, has been working since 1991 to support self-determination and human rights for the people of this small country, Asia's poorest after centuries of colonial misrule by Portugal and 25 years of corrupt and repressive Indonesian occupation.
Now that East Timor has changed - it formally celebrates its independence today - the focus of groups such as ETAN will need to change also. "I think it's very important to show support and to celebrate, of course," said Nelson, who works for Seattle's CityClub. "But my main goal while I'm there is to find out what it is that the people want us to do next."
Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975, causing the deaths of some 200,000 East Timorese. It annexed East Timor the following year in a move not recognized by the United Nations. From then until a U.N.-sponsored vote on independence in 1999, an East Timor guerrilla army battled the Indonesian military for independence.
Several governments supported Indonesia during its invasion and occupation of East Timor. The United States supplied more than 90 percent of Indonesia's weapons during the invasion, and the United States and other nations continued to supply military equipment and training right up to the outbreak of pro-Indonesia militia violence following the East Timor referendum on independence.
Other reasons cited for the United States needing to support the new nation of East Timor and make amends for past wrongs:
President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's "green light" for the 1975 invasion of East Timor.
The resupply and increase in arms to Indonesia under President Carter.
U.S. training of Kopassus, the Indonesian special forces blamed for the worst atrocities in East Timor.
The circumvention of a congressional ban on such training through a special program created by the U.S. military.
"The situation now is that East Timor is a pretty small country surrounded by some pretty large neighbors, and the relationship with their neighbors is one of the important concerns of the international community," said Zucker. "The military still has a lot of power in Indonesia."
Zucker said it was a good move when the United States stopped all ties with the Indonesian military a couple of weeks after the independence vote in 1999, "when it became clear that Indonesia was going to trash the place."
"Since then we haven't had any ties to the Indonesian military, but (President) Bush is restarting them," Zucker said. "This is not good news for East Timor, because, for one thing, it's going to mean less pressure to prosecute those responsible for the deaths and human rights abuses in East Timor, and, also, it may not be great for future relations" between and East Timor.
Zucker said a major problem facing East Timor is an economy that is below that of Haiti.
More than 70 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed by pro-Indonesian militias and Indonesian military forces before they were forced out of the country by international pressure in 1999.
Things have started to improve under U.N. administration, but, as an example of how bad things still are even in the capital, Dili, a cruise ship was brought in to house foreign dignitaries during the celebrations because there isn't enough decent housing available.
Outside Dili, electricity and water supplies are sporadic at best. In the cities and towns, unemployment runs at about 80 percent. Only about half the people can read.
Zucker said, however, that there are good signs on the horizon.
East Timor officials recently reached a deal with Australia on offshore oil and gas. Under the deal, East Timor will receive 90 percent of the royalties from wells in undersea fields collectively known as the Timor Gap. The remaining 10 percent will go to Australia.
East Timor is expected to get about $180 million a year - roughly three times its current budget under the U.N. administration, which has been shepherding in the new nation. The royalties will end, however, in 20 years.
But by then, Zucker said, East Timor could have a thriving economy based on coffee and tourism.
Former President Clinton is leading the official U.S. delegation to the independence celebrations, which didn't go unnoticed by John Miller, the spokesperson for ETAN's national office.
"When former President Clinton, joined by his last ambassador to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, congratulates the East Timorese people on their hard-won victory, we must remember that, as the most important supporter of Indonesia's illegal occupation, the U.S. owes the new country an enormous moral debt," Miller said last week. "We urge the Clinton delegation to acknowledge it."On the Net:ETAN: www.etan.orgTo contact ETAN-Seattle, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgPacific Currents is a weekly look at issues and personalities along the Pacific Rim.P-I foreign desk editor Larry Johnson can be reached at 206-448-8035 or email@example.com
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