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Business interests are behind Indonesia's fight to hold on to East Timor

May 8, 1999

By George J. Aditjondro

Sydney Morning Herald


THE fighting between the Indonesian-backed pro-integration militias and supporters of independence in East Timor cannot be understood fully without taking into account the substantial holdings in the province of the former Indonesian president Soeharto and his family.

These interests include 564,867 hectares of land. They are holdings that CNRT, the umbrella organisation of the East Timorese resistance movement, has made clear it would seize if Timor becomes an independent state.

The Soeharto landholdings stretch from the western border to the eastern tip of East Timor and include 50,000 hectares of timber plantations allocated to Bob Hasan, one of the Soeharto family's business operators, and tens of thousands of hectares of sugarcane plantations on the southern coast controlled by Soeharto's children.

The best marble deposits in Timor, at Manatuto, are owned by Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, Soeharto's eldest daughter, who also has a monopoly over coffee production and export from East Timor, through a company of hers in Dili.

These Soeharto interests are closely intertwined with the business interests of generals who had served under Soeharto during the invasion and annexation of East Timor, and other military operations.

Batara Indra, an Indonesian conglomerate backed by retired generals Benny Moerdani and Dading Kalbuadi, who co-ordinated the operation that led to the killings of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo in 1975, controls the sandalwood forests of East Timor and the production and export of sandalwood oil.

Batara Indra also exports Buddhist statues to Taiwan and Catholic statues to Italy, made from East Timorese sandalwood or marble.

Most of the hotels and the only cinema in Dili are owned by Batara Indra. The large construction firms in Dili, involved in all major infrastructure projects - including building the irrigation canals and ditches for Indonesian "trans- migrants" - either belong to Moerdani's Batara Indra Group, or to the Anak Liambau Group of the Jakarta-appointed Governor of East Timor, Jose Abilio Soares.

The Governor's family is also closely involved with the Soeharto family's businesses. Gil Alves, a brother-in-law of Governor Abilio, operates the alcohol sticker monopoly of Soeharto's grandson, Ari Haryo Wibowo, also known as Ari Sigit.

Alves is also involved in a drinking water company, Aquamor, and a textile company, PT Dilitex, that are closely linked with Siti Hedijanti Harijadi, Soeharto's middle daughter who is married to the sacked General Prabowo Subianto.

Looking at the leading figures of the pro-integration forces in East Timor, it is not difficult to find their links to the Soeharto family or to their own property interests in the province.

Top of the list is Governor Abilio, once a protege of Prabowo when the latter was still head of the Indonesian Army's special force, Kopassus. Basilio Araujo, the spokeperson of the pro-integration forces, is also the deputy head of the provincial investment board, the body that decides who is allowed to invest in East Timor.

Even the current army commander of East Timor, Colonel Tono Suratman, has Soeharto connections. His family are the co-owners of a pearling company, PT Kima Surya Lestari Mutiara, with Prabowo's wife. This company has pearl diving operations offshore from Flores and Lombok, west of Timor.

Due to its high-level connections, this Suratman-Prabowo joint venture was allowed to operate within the boundaries of the Komodo National Park, in Flores, without even paying any royalties to the Nusa Tenggara Timur province, where the park is located.

The entire top brass of the Indonesian Army and civilian bureaucracy in East Timor are closely interlinked with Soeharto's former inner circle, which has in turn been taken over by his successor, B.J. Habibie.

Even the Indonesian Armed Forces commander, General Wiranto, has Soeharto connections, since all the army charities which are now under his patronage are co-shareholders of many of the Soeharto family's timber concessions and telecommunication companies.

The Soeharto family's interests in East Timor may be small compared with their holdings in the rest of Indonesia, but their holdings in East Timor include the three onshore oil wells that were discovered in the '60s - the Suai Loro in Covalima, Aliambata in Vikeke, and Pualaca in Manatuto. And between those three wells lie vast untapped oil reserves.

The Soeharto family has also made preparations to venture into the Timor Sea oil reserves. Last year, it set up a new oil company in Perth, Genindo Western Petroleum Propriety Limited. The company is headed by Bambang Trihatmodjo, Soeharto's middle son.

Bambang and younger brother Tommy also own two Singapore-based oil and gas tanker fleets that operate in the seas between Indonesia and north-east Asia. No doubt they would be eager to be involved in a similar trade between the Timor Gap and those same Asian customers. Bambang is also co-owner of PT Elnusa, which is involved in building base camps for the oil companies and related petrochemical industries in Timor.

Tommy, in addition to his tanker fleet, has his own air charter company which has been waiting to take advantage of the wealth that will flow from the Timor Gap, where three wells - Elang, Kakatua, and Kakatua North - have been producing 33,000 barrels of oil per day since July last year.

And many of the Soeharto clan business partners in Indonesia's oil and gas fields, such as Mobil Oil, are also active in the Timor Sea, which could lead them into further joint ventures in this part of the world.

This is why the Jakarta oligarchy - with the strong support from their East Timorese collaborators - are so keen on undermining a free and fair vote to determine East Timor's future political status.

Behind the militia tactics in East Timor there is a strategy to partition East Timor into a western half that supports continued links with Indonesia and an eastern part that would be allowed to become independent. Such a partition would roughly follow the lines of the "oil-rich" and "oil-poor" parts of East Timor.

An alternative strategy would allow the entire territory to obtain its political independence, as long as the landholdings of the Soeharto family and their East Timorese collaborators were to be respected by an independent East Timor state, and not be seized by the new government or by the rightful traditional landowners.

Dr George J. Aditjondro is a lecturer at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Newcastle. His new book, Is Oil Thicker than Blood? A Study of Oil Companies' Interests and Western Complicity in Indonesia's Annexation of East Timor will be published by Nova Science in the US this month.

*** 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. ***

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