As Bill Clinton leads the US delegation to East Timor's independence celebration, the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) urged that the history of US support for Indonesia's military occupation of East Timor not be forgotten. On May 20, East Timor will become the first new nation of the millennium.
"When former President Clinton, joined by his last ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, congratulates the East Timorese people on their hard-won victory, we must remember that as the most important supporter of Indonesia's illegal occupation, the US, owes the new country an enormous moral debt. We urge the Clinton delegation to acknowledge it," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.
"If President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger had not given the go ahead for Indonesia's invasion in 1975, tremendous suffering could have been avoided," added Miller.
As detailed in declassified documents recently released by the National Security Archive, on December 6, 1975, then-US President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger gave Indonesian dictator Suharto a green light to invade East Timor, which his military did the next day.
The US supplied 90 percent of the weapons used during the invasion. For the next twenty-three years, from Ford to Clinton, successive US administrations consistently backed Indonesia's occupation, providing Jakarta diplomatic cover and billions of dollars in weaponry, military training, and economic assistance. More than 200,000 people – one-third of the population – were killed as a result.
When video footage and photographs of a November 1991 massacre in Dili, the capital, were smuggled to the outside world by reporters who survived the bloodbath, international support for East Timor's independence grew dramatically. Following the massacre, the newly-formed East Timor Action Network successfully worked with members of Congress to block some weapons sales and military training to Jakarta.
In the aftermath of East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence on August 30, 1999, the Indonesian military (TNI) and its militia proxies laid waste to the territory, killing at least 2,000 and forcibly displacing more than two-thirds of the population. Through intelligence intercepts and press reports, the Clinton administration was aware of Jakarta's plans to engage in such terror but failed to threaten a cut off of American economic and military aid as a preventative measure. It never issued a presidential statement warning of repercussions if Indonesia did not comply with obligations to ensure security for the UN ballot.
A week into the TNI's scorched-earth campaign, Clinton belatedly cut military assistance and other aid to Indonesia. The Indonesian military quickly agreed to withdraw and allow in international peacekeepers.
"Grassroots and congressional pressure did force the executive branch to make significant concessions on its Indonesia policy," said Miller. "The US supported the 1999 referendum and since September 1999 Washington has provided significant assistance to East Timor's reconstruction, but such aid does not begin to compensate the East Timorese people for the suffering wrought by 24 years of US support for Indonesian military occupation."
"The US government must declassify and release all relevant information needed to help the people of the US, Indonesia and East Timor understand what happened during the invasion and occupation," said Miller. "We urge Congress to investigate the US role, in order to avoid repeating policies like those which caused such suffering in East Timor."
For over a decade, the East Timor Action Network/US (ETAN) has supported self-determination and human rights for East Timor It now works to support human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal, and economic justice and human rights, including women's rights.