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Letter re Australian intercepts about East Timor crimes

24 March 2002

Rt Hon Phil Goff,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Parliament Buildings,

Dear Phil Goff,

In the past week the Australian media has covered shocking revelations that the Australian government deliberately concealed evidence that it had received that senior Indonesian generals were plotting violence in East Timor. This cover-up persisted, even after the massacres that followed the vote on the territory's independence in 1999.

In view of the close co-operation between the New Zealand and Australian intelligence and defence agencies, especially the Government Communications Security Bureau and the Australian Defence Signals Directorate, we would like an urgent reply to the following questions: Did New Zealand also have advance warning of the Indonesian plans to derail the United Nations mandated process of self-determination in East Timor in 1999?

What action is New Zealand taking to ensure that those responsible for these crimes against humanity will be brought to account before an impartial international tribunal?

What action will New Zealand take to encourage Australia to pass on to the United Nations full and complete information from their intelligence intercepts?

Can we be assured that the New Zealand government does not propose to resume either military or intelligence exchanges with Indonesia. We believe that these questions are especially urgent because right now a flawed process to try only a selected few of those responsible for East Timor atrocities is under way in Jakarta. General Timbul Silaen and ex-Governor Abilio Soares face charges, but the list of eighteen men does not include the most senior generals who as the evidence indicates, planned and directed the atrocities from Jakarta. It is anticipated that only light sentences may be imposed and it is widely believed that the trials have been designed to head off a full international tribunal such as that being created in the Hague for the former Yugoslavia.

A further reason for urgency is that both Australia and the United States are moving to resume a level of defence training and intelligence sharing links with Indonesia. We are appalled by this military and intelligence rapprochement which we believe signals to Indonesia that their military leaders can continue to enjoy impunity for heinous crimes. There are several prominent examples of post East Timor military and government careers which have flourished at the expense of other repressed peoples in Indonesia. General Mahidin Simbolon, who in the intercepts refers to a militia group as his "crew", is now commanding the military in West Papua. Retired General Hendropriyono, who according to the intercepts set up the camps in West Timor for the deportees, is now the head of Indonesia's National Intelligence Body.

Defence sources in Canberra have given details of how electronic eavesdroppers intercepted secret messages between the Indonesian officers who ran a campaign of murderous violence to undermine the 1999 referendum. This is the first time that there have been leaks of raw Defence Signals Directorate data relating to a contemporary event, and it is believed that the leak is an indication of a deep disquiet within defence circles.

The intercepts reveal that the pro- Indonesian militias guilty of the worst atrocities were taking their orders from the highest members of the military hierarchy.

The international editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Hamish McDonald, was shown transcripts of two kinds of intercepts "Secret Spoke", which refers to ordinary telephone calls, and "Top Secret Umbra", meaning scrambled or encrypted conversations. The intercepts show that two units of Indonesia's special forces, codenamed Venus and Tribuana, went to East Timor early in 1999 for undercover operations. In one telephone intercept, the military commander in East Timor, Colonel Tono Suratman at the time, told notorious militia leader Eurico Guterres not to contact him directly but via another officer.

The covert chain of command was headed by President Habibie's co-ordinating minister for politics and security, General Feisal Tanjung and went down to army generals and colonels on the ground in East Timor. When - to their enormous surprise - the covert terror campaign did not work these officers organised the forced deportation of one third of East Timor's population and the near total destruction of East Timor's infrastructure. The intercepts also show that two other cabinet ministers who were also former generals assisted - A.M. Hendropriyono and Mohammad Yunus Yosfiah.

Even as an Australian-led multinational force was arriving in the ruins of East Timor in September 1999 the DSD intercepted a telephone call from the Indonesian military to a Timorese supporter to tell him about assassination squads called "Kiper-9", which were hunting down deserters and supporters of independence.

We look forward to your reply detailing the New Zealand Government's response to this new information and response to our specific questions,

Yours sincerely,
Maire Leadbeater (for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee)

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