|Subject: Statement by Irish Foreign Minister to
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 1999 10:38:09 -0400
From: "East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign" <email@example.com>
East Timor Statement to Seanad Eireann by Mr David Andrews T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs 22 April 1999
The Seanad will be aware of my visit over the past week to Indonesia and East Timor. Although I have always followed developments in relation to East Timor very closely, I was still not prepared for the full horror which confronted me when I visited Dili, East Timor's Capital, last Saturday. My experiences there brought home to me the brutal fact that the suffering of the Timorese people has now been continuing for nearly 24 years since the illegal invasion of their territory by the Indonesian army in 1975. It is time for the international community to insist that this suffering must at last come to an end and that the people of East Timor ought finally be allowed to exercise their right to self-determination in a free, open and peaceful manner.
In keeping with commitments which I had made to the Oireachtas over the past year, the main purpose of my visit to Jakarta and Dili was to express my solidarity with the cause of the people of East Timor. I also travelled there for the purpose of seeking the release of the resistance leader, Mr Xanana Gusmao, whose outstanding qualities have made him both a force for moderation and a leading spokesman for the Timorese people in recent years. I would like furthermore to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign for the outstanding work that they have done in recent years to ensure that the issue of East Timor has been given the attention it deserves from the members of the Oireachtas and the Irish public in general. Particular credit is of course due to the dedicated work of the leader of the Campaign, Mr Tom Hyland.
I arrived in Jakarta last Thursday, the 15th of April. My first meeting was with Mr Ali Alatas, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, the following morning. During this meeting we covered a wide range of bilateral and international issues in a detailed, substantive and frank manner; I am happy to say that on many of these issues we shared similar views. The main focus of the meeting, however, was on the subject of East Timor. Mr Alatas explained in detail the approach which Indonesia would take at the next round of the tripartite talks with Portugal which are being resumed today under the aegis of the UN Secretary-General in New York. He expected that these talks would in fact be concluded successfully and that the method of consulting the people of East Timor on Indonesia's autonomy proposals would be on the basis of universal suffrage. Details of the precise formula are, however, still under negotiation in New York.
I sought from Mr Alatas assurances concerning the release of the Timorese resistance leader, Mr Xanana Gusmao, who is currently being held under house arrest in Jakarta. Regrettably, the Foreign Minister could only say that his release would take place in the context of an overall agreement. He conceded, however, that Mr Gusmao could in the meantime be part of the negotiating process and that either he or his appointees could take part in intercommunal discussions in Dili involving, among others, the Indonesian Human Rights Commission and the two bishops in East Timor, Bishop Belo and Bishop do Nasciento.
Later that day, I met Mr Gusmao at his place of detention in Jakarta. He spoke of the deterioration in the situation in East Timor which was clearly a matter of great distress to him since the Liquisa massacre on 6 April. He explained the background to his statement of that day - which had been interpreted by some as a renewed call to arms - and his subsequent clarifications. He reiterated his desire for a cease-fire by all parties in East Timor and expressed his deep distress at the recent murderous activities of the pro-integration militias. He strongly suspected that these militias were acting with the support and encouragement of the Indonesian armed forces in the territory.
The following day, 17 April, I travelled to Dili, the capital of East Timor. I was shocked and horrified by what I encountered there.
My first meeting was with the military commander, Colonel Tono Suratman. He was clearly fully aware of the activities being carried out throughout the territory by the pro-integration militias but it was evident that he was making no effort to curb their rampaging or to protect the ordinary citizens of the territory from their brutal behaviour. Lorry-loads of armed militia drove directly past his residence during my meeting with him; shortly afterwards, a prominent local citizen, Mr Manuel Carrascalao, came in great distress to the commander to report that his house was being attacked by the militia and that his 17-year-old son had been wounded. As transpired from later developments, it is clear that the commander took not the slightest action to calm the situation, nor did he demonstrate any willingness or sense of responsibility to act in support of the civil power - in so far as any existed - in order to maintain law and order and to protect the lives and property of citizens.
I was appalled by my meeting with the Indonesian-appointed Governor, Mr Soares. This official was appalled that he put no store by what the Indonesian Government might agree with Portugal and the United Nations. He said that he would countenance only the implementation of an autonomy plan and that there should be no consultation on it - no matter what the Indonesian Government might agree internationally. It was clear that for him "autonomy" meant acceptance of Indonesian sovereignty in East Timor - in other words, integration. He further stated that, if autonomy were rejected and the Consultative Assembly in Jakarta voted to part ways with East Timor, he would continue to fight for the integration of the territory, or at least part of the territory, with Indonesia. This might well lead to some form of partition.
My next meeting was with the Nobel laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo. The Bishop was dismayed by the army's apparent reluctance to defend civilians against murder. He believed that efforts were being made to preempt the consultation process, through a campaign of intimidation and terror, in order to force people to vote for integration. He believed that the leaders of the pro-independence groups were being targetted for murder so that their followers would be left leaderless. He believed that a free and fair consultation could not be held in the existing climate of violence. A UN presence, coupled with the disarming of the militias, was therefore an immediate necessity. The Bishop also noted that regular shipping services form Surabaya had ceased and that food and medicines were becoming scarce. He believed that this was an attempt to demonstrate to the East Timorese the likely consequences of independence.
While I was meeting with Bishop Belo, our discussions were interrupted by the sudden arrival, in a state of enormous distress, of Mr Carrascalao to announce that his son had just been killed by the militia. A few minutes later, Mr Carrascalao's daughter, also in an extremely distressed state, came in to say that her brother had been murdered and that the militia were attacking others.
While in Dili, I also met several aid workers, They supplied details of the attack by the militia on Mr Carrascalao's house where more that 150 refugees had been sheltering. We know now that a number of these refugees were killed. The fate of others who were taken away by the militia is still unclear. The aid workers had also witnessed attacks by the pro-integration militia on a local market. In each case, they saw army and police units standing by, making not the slightest attempt to protect the unarmed civilians. They had also seen army units cheering the trucks of armed militia as they drove past the army posts. The aid workers also believed that it was Governor Soares who had earlier addressed a rally of the pro-integration militias. outside the official government buildings and had encouraged them to proceed with their murderous rampages and attacks.
When I returned to Jakarta, I immediately telephoned Foreign Minister Alatas to inform him of what I had seen and heard during my visit to Dili. Mr Alatas did in fact express his regret and sought to explain the events in terms of the long-standing divisions within East Timor. He promised that the Minister of Defence and Chief of Staff, General Wiranto, would travel to East Timor this week to investigate the situation on the ground for himself.
I also spoke both to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and to my colleague, the Portuguese Foreign Minister, to inform them of what had occurred and of my deep concerns. I subsequently contacted , among others, the US Secretary of State and the Australian Foreign Minister, and I briefed EU Ambassadors in Jakarta.
I reiterated my concerns when I met Indonesian President Habibie on Monday, 19 April. The President assured me that Indonesia fully intended to go ahead with the tripartite talks in New York this week. He also said that he had asked the Red Cross and the National Commission for Human Rights, together with the two Timorese Bishops, to help calm the situation and to establish the facts. He repeated to me the options that Mr Alatas would be putting forward in the tripartite talks - after they had been approved by his government. He stressed that the people of East Timor should have the option themselves either to stay with Indonesia or to separate from Indonesia "in peace and honour".
The President added that Indonesia would be willing to accept, in addition to UN presence, the involvement of a number of other countries in observing the implementation of the consultative process. I believe that external involvement, alongside that of the UN itself, is indeed desirable, and I would hope that, if this agreed, the EU could also be collectively represented. I pressed for the presence of UN peacekeepers. However, President Habibie said that this would not be acceptable to him.
I subsequently had a meeting with the Indonesian Defence Minister, General Wiranto. The General, who had come out of a session of the Cabinet on East Timor to meet me, said that he would in fact visit East Timor the following day. He intended to meet Bishop Belo, pro-integration groups, and the Governor and he would do everything possible to calm the situation. He would also discuss with his local officers how to keep peace on the island.
It is reported that General Wiranto arranged a ceasefire agreement in Dili yesterday and that the militia will now lay down their arms. While some scepticism has been expressed about whether or not this ceasefire will be honoured, I sincerely hope that it does mark a step in the right direction. Sadly, it is also reported that five more people died on the island yesterday, it is clear that tension still remains very high.
In conclusion, I can only say that my visit to Indonesia and East Timor was at times a shocking experience. The right of the East Timorese people to exercise self-determination in a free, open and peaceful manner has been directly challenged. It is essential that further bloodshed be avoided and that some level of stability be restored to the territory. For that reason, I have now come firmly to believe that the establishment of some form of UN presence at the earliest possible date is essential. An early and positive conclusion of the tripartite talks should facilitate this. The onus will then be on Indonesia to implement in good faith whatever may be agreed between the parties in New York.
The Government her is committed to doing everything it can to promote a peaceful transition in East Timor. I will be raising the issue with my Eu colleagues at the General Affairs Council in Luxembourg next Monday. Since my visit, the EU has issued - with our support - a strong statement on the latest developments and has also made a follow-up approach in Jakarta. We are currently considering what contribution we can make nationally. If a UN presence is agreed, and if it is one to which we can contribute, this will certainly be favourably considered.
We are also seeing how we can support the work of Irish NGOs. For example, the Department has recently approved financial aid for a project - to be managed by Trocaire - which would assist the people of East Timor in the area of conflict resolution and the mediation of disputes. Some aspects of this project would draw on our own experiences in Northern Ireland and the lessons we have learned there of the clear necessity to draw all elements of the community into the peace process. We stand ready also to provide whatever humanitarian assistance we can to alleviate the suffering of the people of East Timor. In the current circumstances and given our own history and traditions, it is the least we can do.
East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign Suite 16, Dame House 24-26 Dame Street Dublin 2 Telephone 00 353 1 671 9207/ 677 0253 /623 3148 Mobile 087 286 0122 Fax 00 353 1 671 9207 Timorese Community in Ireland 00 353 1 453 1462 web http://indigo.ie/~etisc/ Offices in: Dublin Belfast Laois Galway Claremorris