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Silence masks shameless hypocrisy over East Timor genocide


The past several weeks in East Timor have been bloody ones -- like so many others during Indonesia’s illegal 24-year occupation.

Church and human rights workers say that paramilitaries have killed more than 100 people since the beginning of April. The wave of violence has unfolded while the United Nations worked to broker a deal that would allow East Timorese to vote on whether to become an independent nation.

The paramilitary attacks -- which include the April 6 massacre of at least 25 people in a Catholic church -- often have occurred in the presence of Indonesian security forces. According to an Australian diplomatic report, Indonesian armed forces “were present in some numbers” at the time of the church massacre.

Amnesty International has issued harsh condemnations of Indonesian troops’ complicity in the attacks. “As talks on the future of East Timor draw to an end, paramilitaries -- armed and supported by the Indonesian armed forces -- have been let loose to murder, rape and torture innocent civilians whose support for East Timorese independence they do not share,” the human rights group said.

The Indonesian military’s collusion with the paramilitary groups has been a badly kept secret for quite a while. Last October, Indonesian army documents leaked to a human rights group in Australia revealed that at least 13 paramilitary groups, called “teams,” are under the direct control of army commanders.

Contrary to what has been suggested in some media reports, the recent wave of paramilitary violence is not the product of long-simmering tensions between pro-Indonesian and pro-independence East Timorese; rather, it is a continuation of Indonesia’s policy of genocide in East Timor.

This nurturing of the paramilitaries must be understood within a larger historical context -- one that the media have overlooked. To be sure, the media have mentioned that an estimated 200,000 East Timorese have died since Indonesia’s invasion in 1975. What they do not mention is that Indonesian forces carried out mass executions, killing 60,000 East Timorese in the first two months of the invasion.

Press reports also fail to explain that the famine and disease that led to the deaths of tens of thousands more East Timorese was the direct result of the invaders’ practice of herding people into concentration camps and destroying agricultural plots with U.S.-supplied warplanes and napalm.

The media, moreover, have not made much of the Indonesian government’s policy of forced sterilization. According to a Malaysian-based East Timor advocacy group, 66 percent of East Timorese women were subject to injectable or implanted sterilization in 1991.

In an effort to hide this genocide, Indonesia has sealed off East Timor from the outside world. Recent media reports do not inform readers of this important fact either.

The proportion of deaths in East Timor -- 200,000 people out of a pre-invasion population of 690,000 -- exceeds that which resulted from Pol Pot’s reign of terror in Cambodia. The Serb atrocities in Kosovo also pale in comparison to Indonesia’s record of slaughter.

There is a very good reason why the documented genocide in East Timor has been met with silence in the same countries now at war in the Balkans: Several of these nations have aided and abetted the Indonesian war criminals who have cultivated East Timor’s killing fields.

The U.N. General Assembly has passed resolutions condemning the invasion and occupation on eight separate occasions, but Japan, the United States, Great Britain and Australia distinguished themselves by either voting against the resolution or abstaining. Japan voted against the resolution all eight times.

In 1978, Australia went so far as to officially recognize Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor -- the only nation ever to do so. The Australian government then got down to the serious business of dividing up the oil-rich Timor Gap with the Suharto regime. The oil reserves in the Timor Gap are worth billions of dollars to Australia.

The United States, which is now so eager to drop bombs on Belgrade to compel respect for human rights, has provided Indonesia’s armed forces with all the weapons and training they have needed to fulfill their inhuman mission in East Timor.

Japan stands out as well for its complicity in the East Timor holocaust. For many years, U.S. Marine and Army Special Forces units based in Okinawa -- thus supported by Japanese taxpayers -- have trained Indonesian troops, including dreaded special forces units. Japan has also sunk more investments and aid money in Indonesia than any other nation but has never used its influence to try to change Jakarta’s position on East Timor.

Indonesia is seen as a key strategic ally by Western nations and Japan, so Indonesia can get away with behavior that engenders pariah status for other regimes. The radically different responses to the crimes against humanity in Kosovo and East Timor demonstrate shameless hypocrisy and indicate that the “rule of law” is still what it always has been -- the rule of the powerful.

Rick Mercier is a freelance writer based in Japan. He is also codirector of the Sanin Peace Network.

National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 1999