Action Alerts | PMA's newsletter | What's on | Links | How PMA can help you
Help PMA grow | Petition forms | Site map | PMA main page


Action Alert picture

Australia : complicity in East Timor

13 September 1999

Two articles which have been forwarded to us after our request for more information on the complicity of the Australian government in the killings in East Timor.


"A secure environment devoid of violence or other forms of intimidation is a pre-requisite for the holding of a free and fair ballot in East Timor Responsibility to ensure such an environment ... rests with the appropriate Indonesian security authorities" - Text of UN agreement signed by the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, May 5, 1999

"There has been continuing violence and intimidation in many parts of East Timor" Statement by the Australian Defence Minister, John Moore, putting evacuation forces on stand-by, August 26, 1999.

Australian policy makers have fought long and hard to get the international community to trust Indonesia's security forces to prevent a bloodbath in East Timor.

So it is little wonder that the Defence Minister, John Moore, claimed he was merely taking a "routine precaution" when he announced on Thursday that Australian forces were being put on alert to evacuate people from East Timor.

The only trouble was that the rest of Moore's statement highlighted how Australia's policy is in ruins.

Far from the security situation improving in East Timor as envisaged by Australian policy, Moore admitted: "There is a real risk that the violence could become more widespread in the lead-up to [Monday's] ballot and thereafter."

It is now clear that the Indonesian security forces have deliberately destroyed the chances of a free and fair independence ballot in East Timor on Monday. Unfortunately, it is also clear that, thanks mainly to Australian diplomacy, it is much too late to put any alternative policy in place if the same security forces prove they can't be trusted to prevent a bloodbath after the ballot.

The Indonesian military has never given any sign it wants to end its brutal occupation of East Timor, which began with the 1975 invasion. The signs certainly did not improve when it started organizing, funding and training anti-independence militia groups last October.

Given this backdrop, it is not surprising that the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Stanley Roth, has described Australia's opposition to a UN peace-keeping force in East Timor as "defeatist".

Roth's blunt expression of his disappointment occurred during talks in February with the head of the Australian Foreign Affairs department, Dr. Ashton Calvert. Roth had asked Australia to help build support for a peace-keeping force to prevent bloodshed while the East Timorese moved towards an act of self-determination.

But Calvert was adamant that "adept diplomacy" would ensure this was unnecessary. (This was not Calvert's first foray involving Indonesia. As an advisor to the former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, he helped bring about the ignominious 1995 Security Treaty with the Soeharto regime.)

According to the leaked record of the February conversation, Calvert stressed the importance of encouraging the East Timorese to sort out their differences without resort to the UN. Given one side was being armed and incited by the Indonesian military to kill the other side, Calvert seemed a little short of practical suggestions on how this encouragement might be conveyed.

After all, the Australian policy of relying on the instigators of the violence to maintain the peace would scarcely seem a convincing way to build trust.

Calvert's performance was further distinguished by his bizarre observation that the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, was more of a problem than the head of the military, General Wiranto. As is now plain, the Indonesian military, under Wiranto's command, is responsible for much of the violence that will prevent a free and fair ballot on Monday.

Yet the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, seems immensely pleased with the policy urged on the US by his departmental head. Downer told Parliament earlier this month that Roth was "grateful" for the insight Calvert had given him about Indonesian resistance to peace keepers; "only a child", he said, would continue to push for peace keepers in these circumstances.

Downer also boasted that Australia had taken a leading role in formulating international policy on East Timor. Unfortunately, Downer is correct: US officials say privately that they were not prepared to push for peace-keepers in the teeth of such determined opposition from an ally so close to the problem.

No-one claims that getting UN support for a peace-keeping force would have been simple. But due largely to Australia's opposition, the effort was not even made. As a result, Alatas signed an agreement with the UN on May 5 which left the responsibility for ensuring a free and fair ballot to Indonesia. Alatas specifically agreed that it was essential that the Indonesian security forces stay "absolutely neutral".

There is now a mountain of evidence - especially from Australian intelligence sources - that this has not occurred. Instead, Indonesian forces have masterminded a terror campaign.

The violence has become so bad that most outside observers, including journalists, now look like being evacuated from East Timor within a couple of days of the ballot.

No-one knows for sure if the bloodbath repeatedly promised by the militias will ensue. But the evacuation of potentially damning witnesses will scarcely act as a deterrent.

The prospect of a bloodbath prompted the head of the US military command in the Pacific, Admiral Blair, to meet the commander of the Australian Theatre forces, Air Vice-Marshall Treloar, in Honolulu in June. They discussed contingency plans to dispatch 15,000 US troops to East Timor to stop militia violence and facilitate an evacuation.

Treloar agreed to pass on a request for US forces to transit through Darwin. In an extraordinary display of confidence, Australian officials did not bother to pass this on to either Moore or Downer. Instead, they rejected the request out of hand - thus reassuring the militia they were in no danger of being disarmed by a well-equipped US force.

Australian policy makers were aghast at the proposal, which they saw as guaranteeing that the Indonesian military would go to war with the US.

The idea is fanciful. The US Pacific Command was not planning to fight the Indonesian military but to take over the job the latter was failing to do on behalf of the UN in a territory that had just voted for independence.

General Wiranto may be brutal and untrustworthy, but he is not mad. He is well aware that the US military could destroy his entire command and control structure if he starts a war.

Except of course, against the East Timorese. In that case he knows he can rely on Australian policy makers to stay the US hand.

Meanwhile the Australian military is getting ready for the next in its ongoing series of friendly exercises with the Indonesian military, imaginitavely code-named Kakadu, Cassowary, Rajawali Ausindo, Elang Ausindo, Albatross Ausindo, Trisetia and New Horizon.

August 28-29, Brian Toohey.

[Excerpt from August 1999 submission by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) to the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee Enquiry into East Timor .]

Full text (pdf):

[7] (page number of source document)

The security environment

The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) have maintained a significant presence in East Timor since December 1975. Exact figures are very difficult to ascertain, particularly given the difficulty distinguishing between permanent combat troops and other non-combatant and temporary troop replacements.

Continuing conflict between TNI and resistance groups has been a persistent feature of East Timor’s security environment since integration. More recently, and particularly since January 1999, conflict in East Timor has involved pro-integrationist militant groups, of which there are three sub-categories:

** Wanra: militant groups established and equipped by TNI as security auxiliaries. The Government of Indonesia argues that these elements exist in all provinces and have legitimate security activities across the archipelago. There are probably about 12 such groups in existence in East Timor, including Alfa (Los Palos), Halilintar (Maliana), Sera and Saka (Baucau).

** Pro-integrationist militant groups, most commonly referred to as militias or paramilitaries: we estimate there are around 25 such groups in East Timor.

These groups have sprung up since early 1999 and include Besi Merah Putih (Liquica), Aitarak (Dili) and Mahidi (Ainaro).

** Paramilitary groups set up by TNI some years ago: including Gadapaksi (sometimes also referred to as ‘ninja’). They now have strong connections with the pro-integrationist militant groups and many members may already have moved across to the newer groups.

It is very difficult to estimate membership of these groups accurately. There is some overlapping membership between the three categories, although it is impossible to determine how much.

On 19 April the Indonesian authorities announced that pamswakarsa or "neighbourhood defence units ", would be established in East Timor. Such units exist across the archipelago, established to assist the police in maintaining security. In East Timor they appear to be largely comprised of pre-existing militant groups. The Australian Government has expressed its concern to the Indonesian authorities that the formation of such groups as a means by which to legitimise civil militias would be in contravention of the Tripartite Agreement.

Violent incidents involving these groups have been frequent throughout 1999 and have resulted in loss of life and serious human rights abuses, notably in but not confined to Suai (24-5 January and 21-22 April), Liquica (5-6 April) and Dili (17 April). Daily campaigns of intimidation by armed pro-integration groups have become a feature of life in Dili and elsewhere and have led to the burning of property, violent clashes, death, kidnappings, sexual violence and other forms of intimidation. There have also been a number of serious attacks and killings perpetrated by Falintil against military and police personnel, as well as pro-integrationist civilians. It is very difficult to get a clear picture of the exact nature of these events, including numbers of deaths, the identity of the perpetrators and who may have ordered or sanctioned various human rights abuses.

Ongoing violence has also resulted in large scale internal dislocation of people, many of whom are now living under appalling humanitarian conditions. In July 1999 the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) was at between 40,000 and 60,000, although UNAMET have indicated that some IDPs have recently begun to return to their homes. (Australian assistance to IDPs is detailed in part 2).

Although the deployment of UNAMET staff has led to some improvement in the security environment in recent weeks, the security situation and its implications for the ballot remain of concern. The situation in the western districts and the plight of IDPs remain of particular concern. The UN Secretary-General’s 22 June and 20 July Reports to the Security Council (S/1999/705 and S/1999/803) provide the UN Secretary-General’s assessment of the security situation, with which the Australian Government concurs.

TNI links with the militias

Violence and intimidation have continued to be carried out with impunity by pro-integration militias. There is a widespread belief that they have been acting with the aquiescence of members of TNI. There is evidence available to the Australian Government that TNI has been actively involved in encouraging and supporting pro-integrationist militias in East Timor, including through the supply of arms.

Received 13 September 1999.

Link to main East Timor page

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. ***

Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Click here
Action Alerts PMA's newsletter What's on where Peace links Support PMA! How PMA can help you Petition Forms Site Map