Subject: The Australian: RAN Ships Blockaded Chinese Arms To Timor

The Australian

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

RAN Ships Blockaded Chinese Arms To Timor

Mark Dodd

AUSTRALIAN warships joined a 1970s Indonesian naval blockade of East Timor that turned away a Beijing weapons shipment for pro-independence Falintil guerillas, according to the son of Jose Ramos Horta.

The stunning claim is contained in an 18-page analysis of Chinese-Timorese relations written by Loro Horta, a graduate of Sydney University and the prestigious People's Liberation Army National Defence University in Beijing.

Mr Horta also says in the analysis that Canberra's tardy response to repeated requests by Dili for a patrol boat after the 1999 independence ballot led to China's offer of military assistance and the start of ``substantial diplomatic gains'' by Beijing.

Defence yesterday denied it opposed East Timor acquiring armed patrol boats and said it was giving language training to 30 East Timorese defence force personnel expected to serve on the new Chinese patrol craft.

Mr Horta's analysis about China's involvement in East Timor was published last month in the respected French Foreign Ministry-backed Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia.

Navy records show three Australian warships were pre-positioned off Darwin in August 1975 but were deployed for humanitarian reasons and were not part of a blockade. Australian warship movements in the Timor Sea after 1975 were not available.

No date is given for when the Chinese arms shipment was turned away, except a claim it occurred between 1975 and 1978.

The years are significant because, at the time, Beijing was also providing extensive military support to Pol Pot's Cambodia, a pro-Maoist regime with close links to Fretilin (the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor).

Sino-Timorese relations were never closer than following the 1975 Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese-administered half-island territory, Mr Horta writes.

A request by Timor's short-lived pro-independence leadership for urgent military support to counter the Indonesian threat resulted in an arms shipment from China's revolutionary leader Mao Tse Tung, he says.

``Beijing assembled equipment sufficient to arm a light infantry division of 8000 men, including medium anti-aircraft machine guns, light artillery, mortars and infantry anti-tank weapons,'' Mr Horta writes.

``However, the Indonesian naval blockade with assistance from the Australian navy prevented the delivery of the equipment to the Timorese.''

Mr Horta cites three senior Timorese officials, two with the rank of minister to back up the claims.

The arms eventually ended up in another former Portuguese colony, Mozambique, where they were used by the country's Marxist government in its counter-insurgency war against South African-backed Renamo rebels, he says.

Mr Horta says China's support was primarily motivated by Mao's policy of wanting to foment revolution in the third world -- the very fear of which was cited by Jakarta to justify its bloody 1975 invasion.

Following the historic 1999 UN-backed referendum, China once again renewed its support for the newly independent country.


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