Subject: IPS: East Timor Invasion Leaves Haunting Legacy


East Timor Invasion Leaves Haunting Legacy

Sonny Inbaraj

DILI, Dec 10 (IPS) - Cecelia Soares' eyes glaze over, each time she remembers the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Thirty years ago, on Dec. 7, 1975, she had just been married for a year and three months earlier had given birth to a baby girl.

''I used to live near the Dili port and on that day I saw planes dropping Indonesian paratroopers. And that was the day my life was shattered forever,'' she recalled with tears in her eyes, as International Human Rights Day is commemorated on Dec. 10.

''The next thing I knew there were battleships firing shells. It was frightening. I ran home, grabbed my baby, and then just ran to the hills. I tried looking for my husband, but he was nowhere to be seen,'' Soares told IPS.

Some 210,000 East Timorese, mostly civilians, women and children, lost their lives in the bombardments and 'cleaning' manoeuvres of the Indonesian army during the months following the Dec. 7, 1975 'D-Day'.

For four years, Soares and her baby girl lived with the Falintil resistance in the hills, till they were captured by Indonesian troops and sent to prison on Atauro Island, 22 kilometers north of Dili.

''It was hell there. There wasn't enough food; we were tortured; and my girl who was, now, about four died of hunger,'' she said between sobs.

Soares, who now washes clothes for foreign aid workers staying in a local hotel, said she once tried to kill herself, after sensing that there was no hope in ever finding her husband again.

''But a priest saved me,'' she recalled. ''He told me to have faith in God and said East Timor will be free someday. He also said all our suffering will end.''

The brutal occupation by Indonesia lasted for 24 years, and Jakarta only had a change of heart over East Timor after Gen. Suharto stepped down as president in May 1998. In late August 1999, the East Timorese in a United Nations-sponsored referendum opted for independence. But when the ballot results were announced in September 1999, Indonesian military-sponsored militias went on an orgy of terror and razed Dili to the ground.

East Timor gained independence in May 2002 after a two-year interim administration lead by the United Nations. But three years after independence, the country is one of the poorest nations in the world and still depends heavily on international donor assistance.

The irony is that, since gaining independence, East Timor has bent over backwards to maintain good relations with Indonesia, even to the extent of Falintil resistance hero and now President Xanana Gusmao photographed, in Jakarta, publicly hugging the notorious Gen. Wiranto -- the former Indonesian army chief who has been implicated in the 1999 orgy of terror.

And now as though to rub salt into the wounds of the people, the government of East Timor has shelved the 2,500-page report of the independent Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR), which is calling for reparations for victims of torture, rape and violence perpetrated by Indonesia from its invasion in 1975 to its bloody withdrawal in 1999. The CAVR report is also calling on countries that supported Indonesia's 1975 invasion to compensate the victims.

''What truly concerns me are the recommendations pertaining to reparations to the victims,'' President Gusmao told parliament on Oct. 31. ''This recommendation does not take into account the situation of political anarchy and social chaos that could easily erupt if we decided to bring to court every crime committed since 1975,'' he added.

But Soares, the clothes-washer, does not accept her president's arguments.

''My whole life was ruined by the 1975 invasion and I want the world to acknowledge that. The outside world stood by while my people were being slaughtered by the Indonesians,'' she said, while again trying to hold back the tears.

But the public release of the CAVR report could open an old can of worms, especially on the role of the United States in the 1975 invasion.

''The U.S. was the most important supporter of Indonesia's illegal attack and occupation,'' said John Miller, National Coordinator of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN). ''If President (Gerald) Ford and Secretary of State (Henry) Kissinger had not given the go-ahead for Indonesia's 1975 invasion, tremendous suffering would have been avoided,'' he added.

The U.S. had a bad year in 1975. The world's greatest economic and military power suffered its first ever defeat by a Third World peasant army in Vietnam. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were 'lost' to the communists.

It was in the midst of these international changes, which seemed to prove Lyndon Johnson's 'domino theory', that Ford and Kissinger visited Jakarta and conferred with Suharto on the Timor problem. The Indonesian propaganda machine fabricated stories of Chinese and Vietnamese generals arriving in East Timor to train rebel forces.

But the fledgling East Timor government that depends on international support for the country's survival could ill-afford to incur Washington's wrath - bearing in mind that the United States is still the world's newest country's largest donor.

ETAN's John Miller, however, disagrees.

''Since Timor's independence referendum in September 1999, Washington has provided monetary and other assistance to East Timor's reconstruction and development, but such aid does not even begin to compensate the East Timorese people for the suffering caused by 24 years of U.S. support for the Indonesian military occupation,'' said the rights activist. ''Along with the CAVR, we agree that the U.S. owes East Timor reparations.''

CAVR, itself, has tried to remain impartial in calls to release its report.

''I just would like to say that the report was from everybody involved in the CAVR process. So the most important thing is that the report returns to all East Timorese. But CAVR itself is not insisting it,'' the commission's president Aniceto Guterres told a press conference. (END/2005)

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