Suffering for the East Timorese and great shame for Australia
The following statement was released by the Information Officer of the Australia East Timor Friendship Association, Andy Alcock, to observe the 42nd anniversary of the full scale invasion of the Democratic Republic of East Timor by the Indonesian military (TNI) on 7 December 1975.
"On the 7 December 1975, the Indonesian military (TNI) began its illegal full scale invasion of the Democratic Republic of East Timor (DRET).
This invasion which was supported by US and Australian leaders led to a 24 year brutal occupation during which about a third of the population perished, massive human rights violations were committed and 80% of the tiny nation's infrastructure was destroyed.
Fair minded Australians who value democracy and human rights feel great shame because of the behaviour of our leaders during the long period of occupation of a nation whose people were allies with us in the great struggle against the forces of Japanese fascism during World War 2.
During that war, East Timor lost about 70,000 lives out of a total population of 1/2 a million while Australia lost 40,000 lives out of a population of 7 million. About 40,000 east Timorese were summarily executed because of their support for Australian commandos fighting in their country.
Before the 7 December 1975, the TNI had already claimed the lives of many East Timorese along with those of the Balibo 5, the 5 Australian-based media workers who were covering the initial TNI forays into East Timor in the same year. Australian leaders not only failed to condemn those responsible, but colluded with Indonesia's Suharto dictatorship to cover up what was happening. It was the only nation that formally recognised the illegal occupation, it continued to provide weapons and other military hardware, give military cooperation and be involved in joint exercises with the TNI, and acted as an apologist for the Suharto dictatorship throughout the 24 years of occupation.
The recently published book by Australian journalist Kim McGrath, Crossing the Line, has revealed that the reason for this was largely due to the fact that Australian leaders wanted to profit from East Timor's oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea.
In late 1999 Australian leaders were given an opportunity to do something positive for our valiant WW2 allies after getting agreement from Indonesia for a UN supervised independence referendum. However, they insisted that the exercise be carried out with the presence of a UN civilian police force rather than a military peace-keeping force – a very unwise decision given the 24 years of extremely brutal repression by the TNI.
When the overwhelming majority of East Timorese voted for independence, the TNI and its militias conducted a final wave of violence and destruction in reprisal. This resulted in about 2,000 more people being killed.
Australian soldiers who were part of the UN INTERFET force that pushed the TNI out of East Timor served with distinction and were greatly appreciated by the suffering East Timorese.
After Timor-Leste gained its independence in 2002, negotiatons began with Australia in the martime boundary between the two nations. The Howard Government directed Australian security services to spy on the Timor-Leste negotiating team to achieve a very unfair agreement which saw Australia making several billions of dollars profit from Timor-Leste's oil and gas
Later, when the Timor-Leste Government appealed to the International Court of Justice against the unfair agreement, Australian leaders ordered ASIO to invade the office of the Australian lawyer, Bernard Collaery, who was representing Timor-Leste, and stole crucial documents. It also sought to pervert the cause of justice by withdrawing the passport of a former Australian military intelligence officer, known as Witness K, who was a crucial witness to the case. This was not about Australia's security, but about cheating the poorest nation in SE Asia from its resources in its half of the Timor Sea.
This is an extremely shameful part of Australia's history and our leaders and diplomats should be taking steps to work for a more peaceful region and ensuring that international law should be respected and followed.
It could start by apologising unreservedly to the Timor-Leste Government for its betrayal during the brutal TNI occupation and the attempt to force an unfair oil treaty on it, offering to repay the profits it has received from the sale of Timor-Leste's resources, accepting the midline between the coastlines of the two nations as their official maritime boundary (in line with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea) and assisting it to seek justice and compensation for what its people suffered during the 24 years of occupation.
It could also raise the matter of the continued genocide and the gross human rights abuses that are being committed by the TNI in West Papua.
Our leaders are fond of telling us that they believe in the rule of law. This would be an appropriate time to demonstrate that they are sincere and consistent in this claim.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock
AETFA SA Inc
Phone: 61 8 83710480
0457 827 014
AETFA SA – 42 YEARS OF SOLIDARITY WITH TIMOR-LESTE FOR INDEPENDENCE AND JUSTICE
(AETFA SA was originally the Campaign for an Independent East Timor SA until Timor-Leste's independence in 2002
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