Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

December 1999 (Vol. XXIII No. 9)


The East Timor Crisis
By G.V.C. Naidu *


The tragedy of East Timor is a typical manifestation of problems that are associated with nation building in large, multi-ethnic societies in the developing world. It is also a reiteration of the most conspicuous and dominant feature of the post-Cold War global order, viz., the emergence of ethnic and sub-national issues as major themes of state and security. Probably never before in history has the world witnessed such strong feelings, especially by ethnic groups, which more often than not tend to turn into militant separatist movements. Of course, any critical and objective assessment of these tendencies should exercise sufficient caution, as each case is unique and not comparable with any other. Considerations such as historical roots and legacies, ethnic identities, civilisational linkages, colonial experiences, geographic location, and linguistic and religious aspects need to be carefully taken into account for any objective assessment, for most of these tend to be extremely complex in nature. Furthermore, there is the whole gamut of debate on what is a nation, what is a state, when does a nation become a state, what should be the basic attributes of a nation-state and what is the standard to measure these criteria. The same goes with the issue of sovereignty and authority. Therefore, enormous sensitivity and understanding have to be exhibited rather than swept away by emotions whipped up by the media. It is not simply an issue of a minority ethnic community being suppressed by the majority, but of dilemmas that most multi-ethnic societies in the Third World face. Invariably, in most cases, there is a strong external element that plays a crucial role in exploiting the ethnic problems.

Also of relevance is the issue of the role and character of the regime that is at the helm of political/civil affairs of the state, for what appears to be a common phenomenon is the tendency by the armed forces to either intervene or usurp power where ethnic differences are acute. 1 Many theoretical perspectives (including Marxist and Liberal 2 )have failed to provide a suitable framework to address the issue of ethnicity and sub-nationalism within a nation-state, and, hence, each case has to be examined in a different framework. If one were to compare the two instances of East Timor and Kuwait, all the nations and media that are championing the cause of East Timor now had turned a blind eye to its occupation and abuse of human rights since 1975 by Indonesia, whereas in the case of Kuwait, America and its allies unleased their most lethal war machine to punish Iraq. Indonesia was encouraged because it served Western strategic interests, but a similar action in oil-rich Kuwait was not acceptable. Had Indonesia been warned that it would not get away with its action, the tragedy of East Timor could have been averted.

Though the East Timor issue figured periodically since the Indonesian invasion in 1975, it came to the forefront only recently because of the political changes that took place in Indonesia after General Suharto was forced to step down in May 1998 in the wake of unprecedented opposition to his continuation. This, of course, was prompted by the worst-ever economic crisis that hit Indonesia since the famous military coup of 1965. The case of East Timor has also to be dealt with in the larger context of factional politics within the military dictatorship and the turmoil that the state of Indonesia has been going through, particularly since the financial crisis hit the region starting from July 1997.


Historical Background

There is nothing much to boast about East Timor by way of history except that it belonged to a different ethnic group from its neighbour Indonesia. It came under the colonial occupation of the British, the Dutch and the Portuguese—the latter controlling East Timor for more than four centuries after the Netherlands ceded it to Portugal under an agreement. The prolonged Portuguese rule was also responsible for the spread of Christianity. Though the Portuguese sailors were the first to reach the shores of most of Asia, they were edged out gradually by other more powerful metropolitan European powers, especially the British, the Dutch and the French. However, the Portuguese held on to three tiny provinces: Goa in India, East Timor in South-East Asia and Macao in China, while concentrating on the five countries they colonised in Africa for exploitation. Because East Timor was not decolonised along with others after World War II, it became difficult to either grant independence in the absence of sustaining that independence or ensure that it would not be gobbled up by its giant neighbour later on till changes came about within Portugal itself.

Portugal was under dictatorship for about 50 years—Salazar 1926-1968 and Caetano 1968-74—and its neutrality during World War II put constraints on the Japanese to go slow on the occupation of Portuguese Timor. Even after the end of the war, Portugal did not pay much attention to Timor simply because economic returns were far less than the five African colonies it controlled. It was only after the left-wing army took over power in Portugal in 1974, in what is called the Carnation Revolution, that the process of decolonisation was initiated. Part of this effort was an attempt to promote democracy in East Timor, resulting in the establishment of three political parties: Democratic Union of Timor (UDT), Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), 3 and Timorese Democratic People’s Union (APODETI). While the ASDT was the left-leaning radical organisation that advocated total independence, the APODETI, promoted integration with Indonesia. In the local elections that were held in early 1975, the Revolutionary Front for Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) won 55 per cent of the vote and the UDT came a close second. Nearly 90 per cent of the people supported these two parties. While the battle for political supremacy was beginning to rage between FRETILIN and the UDT, the Indonesian military was quietly supporting and encouraging the UDT, leading to the UDT staging a coup in August 1975. This was challenged by FRETILIN through an armed struggle, leading to the establishment of its supremacy. In the meantime, the Portuguese were gradually reducing their presence and the last remaining Portuguese, including the governor, secretly left Timor on August 27, 1975. Thus, neither the handover of the administration to the locals nor a decolonisation took place. 4 That way, East Timor continues to be a colony of the Portuguese because they never gave up power nor were they driven out. In fact, FRETILIN repeatedly requested the Portuguese to return to East Timor so that some order would be established and a peaceful transfer of power could take place.

While FRETILIN was winning the civil war, because of its larger following and better arms, and was beginning to take control of the administration, the Indonesian generals were plotting to intervene militarily. Sensing that the Indonesian intervention was imminent, FRETILIN declared independence on November 28, 1975, as a pre-emptive move. Taking advantage of the politically unstable conditions and chaos (in part created by Indonesia itself), Indonesia created a pretext in the form of the Balibo Declaration (named after a small town in West Timor on East Timor’s border but signed in Bali) purported to have been issued by those opposed to FRETILIN, which asked the Indonesian government’s assistance in East Timor, to embark on an invasion on December 7, 1975.


The International Context

The Indonesian invasion of East Timor and its incorporation into the Republic of Indonesia in July 1976 have to be seen against the backdrop of the domestic as well as global political environment. By the early 1970s, the former Soviet Union had established a military parity with the United States and had begun to actively support the Communist movements in the Third World, especially in Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia, for instance) with renewed vigour which culminated in the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, thus, starting the second round of the Cold War. By the mid-Seventies, the three countries of Indochina successfully emerged victorious, defeating the Americans under the leadership of Communist parties and there was a resurgence of leftist movements in countries such as the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia. 5 After the military coup in 1965, deposing President Sukarno and massacring nearly a million people, General Suharto’s credentials as an anti-Communist crusader were impeccable as far as the West was concerned. It becomes obvious, based on circumstantial evidence, that there was Western complicity in what the Indonesians did in East Timor because the FRETILIN-led movement was, by and large, considered to be leftist. Indonesia itself would not tolerate the emergence of a leftist country on its border, however, small it might be.

That the Australians knew of Indonesian plans to invade East Timor was clear when Canberra kept quiet after five Australia-based journalists (two Australians, one New Zealander and two British) were believed to have been murdered while covering Indonesian preparations for an invasion on October 16, 1975. Secret official documents of the Australian government, which became available in March 1999, indicate that the Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, strongly supported Indonesia in two critical meetings with Suharto. The Australian newspaper, Sydney Morning Herald, which procured these documents, stated, “He (Whitlam) affirmed, however, that he strongly desired closer and more cordial relations with Indonesia and would ensure that our actions in regard to Portuguese Timor would always be guided by the principle that good relations with Indonesia were of paramount importance to Australia.” 6 While reiterating the Australian position that the Timorese would need to determine their future, “the Prime Minister noted in this regard that he was not prepared to accept at face value the claims of the political personalities who have currently emerged in Portuguese Timor. He noted that they were predominantly drawn from the mestizo populations; they had their own economic interests to protect and sought to retain their European lifestyle. The Prime Minister implied that they, in fact, represented a small elite class. It may be that they would be able to win the allegiance of the people of Timor; but their claims were as yet untested. There could be, below the surface, indigenous forces which could carry the people of Portuguese Timor in directions different from those in which they presently seem to be set.” 7

A scrutiny of the documents related to the talks with President Suharto that went on during Prime Minister Whitlam’s visit to Indonesia on September 6, 1994, reveals that Canberra was amenable to the idea of Indonesia taking over East Timor. The prime minister said that “he felt two things were basic to his own thinking on Portuguese Timor. First, he believed that Portuguese Timor should become part of Indonesia. Second, this should happen in accordance with the properly expressed wishes of the people of Portuguese Timor. The Prime Minister emphasised that this was not yet Government policy but that it was likely to become that. The Prime Minister said that he felt very strongly that Australia should not seek, or appear to seek, any special interests in Portuguese Timor. They were people with a different ethnic background, languages and culture. It would be unrealistic and improper if we were to seek some special relationship. At the same time, he believed that Portuguese Timor was too small to be independent. It was economically unviable. Independence would be unwelcome to Indonesia. To Australia and to other countries in the region, because an independent Portuguese Timor would inevitably become the focus of attention of others outside the region...The Prime Minister noted that, for the domestic audience in Australia, incorporation into Indonesia should appear to be a natural process arising from the wishes of the people. He recalled adverse public opinion towards Indonesia, which had arisen almost 12 years ago, both in Papua New Guinea and in Australia, in relation to Irian Barat. 8 There was suspicion of Indonesia and its methods in effecting the return of the province. The Prime Minister said that he personally had expressed himself in favour of the return of Irian Barat to Indonesia from the time that he had first entered Parliament. 9 In response, President Suharto was reported to have emphasised “his concern that decolonisation in Portuguese Timor should not upset either Indonesian or regional security...If Portuguese Timor were to become independent, it would give rise to problems. It was not economically viable. It would have to seek the help of another country, but Portuguese Timor would be of interest only because of its political importance. There was a big danger that communist countries—China or the Soviet Union—might gain the opportunity to intervene. This would lead, in turn, to intervention by the other great powers. Portuguese Timor in the way would become ’a thorn in the eye of Australia and a thorn in Indonesia’s back’...Ultimately the Indonesians hoped for the incorporation of Portuguese Timor as being in the best interests of the region, of Indonesia and of Australia. The President shared the belief that this should occur on the basis of the freely expressed wishes of the people of Portuguese Timor.” 10

As if to corroborate the Australian approval of the Indonesian action in East Timor, as soon as these documents came to public notice, Doug Everingham, who served as health minister under Whitlam during 1972-1975, openly apologised to the people of Timor in a letter to the newspaper The Australian on March 24, 1999. He said, “I apologise to the East Timorese people. I am ashamed to have belonged to the first of a series of Australian cabinets which failed to protest while our prime minister, unlike the world community, recognised the takeover of East Timor.” 11 Fascinatingly, Everingham later confessed that “the reason why successive governments and not just the Whitlam government, have recognised Indonesia and East Timor is to get hold of the oil for big oil companies in the Timor Gap.” 12

As one of the strongest backers of the New Order regime of General Suharto after the military coup in 1965, resulting in the overthrow of President Sukarno, the role of the United States in endorsing the Indonesian plans of an invasion of East Timor is also strongly suspect because of the fact that Indonesia invaded and occupied East Timor a day after US President Gerald Ford left Jakarta after a visit to Indonesia. It was most unlikely that Suharto would have undertaken such a move without implicit American support. In an atmosphere of resurgent Communist activity after the Indochina victories, any measure that appeared to be anti-Communist, however remote it might have been, would have been endorsed by Washington.


Indonesian Political Context

Domestic politics, within Indonesia too, played their part in prompting an overseas military escapade by the ruling elite. Although Suharto came to power on the promise of restoring political and economic order in the country by undertaking drastic measures to change the Constitution, the so-called New Order continued with the 1945 Constitution (which Sukarno had invoked earlier to consolidate his power) that vested enormous powers in the hands of the president. Though it is a different issue, fascinatingly most of the tactics Suharto employed to perpetuate his power, were borrowed from Sukarno: continuation of a Constitution which was unitary in nature despite enormous social plurality, pitting one faction of the elite against another opposed to it, reservation of parliamentary seats for the military by nomination, etc. The only visible change was the use of ruthless power to eliminate opposition to the military rule. However, the military itself was not a unified force. The armed forces, on whose backing Suharto remained in power, were ridden with factions.

Corruption and factions have been endemic to the Indonesian armed forces since their inception. Known till recently as ABRI (Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia or the Indonesian armed forces, whose nomenclature was changed to TNI—Tentara National Indonesia—after the fall of Suharto), they were borne out of the armed struggle for independence that was launched between 1945 and 1949 against the Dutch colonial rulers. Since then, the military has continued to be active on the political scene of Indonesia. Although Sukarno did attempt to establish democratic political institutions, he was not very successful for a variety of reasons. An atmosphere in which no single party could command clear majority in the Parliament in the successive elections in the Fifties, and Sukarno’s own innate authoritarian tendencies contributed to the rise of the military in politics. The armed forces were genuinely perceived by the common people as the sole institution, with their supposed discipline and relatively modern technology in the form of arms at their disposal, which could not only keep the nation’s unity and integrity intact, but also modernise the society much faster than the political leadership. In order to ensure the support of the powerful military, Sukarno offered statutorily mandated political share in power by way of nominated seats in the Parliament. By the time Sukarno imposed Guided Democracy in 1963, he had usurped most of the powers and had to rely to a great extent on the military for support in order to checkmate the growing Communist influence. 13 Thus, the political character of the Indonesian military remained unchanged. Like in most cases, when the military directly intervened in the political process, a large section of the people of Indonesia welcomed it, but soon discovered that it was going to be worse than the earlier regime. Similarly, corruption in the ABRI also dates back to the freedom struggle days when it had to generate its own funds to fight the war. This political background of the Indonesian military has to be considered in any assessment of Indonesian politics.


Invasion of East Timor

Notwithstanding Suharto’s ruthlessness, opposition to his rule started building up from the early days within the military, starting from the early 1970s. The division in the military, between those who enjoyed the financial largesse of the military rule and those who were opposed to it, manifested in the anti-Chinese riots in Bandung, and later, more vociferously by students against the visiting Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka in 1974. Better known as the Malari riots, ostensibly opposed to the growing Japanese ownership of industrial concerns, these could not have taken place without the blessings of a section of the army’s top brass. 14 This was also the time when the hardliners found favour with the president who believed in taking aggressive steps to consolidate the military’s hold. Ali Murtopo and Benny Murdani were among these. It is widely believed that these were the people who convinced a hesitant Suharto to invade East Timor. Muradni had been in charge of East Timor operations since the time trouble started brewing there, till its incorporation. Despite lingering doubts about the possible consequences of the Indonesian action, Suharto went ahead because it served his interests too. He could demonstrate to his mentors in the West that he continued to be a hardliner on anything remotely radical in nature. Second, the East Timor military action satisfied the growing impatience of younger officers who were beginning to get disillusioned with Suharto’s style of functioning. And, finally, to remind his detractors of his intent to use force to suppress the opposition.

Probably Suharto never imagined that he was going to get much more than he had bargained for. For a variety of reasons, the little younger brother of East Timor could never be made an obedient child of a large Indonesian family (as espoused and expected by the military in the Indonesian context) simply because, by the yardstick of any trait—language, culture, civilisation, religion, ethnicity—it was not related to the family. Notwithstanding repeated claims, Timor Timur continued to boil and a small band of rebels allowed themselves to be subdued by the larger and more powerful Indonesian troops. Of course, this was done at an enormous cost—nearly a fifth of that province’s population has been eliminated. 15 It also remained under international focus even as the United Nations, and most other nations individually, never accepted Indonesia’s suzerainty over East Timor. The only conspicuous exception was Australia which formally recognised the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

Massive deployment of troops did not help Indonesia to subjugate the FALINTIL (the armed wing of the pro-independence movement) whose numbers have grown consistently despite a high toll of casualties in its ranks because of the growing radicalisation of the post-1975 generation. The East Timor issue remained alive in the international fora in part because of recurrent incidents of atrocities and wanton killing by the army. Amnesty International brought out a detailed report on widespread human rights violations by the Indonesian Army in 1985. It was cited that up to 200,000 East Timorese were killed. The most prominent among the army’s actions was the November 12, 1991, massacre of an unarmed peaceful procession to a cemetery to mark the killing of a guerilla earlier in the presence of the international media. For the first time, an official inquiry was conducted by the Indonesian government, which put the death toll at 50, with 90 missing (though by all indications, it was far higher) resulting in the removal of two generals and court-marshalling of 10 soldiers. In 1993, the United Nations Human Rights Commission strongly indicted Indonesia for its human rights violations in East Timor. The end of the Cold War and mounting international pressure forced Indonesia to hold high-level talks with exiled resistance leader Jose Ramos Horta in October 1994. The basic issue had been the question of referendum, which Indonesia was reluctant to hold.

Although Indonesia realised by the mid-1990s that something urgently needed to be done to settle the East Timor issue, it could not do so for a number of reasons. First, Indonesia had relocated through its transmigration policy, a large number of Indonesians (mostly Javanese) who faced an uncertain future if the independence demand was conceded. Second, Indonesia had also pumped in hundreds of millions of dollars toward developmental activities with the intent of blunting the unabated clamour for independence. This would go down the drain if East Timor preferred a separation. Third, in the light of other insurgency movements for independence, especially in Aceh and West Irian, if East Timor was granted independence, these and others too might demand secession from the Indonesian Republic. Finally, and most importantly, was the reluctance of the army to give up East Timor just because the political leaders were facing international criticism. From the viewpoint of the Indonesian Army, they had invaded and controlled East Timor at enormous human and material cost and, hence, it should not be given up. Because the army was the backbone of Suharto, he could not ignore the army’s feelings.


Referendum and After

Thus, though it continued to simmer, the East Timor problem could not be settled as long as Suharto was at the helm of affairs. When B.J. Habibie took over the reins after Suharto was forced to quit office in May 1998, he promised to reduce the number of troops in East Timor. But no one took Habibie, a technologist by training, seriously, as he was handpicked by Suharto to be his deputy. When he announced that a referendum was possible to decide on the future of East Timor in January 1999, it was a surprise, on the one hand, and yet not so surprising, on the other, because he had to do something to safeguard the presidency which had fallen totally unexpectedly in his lap. Habibie had his own vested interest in taking the initiative to soften the government’s hardline stance because East Timor had become a thorn in the side of Indonesia; external pressure continued to mount; it continued to drain precious resources with no political or economic returns; and, though East Timor had been an issue close to the military’s heart because of its involvement, the popular unrest that forced Suharto to demit office had put the armed forces on the defensive and hence their reaction would be subdued if a bold initiative was taken on East Timor. In any case, the invasion of East Timor had never been a popular move within Indonesia. 16

By the time the referendum on self-determination of East Timor was held on August 30, 1999, the choice before the people was greater autonomy within the union of Indonesia or “eventual separation”, a euphemism for independence. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, but what came as a surprise was the overwhelming turnout in the first place, with 78.5 per cent of the people opting for independence. Instead of recounting the much talked about violence that followed after the result was announced, unleashed by the pro-Indonesia militias, which was later accepted as highly exaggerated, 17 it may be useful to concentrate on other and more important aspects.

First, the role of the United Nations. Without discounting the stellar role the UN has so far played to reduce conflicts and establish peace across the world, it needs to be kept in mind that right from the day the UN got involved in East Timor, most of the UN observers were biased and partial towards the Timorese, which means they were politically anti-Indonesia. 18 Moreover, the West-dominated media went overboard to crucify the Indonesians for every act of omission and commission. Unless this tendency is rectified, this will not only put the UN credibility at risk but also set a dangerous precedent for other UN operations elsewhere. It also becomes obvious that even the UN could not make a proper assessment of the ground realities and hurriedly pushed through the referendum.

Second, the role of Australia in East Timor. A little known fact is that the Australians fought the Japanese occupation of South-East Asia during World War II. In the Timor campaign that took place between February 1942 and January 1943, Australian commando forces received invaluable support from the Timorese by way of shelter, intelligence about location of Japanese troops, and some even fought alongside the Australians. Australian historian C. Wray, in his book Timor 1942, summarises the following:

The Australians received the willing cooperation of the Timorese people who not only provided the commandos with food, portage and assistance, but also with warnings of Japanese movements. Without this assistance the Australian force would soon have been flused out and destroyed. The contrast with Dutch Timor (now Indonesia), where the natives refused to assist Allied troops and betrayed them to the Japanese, was significant...The Timorese paid a heavy price for their support of the Australians...hundreds were imprisoned, tortured or killed by the Japanese on suspicions of harbouring Australians. Their villages were burned, livestock killed and crops destroyed. While exact calculation of the number of Timorese who died during the years of the Second World War is impossible, it has been estimated that between 40,000 and 70,000 Timorese died...their losses were enormous and the sacrifices suffered and the friendship given by many Timorese during the difficult days of mid to late 1942 were something which the Australians who fought on Timor would never forget. 19

In 1944, to keep the spirits and resistance up, Australian planes dropped leaflets written in Portuguese in bold letters over East Timor which read: “Your friends will not forget you”. But soon, not only was the East Timorese help forgotten, as noted, the Australian government indirectly endorsed the Indonesian plans of invasion. Notwithstanding the 1976 UN Security Council Resolution, which demanded that Indonesia withdraw from East Timor, Australia first gave de-facto recognition to Indonesia’s sovereignty in the late Seventies and a formal recognition in August 1985. Moreover, in December 1989, Australia signed the Timor Gap Treaty with Indonesia which enabled Australia to undertake undersea oil exploration activities. 20

The change of heart and policy came once Suharto was overthrown. Thus, the overt enthusiasm with which the Australia led a multinational force to save East Timor from mayhem after the referendum verdict was declared has its roots in the feeling of guilt that the Australians have nursed for a long time. In the light of the above backdrop, questions have been raised about the sincerity of the Australians in undertaking such a peace-keeping effort. From a long-term security point of view, an independent East Timor, which is small, backward and heavily dependent on foreign aid for its survival perhaps serves Australia’s interest much better, especially at a time when Australia is striving hard to play the role of a “deputy to the US.” 21 Many South-East Asian nations have been uneasy with Australia taking the initiative in a big way to “save East Timor” because of pronouncements like these and because of its role and policy in the last several decades toward South-East Asia in general and East Timor in particular.

On the other hand, the states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) were reluctant to spearhead the multinational presence to stop the violence that was unleashed by the pro-Jakarta militia and ensure that the wishes of the people of East Timor were implemented, in part because they did not want antagonise the big brother in the region whose active involvement and support is indispensable for the very existence of ASEAN. The ASEAN’s genesis and survival since 1967 have been predicated on the informal cardinal principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. Like in so many occasions in the past, ASEAN once again lost a golden opportunity to take the lead in sending a multinational force under UN auspices. This would have sent the right signal to the outside world that ASEAN was capable of managing the affairs of South-East Asia.

The second issue related to East Timor is the question of the security of small states, especially in an environment of political and economic volatility. Considerable literature has come out on the question of small states, but the question as to what extent they become susceptible to external pressures, or even become pawns in the hands of outside powers has not been fully understood. One of East Timor’s leaders has already announced that seeking membership in, or in any association with, ASEAN, was ruled out. Full cooperation from Indonesia is indispensable, both to make sure that the transition to independence is peaceful and also to ensure that Indonesia would not undertake such activities that might destabilise East Timor in the future. Given the strong anti-Australian sentiment that is prevalent in Indonesia, as long as Australia is in the forefront of UN operations in East Timor, it may be difficult to expect such cooperation from Jakarta. The pro-independence leaders are already beginning to get disillusioned as the promised millions of dollars of aid is nowhere near to be seen.

Finally, the East Timor referendum has also opened up a new debate on the question of development and referendum. A look at the following data on East Timor is revealing: the per capita income in 1976 was US$40 and in 1996 it was $398; the number of high schools was just three in 1976, whereas by 1996, there were 172; and the number of health centres grew from four to 525. The value of total taxes collected in 1995-96 was Rupiah 2.9 billion but the value of “subsidies and contributions” from Jakarta were to the tune of Rupiah 63 billion. By the mid-1990s, the central government’s share of East Timor’s expenditure was 92.4 per cent. 22 When East Timor was incorporated into Indonesia, it was more backward than when Indonesia gained independence in the Forties. The infrastructure was virtually non-existent. Today the largest employer is the government and, except for coffee and a few agricultural products, there is nothing East Timor can boast of by way of natural resources. On the eve of the referendum, most people were aware of the fact that they would be far better off with Indonesia than out of it. Still they preferred to be independent rather than part of a larger nation. The question is, what is the issue here: is it the fear of cultural domination by a larger ethnic group; or is it the oppressive attitude of the state? Could a democratic Indonesia have ameliorated the problems of the East Timorse? It is a larger socio-political question that needs careful examination in order to come to certain convincing conclusions.

Now that East Timor has become independent, it has to fend for itself. It is estimated that a minimum of three years’ presence of UN peace-keeping forces is required in order establish some semblance of order and a government that can govern. East Timor is a victim of the vested interests of various powers and these same powers have a responsibility to ensure that it survives peacefully.



*: Research Fellow, IDSA Back.

Note 1: The problem of the military in politics, which is unique to the developing countries, is a complex issue. However, there have been a number of instances in which the military used the threat to the country’s unity and integrity as a convenient pretext to take over the reins of power. Back.

Note 2: The way the former Soviet Union disintegrated on ethnic lines soon after the collapse of the central authority led by the Community Party, simmering ethnic problems within China, especially Tibet and Xinjiang, ethnic separatist movements in liberal democracies such as India and Sri Lanka, and Quebec, Northern Ireland and Basque in the developed countries are some examples. Back.

Note 3: ASDT later became the Revolutionary Front for Independent East Timor (FRETILIN). Back.

Note 4: This was the pretext the Portuguese used to discount the Indonesian invasion and to have a moral right to represent the East Timor case in various organisations. Back.

Note 5: The Communist movements in these countries were supported mostly by China. Back.

Note 6: Back.

Note 7: Ibid. Back.

Note 8: Irian Barat, before Indonesia took over in 1962, was known as West Irian. It was later renamed as Irian Jaya. Back.

Note 9: Back.

Note 10: Ibid. Back.

Note 11: Back.

Note 12: n. 6. Back.

Note 13: Sukarno appointed Suharto as the commander of Operation Mandala which was meant to take over West Irian in 1963. Before the invasion took place, the Dutch ceded West Irian to Indonesia. Back.

Note 14: For a comprehensive discussion of any army politics, see Damien Kinsgbury, The Politics of Indonesia (Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 99-126. Back.

Note 15: By most estimates, between 150,000 and 200,000 people out of the total population of about 800,000 died either due to starvation or in the anti-insurgency operations. Back.

Note 16: It is interesting to note that Megawati Sukarnoputri, who had emerged as a strong contender for the presidency in the proposed Parliamentary elections, was probably the only major political personality who had opposed granting of independence to East Timor. She obviously had the armed forces in mind whose support was perceived to be indispensable to become the president. Back.

Note 17: The United Nations admitted that it had uncovered no evidence to support allegations that pro-Jakarta militias engaged in mass murder in East Timor. Michel Barton, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) in Dili stated: “We have heard horrendous stories for which so far there is not a shred of evidence. There have been murders. There have been terrible things that have happened here. But we do not believe that people in their thousands have been killed and their bodies buried or thrown in the sea. If this had been the case, we would have found evidence of this by now,” International Herald Tribune, October 14, 1999. Back.

Note 18: After repeated protested by the Indonesian government, the UN eventually conceded that its observers were not objective in their role and functioning. Back.

Note 19: http://www.pactok.netau/docs/et/hforget.html Back.

Note 20: In 1972, Australia and Indonesia had reached an agreement on oil exploration and the talks with Portugal to cover the parts under the control of the Portuguese could not materialise. It became convenient for Australia to sign a deal with Indonesia as it had been friendly. The price for that was recognition of East Timor as part of Indonesia. Back.

Note 21: Far Eastern Economic Review, October 7, 1999, p. 14. The 1995 Security Treaty Australia signed with Indonesia was the first casualty. The Australian attitude has also raised strong nationalist sentiments in Indonesia. Back.

Note 22: Asia Week, September 10, 1999, p. 25. Back.