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US Endorsed Indonesia's East Timor Invasion: Secret documents
6 December 2001
The United States offered full and direct approval to Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor, a move by then-president Suharto which consigned the territory to 25 years of oppression, official documents released Thursday show.
The documents prove conclusively for the first time that the United States gave a 'green light' to the invasion, the opening salvo in an occupation that cost the lives of up to 200,000 East Timorese.
General Suharto briefed US president Gerald Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger on his plans for the former Portuguese colony hours before the invasion, according to documents collected by George Washington University's National Security Archive.
When Ford and Kissinger called in Jakarta on their way back from a summit in Beijing on December 6, 1975, Suharto claimed that in the interests of Asia and regional stability, he had to bring stability to East Timor, to which Portugal was trying to grant autonomy.
"We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto told his visitors, according to a long classified State Department cable.
Ford replied: "We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem you have and the intentions you have."
Kissinger, who has denied the subject of Timor came up during the talks, appeared to be concerned about the domestic political implications of an Indonesian invasion. "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly, we would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return.
"The president will be back on Monday at 2:00 pm Jakarta time. We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better, if it were done after we returned."
The invasion took place on December 7, the day after the Ford-Suharto meeting. Kissinger has consistently rejected criticism of the Ford Administration's conduct on East Timor.
During a launch in 1995 for his book "Diplomacy," Kissinger said at a New York hotel it was perhaps "regrettable" that for US officials, the implications of Indonesia's Timor policy were lost in a blizzard of geopolitical issues following the Vietnam War.
"Timor was never discussed with us when we were in Indonesia," Kissinger said, according to a transcript of the meeting distributed by the East Timor Action network -- which advocated independence for East Timor.
"At the airport as we were leaving, the Indonesians told us that they were going to occupy the Portuguese colony of Timor. To us that did not seem like a very significant event." The documents also show that Kissinger was concerned at the use of US weapons by Indonesia during the East Timor invasion.
By law, the arms could only be used in self defense, but it appears that Kissinger was concerned mostly on the interpretation of the legislation -- not the use of the weapons.
"It depends on how we construe it, whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation," he is quoted as saying.
The eastern part of the island of Timor, situated north of the Australian coast, was invaded by Jakarta in 1975 and annexed the following year.
After a 25-year independence campaign and guerrilla war, the territory voted overwhelmingly for independence in August 1999 in a referendum which triggered a wave of murderous violence by pro-Jakarta militias.
© 2001 Agence France Presse.