East Timor – Self-determination at last


As Australian troops flying the banner of the United Nations landed in East Timor in September, with the permission of Indonesia, to put an end to the massacres being perpetrated by Indonesian troops and pro-Indonesian local militias on the innocent Timorese population, the question on everyone’s lips is: will the East Timorese people see freedom at last?

Formerly a Portuguese colony, East Timor was given its freedom, in 1975, when a coup in Portugal overthrew the fascist Caetano dictatorship, enabling Portugal to emerge into the 20th century. East Timor immediately set up a Democratic Republic.

Within weeks of obtaining its freedom, however, the dreams of the East Timorese came to an end when their newly-independent country was invaded by the fascist Indonesian puppet regime. Annexed by Indonesia, East Timor suffered a 25-year reign of terror in which a third of the population is estimated to have lost their lives in the course of Indonesia’s brutal suppression of the East Timorese desire for independence, democracy and freedom.

Imperialism backs Indonesia’s invasion

Fascist Indonesia’s invasion and annexation of East Timor was fully backed by US imperialism – indeed, the Indonesians would hardly have dared take such a step without their masters’ approval! A US official was quoted in

The Australian

of 22 January 1976, shortly after the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, as saying:

“In terms of the bilateral relations between the US and Indonesia, we are more or less condoning the incursion into East Timor. The United States wants to keep its relations with Indonesia close and friendly. We regard Indonesia as a friendly


non-aligned nation – a nation we do a lot of business with.”

These words came immediately after the Indonesian army had mown down 20,000 East Timorese in the course of its initial invasion of the island.

The Indonesian invasion of East Timor was condemned by the United Nations, which called for Indonesia’s withdrawal, but like all UN Resolutions which oppose US interests, it was empty ritual. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then US ambassador to the UN, in his memoirs entitled

A Dangerous Place

wrote of his role with regard to Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor:

“The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook” to reverse the invasion.

“This task was given to me and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”

US imperialism has always backed self-seeking butchers who, in return for fabulous personal wealth and a life of luxury for themselves and their hangers-on, are prepared to ‘pacify’ all resistance to imperialist plunder and loot. With the victory of the Chinese Revolution, US imperialism’s defeat at the hands of the Koreans, its failure to contain the Vietnamese revolution (which was to lead to its defeat in Vietnam), East Asia was an area where imperialism was finding the going tough. Hence US imperialism’s delight with the Suharto regime in Indonesia, which in 1966 slaughtered no fewer than a million Indonesian progressives when it overthrew the democratically-elected Sukarno government – again with full US backing and encouragement. Max Frankel, writing in the

New York Times

of 12 March 1966 wrote that the US State Department was


by the massacres that were being perpetrated.

Throughout the brutal occupation of East Timor by Indonesia, US imperialism and its allies, including Britain, supplied Indonesia with military material and trained its military personnel in the techniques of counter-insurgency – i.e., the repression of a hostile population.



of 19 September 1999 reports that:

“American sponsorship of the Indonesian regime began as a matter of Cold War ideology, in the wake of defeat in Vietnam. The left-wing movement in East Timor was feared by Jakarta and seen by the US as an echo of those in Southern Africa and Salvador Allende’s government in Chile. Jakarta’s harassment of the Timor government and the invasion of 1975 were duly encouraged by the United States.”

(‘How US trained butchers of Timor’).

It is in this context that US imperialism, as well as British imperialism and Australia, have all been involved in arming and training the Indonesian military. One of the latter’s most bloodthirsty units goes by the name of Kopassus, which, the



“was built up with American expertise despite US awareness of its role in the genocide of about 2,000 people in the years after the invasion of East Timor in 1975, and in a string of massacres and disappearances since the bloodbath …”

In 1991, however, after the Indonesian army let loose a massacre by Kopassus of 270 unarmed civilians (many of them school children) in Santa Cruz cemetery, Dili, the US Congress banned the training of the US military. However, like all resolutions of the US Congress which do not suit the interests of US imperialism, it too was doomed to remain an empty ritual. The Pentagon continued to train the Indonesian death squads in secret:

Pentagon documents – obtained by the US-based East Timor Action Network … – detail every exercise in the covert training programme, conducted under a Pentagon project called JCET (Joint Combined Education and Training). They show the training was in military expertise that could only be used internally against civilians, such as urban guerrilla warfare, surveillance, counter-intelligence, sniper marksmanship and ‘psycho-logical operations’” (ibid).

Role of British ‘Labour’ government

It is not just US imperialism which is involved in this bloody business. The Blair government has, according to the


“spent about £1 million in training more than 50 members of the Indonesian military in Britain since it came to power.”



goes on to comment:

“Revelations of the extent to which Labour has used taxpayers’ money to aid the Indonesian military has angered many MPs, who claim it makes a mockery of Foreign Secretary Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’. In the last 4 years of the Tory government, only one Indonesian soldier was trained in the UK.”

Even the full knowledge of the dirty work pursued by the Labour government in the interests of imperialism is unable to persuade these MPs to abandon the Labour Party. They have all the evidence in the world of that party’s commitment to the interests of imperialism. They deplore away, but never come over to the side of the working class!

So long as the Tories were in government, even Robin Cook was prepared to deplore some of the worst crimes committed in the interests of imperialism, including Britain’s supply of Hawk fighters to Indonesia in the knowledge that they were being used against the people of East Timor. Angie Zelter is one of the women recently acquitted of damaging Maytime, the Scottish floating laboratory complex in Loch Goil, a vital link to the Trident nuclear submarine system (on the grounds that nuclear weapons are illegal in international law and it is therefore legitimate to destroy them – not a decision other courts in Britain are likely to follow!). She has reason to remember Robin Cook’s empty promises. In 1996, when the Tories were in power, “

she was one of four women acquitted by an English jury after causing £1.5 million of damage to a Hawk fighter jet shortly before the plane was to be exported to Indonesia”


The Scotsman,

22 October 1999, ‘Determined protest aims to sink nuclear deterrent’). She met Robin Cook at the time, fired with concern for the people of East Timor. In an interview she gave to the


of 25 October she says:

“I was part of a delegation that went to see Robin Cook before the Labour victory in 1997. He promised he would do things and said next time he saw us he would be in a bigger office. Well, he’s got a bigger office but he’s done nothing.”

Actually he has, as noted above, done plenty – but just the opposite of what he promised!

Role of the Australian government

The Australian government too has been engaged in training Indonesian troops at Kanungra, a military base to the south of Brisbane, and in supplying weapons such as the Australian army rifle, the Steyr, one of the most advanced weapons in the world, to the Indonesian military. These weapons are, in addition, fitted with Israeli-made modifications that give them higher velocity. Thus it can be seen that those who are now playing the role of ‘peacekeepers’ have all along been fully-committed partners in crime of the Indonesian government. Apart from all else, the Australian government was the only one openly to recognise Jakarta’s annexation of East Timor.

The loot

In return for carrying out their functions as loyal lieutenants and butchers-in-chief on behalf of imperialism, the Indonesian ruling élite were permitted to endow themselves with fabulous wealth. George D Aditjondro, a lecturer at Australia’s Newcastle University, has produced a book entitled

Is Oil Thicker than Blood? A study of oil companies’ interests and Western complicity in Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor

. [This book, published recently by Nova Science, USA, is available through the US branch of Amazon.com]. In an article written in May 1999, Aditjondro exposed the interests of the Indonesian ruling élite in East Timor. He showed how the Suharto family has landholdings there amounting to more than half a million hectares, including

“a 50,0000 hectares timber plantation allocated to Bob Hasan, one of the Suharto family’s business operators, …


tens of thousands of sugar cane plantations”

belonging to Suharto’s children

“on the southern coast, stretching from Suai to Viqueque and to Los Palos in the district of Lemtem. In addition the best marble deposits in Manatuto”

belong to

“Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, Suharto’s eldest daughter, who also has a monopoly over coffee production and export from East Timor, through a company of hers in Dili.”

Aditjondro goes on to expose the huge business interests of Indonesian military commanders in East Timor, and their close links with the Suharto family, and he concludes:

“The entire top brass of the Indonesian army and civilian bureaucracy in East Timor are closely interlinked with the former inner circle of Suharto, which has in turn been taken over by his successor, Habibie…”

However, a major reason for this military-political élite wanting to hang on like grim death (the grim death of the East Timorese, rather than their own!) to their East Timorese holdings, is Oil:

“The bottom line is that the landholdings in East Timor overlap with the three known oil wells from the Portuguese time, namely Suai Loro in Covalima, Aliabubata at Viqueque, and Pualaca in Manatuto. And between those three wells lie vast untapped oil reserves as well.”

It is these sordid commercial interests which lie behind the slaughter of the East Timorese people whose political representative, the CNRT (a front comprising five East Timorese political parties), has made it clear that on independence, the ill-gotten gains of the Indonesian élite would be confiscated.

Failure of UN to protect East Timor

The Indonesian government and military had made it more than clear, months in advance of it happening, how they would respond to an Independence vote in East Timor. Gareth Smith, a volunteer district electoral officer with the UN monitoring agency, UNAMET, working on the registration of voters for the August 30 referendum on independence, was interviewed by the newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia,

The Guardian.

He was indignant at the failure of the UN to provide protection when it had been known for months what would happen should East Timor vote for independence.

The Guard-ian


“In Luca, in the mountains, the military Commander of Battalion 406 used to go from house to house where internally displaced persons now live, telling people: if you choose independence you are going to choose murder, you are going to choose for your villages to be burnt to the ground, we will make sure that happens.”

The Guardian then asked Gareth Smith:

“So the Australian government, or the United Nations, was not exactly ignorant of what was going to happen?”

Gareth Smith replied:

“Of course not, if for no other reason than that district electoral officers like myself received many reports from people about intimidation and threats, and that the Catholic priests told us about a massive build up of arms …”

Gareth Smith also showed that it was well known that the Indonesian army was collaborating closely with the supposedly ‘rogue’ militias.

Yet despite the Indonesian army’s track record as purveyor of unparalleled brutality, virtually nothing was done to protect the people of East Timor from the orgy of violence that was bound to ensue when they voted for independence, despite UN promises to the people that they would be safe. One can only conclude that imperialism, anxious to ensure that it is in a position to dictate terms to the new East Timorese government, was happy to let the Indonesian thugs loose one last time on the people of East Timor, in the hope that they would above all target the independence fighters and influential progressive people who would be likely to resist imperialist interests. It would appear, however, that the Indonesian thugs preferred to kill unarmed civilians, nuns and priests, rather than take too many risks with armed Falintil fighters.

The future

The Falintil will be no pushover for the Australian ‘peacekeepers’. They number some 10,000 and are the main guarantee that the people of East Timor will now be able to choose its own government. Australian troops have reportedly endeavoured ‘even-handedly’ to demand the disarming of pro-independence East Timorese alongside that of the militias, but they have been rebuffed in no uncertain terms. With the Falintil to back its demands, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) announced on 22 October 1999 the formation of a Transition Council of national unity, to be the central Timorese organ for the transition period to independence. This Council will be headed by Xanana Gusmao as president, assisted by the former CNRT representative in Lisbon, Roque Rodriquez, as chief of staff of Xanana’s office. The members of the Council are: Taur Matan Ruak, commander-in-chief of Falintil, Jose Ramos Horta, CNRT Vice President; Joao Carrascalao, president of the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT); Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin vice-president; Avelino dos Santos (also known as Shalar Kosi), Socialist Party of Timor secretary-general, and Felicidade Guterres, a representative of Timorese women.

An Emergency Commission has also been established to organise humanitarian activities and to identify qualified Timorese for recruitment into the UN Transitional administration. In addition, an international team has been formed, comprising Jose Ramos Horta to deal with diplomatic issues and Mario Carrascalao to be in charge of looking for overseas commercial investment.

With Australian troops in occupation on behalf of imperialism and major differences between East Timorese bound to come to the fore now that the common enemy they all recognised in Indonesia has been removed, it is clear that the future of the struggle of the people of East Timor is going to be hard and complicated. The people of East Timor, however, have proved themselves to be courageous and persistent. They are living on a territory generously endowed by nature with all that their people could want for a happy life. They have not fought and suffered for 25 years in order simply to change the identity of those who loot their country’s wealth, so that US, Australian or other plunderers simply step into the shoes confiscated from the Suharto family and their cronies. They are a people able, ready and willing to put up a fight to get what is theirs by right. That being so, we are sure that the people of East Timor are assured of a bright future.

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