Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: NZ Herald: A Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor

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NZ Herald

Joseph Nevins: A Not-So-Distant Horror: Mass Violence in East Timor

13.01.06 Reviewed by Maire Leadbeater

Will the world forget the paroxysm of murderous violence that erupted when the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence on August 30, 1999? In spite of the presence of the United Nations, East Timor in 1999 was reduced to "ground zero" before the international community finally intervened. Now that horror has been consigned to the distance while New York's September 11 "ground zero" is part of daily discourse.

This book is inconveniently timed for Washington and its allies including New Zealand. It comes just as more damning official documents have been released in Britain and the United States which pinpoint more than 24 years of Western complicity in Indonesia's East Timor crimes.

In an account described by Noam Chomsky as "searingly honest", Joseph Nevins analyses how Western nations conspired to back Indonesia and keep the East Timor issue out of the spotlight. The price paid by the East Timorese was a loss of life estimated at close to 200,000, or a third of its population, proportionally one of the worst cases of genocide since World War 11.

Nevins begins by zooming in close so we can meet some of the courageous friends he made in occupied East Timor. His visits began in 1992, not long after film of the Santa Cruz massacre was smuggled out and images of terrified and dying young people were beamed into television screens around the world.

He describes a pervasive atmosphere of fear, an "institutionalised" occupation replete with ever-present military and intelligence surveillance. But he also records the remarkable persistence and ingenuity of the clandestine resistance network.

Then he takes us to the Western architects of East Timor's tragedy. He has distilled key information from a wide range of sources including previously classified diplomatic documents. . Along with the United States, Japan, Australia and Britain, New Zealand was one of the big five that Indonesia relied on throughout the occupation.

These nations provided the military, economic and diplomatic assistance without which the invasion could not have taken place nor the occupation have persisted. While he focuses on the role of the United States Government, New Zealand was no minnow and Nevins rightly highlights the shameful role our Government played.

New Zealand failed to reveal what it knew about Indonesia's invasion preparations, helped to propagate the fiction that the East Timorese had accepted Indonesian rule and went to extraordinary lengths to exclude resistance emissary Jose Ramos Horta, who is now that nation's foreign minister.

However, perhaps the most significant message is that the violence continues in a different form. East Timor is the poorest country in Southeast Asia with a rate of infant mortality more than 14 times that of Australia and New Zealand. Yet Australia sits on vast oil reserves in the Timor Sea and refuses to allow international maritime boundary arbitration as this would be likely to endorse East Timor's claim to a larger share.

Nevins concludes with compelling ethical argument that remembering and accounting for the crimes against the East Timorese is a key to appreciating the reality of unjust power in our world.

In the early days of the occupation New Zealand officials recorded with apparent relief that there was little "public constituency" on the East Timor issue. I believe that the growth of this constituency helped to modify New Zealand's pro-Indonesia policy and restrains the Government even now from resuming military ties with Indonesia's unreformed military.

* Cornell University Press

* Maire Leadbeater is a spokesperson for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee. 

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