Subject: JP: Timor Leste 1999 or, how to sell lies

Jakarta Post


May 01, 2007

Timor Leste 1999 or, how to sell lies

Aboeprijadi Santoso, Amsterdam

The horrendous crimes committed in East Timor in 1999 continue to haunt Indonesia. Just as the third round of the Joint Indonesia-Timor Leste Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) was about to begin, the United Nations sent a message of disapproval about the CTF's idea of offering amnesty in exchange of the revealing of the truth by the perpetrators.

That was the reason the UN chose not to send the former head of UNAMET, Ian Martins, to testify before the commission; earlier, the UN has proposed that a commission of experts review the case. The sense of injustice and troubled conscience about the lies surrounding the matter has long been shared by victims, journalists and observers, who suffered or witnessed the carnage.

Asked about the meaning of the UN's letter, the CTF co-chairman, Benjamin Mangkoedilaga, said he respected the UN's position, but added that he considered the UN's official letter to reflect Martins' attitude, rather than the UN's as an institution. Yet, he expressed pride that the UN had responded to the CTF's invitation, and hoped the ex-UNAMET chief would reconsider his refusal to attend the hearing.

Benjamin's contradictory statement ("a UN letter", but representing a person, rather than the organization) is a conspicuous expression of uneasiness in addressing the question of accountability for the violence perpetrated by some of his country's institutions.

After all, Dili was sent back to "Year Zero" within a week, compared to Cambodia under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, when the same process was "achieved" within two years. It marked the end of Indonesia's decades-long illegal occupation of its tiny neighbor. About 1,400 victims were killed (including three journalists), hundreds of thousands persecuted and deported to the west, women raped, and the country's basic infrastructure destroyed as Indonesian troops prepared to leave the country.

A number of generals, officials and militiamen were indicted, yet all but one were released.

Impunity reigns. Now, almost a decade later, neither Indonesia nor Timor Leste wants to even touch the issue. Unlike in the recent past, the international community has decided to treat the matter as a bilateral affair between the two countries -- in marked contrast to the Bosnia-Hercegovina case in the 1990s, which led to U.S. bombing and the ongoing international tribunal on the ex-Yugoslavia, which prosecutes and punishes the authors and perpetrators of the violence.

In other words, the entire outcome is being dictated by geopolitics. Not justice, but the geopolitics of inequality in international relationships has decided to permit impunity, regardless of the victims. The CTF, too, is a product of this.

Worse still, the crimes of 1999 were artificially separated from the gross human rights violations that preceded them, despite the fact that the 1999 events could only occur as a result of a decades-long brutal military occupation.

The September mayhem obviously was just the tip of the iceberg. The great crimes of the 1970s -- the invasion, Matebian annihilation, Kraras killings, to mention but a few -- have been extensively described by no less than eight thousand East Timorese and published by the UN-commissioned CAVR.

Neither Jakarta, Dili nor the UN Security Council was willing to respond to the report, which could have opened the way toward some sort of internationally recognized tribunal. The geopolitical dictate has turned into a big-states conspiracy to avoid an international tribunal on East Timor.

Yet neither the UN nor, for that matter, Portugal, are innocent. The roots of the matter go back to the May 5 New York Agreement. Since the occupied country of East Timor was defined as one of a "non-self governing territory", all Indonesia had to do in 1999 was to return to the status-quo-ante.

This means that while Indonesia would have remained sovereign in East Timor, it would allow the UN to hold a "popular consultation" (an euphemism for a referendum) in order to resolve the final status of the territory.

As a result, the entire responsibility for the security was entrusted, not to a UN force, but to the Indonesian security apparatus, i.e., the Police, which was previously part of the armed forces (ABRI) and by then, certainly in East Timor, was under the command of the Army. All the UN and Portugal contributed was the Commission of Peace and Stability (KPS), which was to preside over the maintenance of peace and stability.

However, the reality in East Timor throughout May to September 1999 contradicted all aspects of this. The Army, in effect, instructed the Police to turned a blind eye to militia violence. I was able to leave Dili on Sept. 6, while the group of Indonesian observers I belonged to were forced to wander around the country to seek refuge while continuing to be under threat.

There were abundant witnesses to the killings and deportations by Army-sponsored militias, which were only made possible as extra troops and militiamen arrived Sept. 4, the day the UN announced the pro-independence victory.

Crucially, the members of the KPS, which was supposed to monitor the situation, had left the country even earlier. While UNAMET staff were held hostage, Benjamin, who was a KPS member, admitted that he left on Sept. 3, while other members and officials, including Djoko Soegijanto, B.N. Marbun, Koesparmono Irsan and Dino Pati Djalal, departed on Sept. 1. "What could we do? We were instructed by the military authorities to leave the country!" Benjamin honestly admitted.

How could the military order officials and journalists to leave Timor only a few days before the carnage started when they, at the same time, argued, as they always did, that the violence was a result of uncontrolled "civil war"?

In other words, it was all part of the plan and the game. And the game was from the outset shaped by political engineering, dubious assumptions and myths to justify the aggression, occupation and atrocities, which ranged from the mid-1975 attacks by "Timorese volunteers", a "civil war" among East Timorese that supposedly continued until 1999, and the many proclamations of integration by a tiny minority of pro-Jakarta Timorese, which culminated in the 1976 East Timor Integration Law.

These shameful lies also need to be looked at. While truth and friendship are necessary and important for both Indonesia and Timor Leste, a real friendship should not be based on lies to cover the truth and perpetuate the impunity.

The writer is a journalist with Radio Netherlands.

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