Crisis in East Timor

Pro-Indonesian Milita

Pro-Indonesian Militia

Since the declaration on Saturday of the massive vote in East Timor against
staying under Indonesian rule, the situation there has spiralled into a
human crisis of horrifying proportions. The four to one majority was so
conclusive that the forces opposed to East Timorese independence have tried,
as one Indonesian major-general put it, to "win by the bullet what have lost
by the ballot".

Hundreds have been killed, and hundreds of thousands are fleeing for their
lives. Already more than 40,000 have crossed the border to Indonesian West
Timor. The East Timorese capital, Dili, has been burned, looted and its
centre largely destroyed. An indication of the barbarity unleashed is the
reports of severed heads put on stakes at roadsides.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children, in this predominantly Catholic
country, have sought refuge in churches as well as schools and UN posts.
Even in these ‘sanctuaries’, their lives are at risk. Witness the violent
attack on the residence of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Bishop Carlos Belo
where up to 8,000 terrified people were trying to shelter. Scores were
hacked to death in the mayhem and the building destroyed by fire. The
refugees were herded into troop carriers and driven away. A similar fate
befell thousands sheltering in a Red Cross compound nearby.

TV networks have carried harrowing footage of a human tide of desperate
Timorese, has clambering over razor-wire fences to get into what they hope
will be the safe haven of the UN’s Dili compound, often tearing their flesh
to pieces in the process. Gunfire is clearly audible on the other side of
the wall as all in the building cower behind desks, on floors and in the
cellars. Food and medical supplies in the compound are woefully inadequate.

Tens of thousands of people have fled to the hills, joining the guerrillas
and their families who remain in hiding. The campaign of terror, and
particularly the concerted attacks on the homes and headquarters of
independence supporters, seems aimed at provoking the still-armed
independence fighters to come out and be crushed. Marauding, gun and machete
wielding gangs, now with the actual participation of Indonesian forces, have
taken control of many towns - especially in the West - and apparently of
Dili itself.

In Jakarta’s declaration of a state of emergency and martial law, a curfew
has been imposed and orders given to the beefed up Indonesian forces to
“shoot on sight”.

The most prominent UN officials and independence and church leaders,
including Jamsheed Marker, the UN secretary-general’s representative and
Bishop Belo himself, have left East Timor. They have been targeted by the
Jakarta trained and equipped militias who accuse them of interference in the
independence vote.

Guterres, leader of one of the biggest militias, Aikara, recently flew to
the Indonesian capital - probably for direct consultations with top
representatives of the armed forces if not of the government itself. Habibie
’s Foreign minister - Ali Alatas, who long served the hated dictator,
General Suharto in the same capacity - has defended the virulent
integrationists and also rounded on the United Nations.

Other elements in Indonesian society will take a nationalist stance over
outsiders and foreigners meddling in Indonesian affairs. Not least is a
broad layer of the PDI-P - the party which proved most popular in Indonesia’
s first post-Suharto election this June. While its leader, Megawati
Sukarnopoutri, is “outraged” at the violence in East Timor, she blames the
holding of the referendum itself. In spite of being the party to reap the
greatest rewards from the ‘reformasi’ movement that brought to an end the 32
years of military dictatorship, her party is full of ex-generals and army
personnel and reflects their fears about losing the “27th province”.

Not only is it seen as a ‘humiliation’ for a force which has spent decades
in control of Indonesian society. The notorious occupying Indonesian army
was not without is own casualties and the memory never fades in army circles
of those who make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ for the ‘integrity’ of their
country. But the soldiers became brutalised and the officers enjoyed such a
comfortable life-style that they and their families chose to stay on in East
Timor after retirement from active service. The 24 years of brutal
repression, claimed the lives of over 200,000 East Timorese and every family
was affected. This explains the massive vote for liberation.

Indonesia’s military and the Habibie government have been forced to swallow
many ‘indignities’ since the departure of Suharto. They have been forced to
make concessions to the powerful mass movement that began to make a
revolution. Indeed, the plebiscite in East Timor was one such measure,
hastily adopted by the beleaguered Habibie in the face of an upsurge in
demands for independence. Now, in the wake of the vote in East Timor, the
present regime - and the ‘government-in-waiting’ of Sukarnopoutri - fear
the break-up the 17,000 island country and, in particular, the independence
movements in oil- and mineral-rich Aceh and Irian Jaya.

The brutality and the present legitimised onslaught against the independence
process in East Timor are no doubt meant to serve as a lesson for the
hard-pressed separatists of those areas. Similar de-stabilising and
intimidation tactics to those employed over a period of time in East Timor
have already been employed there and elsewhere, if, as yet on a smaller
scale. Paid, armed and trained provocateurs and outsiders have been used
while regular troops and police at best turn a blind eye, or, quite often,
move in and take part in horrific acts of bloody repression.

In East Timor, it is reported that, although many of today’s militia
organisations may be the remnants of the anti-independence bands financed by
Jakarta in 1974 -5, most of their members are now ‘imports’ from West Timor
and elsewhere.

The fact that it is mostly towns in the west of East Timor that are now
controlled by pro-Jakarta forces lends credence to the idea that the
Indonesian military, with Habibie pulled along with them, may go for a
partition of East Timor itself. The western part is said to be the richest
and the one Indonesia most wants to maintain control over.

Clamour for intervention

Television and newspaper journalists, also fleeing East Timor, sum up the
situation as it deteriorates. If, at first they talked of “collusion” with
the bloody militia gangs on the part of largely passive Indonesian troops,
they now confirm the undisputed involvement of Indonesian forces in joint
operations with the murderous militia gangs. Agents of Kopassus, the hated
Indonesian special security force, have been filmed putting on wigs to take
their place amongst the armed gangs! What the British ‘Independent’
reporter, Richard Lloyd Parry described on September 5 as “controlled
carnage”, he describes two mornings later as nothing other than “martial

The clamour for armed intervention from outside is reaching fever pitch. The
United Nations’ Security Council originally agreed to the Indonesian forces
staying in place until the referendum result was ratified by Indonesia’s
parliament in October or November. It has been slow to do more than condemn
the violence.

The United Nations, effectively controlled by the big powers, has shown its
hypocrisy on many occasions. It has preferred to turn a blind eye to the
crushing of local struggles for self-determination when wanting to stay on
good terms with the oppressor nation. Such was the case in relation to the
Russian government and its devastating war in Chechnya. Some journalists
point bluntly to the abysmal failures of the United Nations to stop
blood-baths in Rwanda and Bosnia and to the humiliation of US forces in
Somalia at the hands of local warlords.

None of the big powers has really favoured East Timorese independence ‘per
se’. In contradistinction to their hostility to the Serbian regime of
Milosevic, they have collaborated and armed the Indonesian regime through
all the 32 years of bloody dictatorship under Suharto and since. The United
Nations has already shown its incompetence in East Timor and most
commentators are coming to the conclusion that whatever it does now will be
‘Too little too late’.

The UN’s High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, expresses the universl feeling
that “We cannot stand by and watch the East Timorese massacred ...The
international community must act now”. But Britain’s Robin Cook insists “We
are not going to fight our way into the country”. Governments fear the
consequences of casualties amongst their own troops as well as those of
falling out with the largest power in the region.

The financial cost of deploying troops in Indonesia would be considerable
and the political cost for Habibie could be irrecoverable. Indonesia’
seconomic crisis would become a calamity if tranches of the IMF’s loan to
Indonesia are stopped. Profits would also be dented if the arms contracts
defended by New Labour have to be cancelled.

Calling on Habibie and the Indonesian armed forces to protect the people of
East Timor is like asking the fox who has trained its cubs to kill and
destroy to take over the safety of the remaining chickens, only it is far
more serious and could cost thousands more lives in a new round of genocide.

The United Nations claims that even if it decides on an armed intervention,
it could take months to assemble. This is patently untrue since there are
plenty of battleships and ground troops belonging to Untied Nations
countries only hours from the country. Sander Thoenes in the Financial Times
of 7 September echoes the overwhelming feeling of ordinary people around the
world saying that it is not the reputation of the United Nations that is at
stake. “What is on the line first of all is the lives of 800,000
Timorese...who trusted them to bring them not just a ballot but a future.”

The ex-colonial power, Portugal, is the most consistent from a purely
‘democratic’ point of view. Its president urges armed intervention whether
Indonesia likes it or not. The annexation of East Timor has never been
recognised by the United Nations anyway.

All the forces demonstrating and protesting against the Jakarta organised
massacres taking place are in favour of armed foreign intervention. As the
Committee for a Workers’ statement warns, the record of the United Nations
is not one of resolving problems. It risks being further embroiled for a
long time in a conflict it cannot contain. As the Australian section of the
CWI points out in a leaflet used on the mass demonstrations, uninvited
intervention will only be taken as a licence for further atrocities as with
the Serbian Army in Kosova as the NATO bombings started.

Xanana Gusmao

Xanana Gusmao

Gusmao’s release

The CWI statement also points to the role of Xanana Gusmao, the jailed
resistance leader and recognised future leader of a future independent East
Timor. He has been released even earlier than recently announced with the
hope of him having some effect on the apparently hopeless situation in his
country. Under the protection, at present of the British Embassy in Jakarta,
he is undoubtedly pondering his fate. The chances narrow by the hour of him
being able to arrange some kind of deal that to bring about a cessation of
the blood-letting and a ‘safe’ transition to an independent state of East
Timor. The aim would be to establish an administration in Dili that is
friendly and cooperative with big business and with the major imperialist
powers as well as Jakarta and with the militias on the ground. All the
evidence of his contacts and speeches over the past months and days have
pointed in this direction.

On his release from detention on 7th September, Gusmao ordered the guerrilla
forces in East Timor to “take no action that could be construed as starting
a civil war”. But a very bloody one-sided civil war is already well underway
in East Timor.

CWI members in Portugal, where protests are taking place across the country,
have heard that self-defence groups in Dili, set up by pro-independence
youth, have been ‘disbanded’ by national liberation organisations, following
the murder of a militia leader. In warning against putting trust in foreign
armed intervention, the CWI, to which the Socialist Party is affiliated, is
in no way favouring passive acceptance.

We argue for the maximum international solidarity in terms of protests at
embassies, airline offices, trade fairs and even sporting or cultural events
attended by Indonesian representatives. We call on all trade unionists to
argue for full boycotts of all trade and communication with Indonesia,
following the example of the communication workers’ and dock-workers’ union
in Australia. No contracts for arms to Indonesia should be honoured. The
immediate withdrawal of all of the more than 20,000 Indonesian troops must
be demanded and the immediate implementation of the independence decision.

The workers’ movement internationally must find ways of assisting local
defence forces of East Timorese fighters to arm themselves in order to crush
the counter-revolutionary militias. To carry out the will of the people to
the full, these forces would have to be under the control of elected
committees of the working and poor people of East Timor who have voted for
an end to Jakarta’s tyranny.

In a programme outlined in the CWI statement, full support is given to the
struggle of the East Timorese and other oppressed people within Indonesia
for total self-determination. It spells out the need to guarantee the rights
of all minorities within a socialist independent East Timor and to spread
the struggle for socialism through appeals to the workers and poor of
neighbouring countries and South East Asia as a whole. Only through such a
programme being taken up by the movement for independence ands democratic
rights in East Timor can there be an end to the present nightmare in East
Timor and a future of harmonious development for the people of the whole

Kerry Morgan

CWI Statement on East Timor

Militant Socialist Organisation leaflet

MSO Website

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