[The following is a response by ASIET to the Indonesian government's recent statement on autonomy and independence for East Timor.]
ASIET views the recent statements by Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas with great caution but also assesses them as a major victory for the East Timorese people. As a direct result of the enormous sacrifices made in the course of the peoples resistance in East Timor and their untiring persistence in demanding an act of self determination, the Indonesian regime has been forced to recognise that its proposal for "autonomy plus" will not be accepted by the East Timorese as a final solution.
Only a genuine act of self-determination will ever be seen as a final solution: or Independence itself.
ASIET salutes the great courage and persistence of the East Timorese resistance and the East Timorese people as a whole which have defeated the Jakarta regime.
Further weakened by the mass democratic awakening in Indonesia, the Habibie-Wiranto regime has now taken the first step in capitulation. However the regime will still try to ensure that the coming developments work to the regime's benefit and not the East Timorese. If the regime can find any way to renege on the commitment it has now given, it will do so. No regime that has genuine good intentions towards the people of East Timor would still be sending special commando forces to East Timor or arming and paying vigilante groups in East Timor to engage in terror and murder.
Every extra day in reaching agreement on self-determination and on the withdrawal of Indonesian armed forces from East Timor will mean more East Timorese lives lost. Pressure must be maintained on Indonesia and the Australian government to ensure the most rapid possible conclusion to the war of occupation.
ASIET therefore calls upon the international solidarity movement to campaign for the following urgent demands:
- that Habibie government immediately withdraw all members of the Indonesian military from East Timor and that it immediately disarm all vigilante groups that the Habibie government immediately and unconditionally release Xanana Gusmao from detention along with all other East Timorese political prisoners
- that the Habibie government immediately begin direct talks with Xanana Gusmao and other creditable representatives of the East Timorese people to organise a process of transition to self-determination and independence.
- immediately rescind its recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor
- suspend and end all forms of cooperation with the Indonesian military
- publicly declare its willingness to offer generous financial assistance, financed by a levy on Australian businesses who have profited from business activity in Indonesia and East Timor, to an independent East Timorese authority, as a form of war reparations owing to the East Timorese people as a result of Australian complicity in Jakarta's war of occupation, 1975-1999.
- publicly declare it supports the right of the East Timorese to negotiate any new contracts for the exploitation of its natural resources, including in the Timor Gap, with any party from any country in accord with what would bring the best benefits to the East Timorese people
Background article: East Timor - independence now!
Jon Land – The announcement by the Habibie regime on January 27 that it is prepared to "relinquish" East Timor as part of Indonesia marks a new turn in the struggle for independence. For the first time in the history of the 23-year long illegal occupation, the Indonesian government has indicated that it is willing to allow East Timor to become an independent nation. Foreign Affairs minister Ali Alatas and Information minister Yunus Yosfiah told reporters that cabinet had decided that if the offer of autonomy was rejected by the East Timorese, one "option" would be for the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) to "consider whether East Timor can honorably be relinquished from the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia".
The MPR would make such a consideration after the June elections. There was no mention of how the East Timorese people would be able to choose to reject the autonomy proposal. The East Timorese resistance has responded coolly to the decision.
Resistance leader Jose Ramos Horta said that: "I believe it is no more than a smokescreen, a diplomatic stunt. Their aim is to win the good favour of the international community, while at the same time, they create terror in East Timor".
Speaking on SBS News on January 28, Horta added that: "The world is not going to be fooled for too long. If they do not deliver, on their promises in the next few weeks and months – starting with troop withdrawal – it is going to be impossible to avoid sanctions by the United States Congress and by the European Union. Indonesia can ill-afford continuing to joke, to play tricks, with the international community".
The change by the Habibie regime was announced on the eve of negotiations discussing the future status of East Timor at the United Nations, involving Indonesia and Portugal. Alatas had earlier stated that he expected that these UN talks would be completed by April.
Alatas has qualified the move to let East Timor go by stating that autonomy was still the preferred outcome: "The cabinets decision was only an option, a choice – we will continue the negotiations regarding our proposal, because the Indonesian government remains convinced that this settlement [autonomy] proposal is the most realistic, fair and practical and with the best prospects of peaceful settlement of the East Timor issue".
The foreign minister has repeated claims that civil war and ongoing divisions would occur if a period of autonomy was followed by a referendum on independence. He also asserted that: "If this were to happen, they would live freely ten years at our expense because they don't have any resources of their own, we would be giving them everything, and then they would say "goodbye and thank you very much".
Ironically, by his own admission then, Alatas concedes that a referendum would result in an overwhelming vote for independence.
This "offer" by the Habibie regime to allow the East Timorese the right to independence reflects pressure from a number of quarters. There is increasing international support for an act of self-determination to take place. Within East Timor itself, the independence movement has become stronger over the last twelve months, despite heightened repression.
Perhaps most significantly, the announcement points to growing divisions within the Habibie cabinet on how to proceed in dealing with the future status of East Timor. These divisions have been further complicated by the recent changes to the electoral laws, which will see the representation of the military in parliament reduced and a record number of parties legally contest the upcoming election.
Alatas, who has been the staunchest and most articulate defender of Indonesia's claims over East Timor is due to retire soon. It is not inconceivable that whoever replaces him as foreign minister will adopt a more conciliatory approach. In the lead up to the election, student mobilisations are likely to raise the issue of East Timor more forcefully as part of the push to have the military removed from any role in civilian affairs.
Responses by Western governments to the announcement have been generally cautious – though supportive – in respect to it being a sign of flexibility by Indonesia. The UN welcomed the move, but was "seeking clarification".
Solidarity organisations have demanded that more substantial steps take place, such as the immediate withdrawal of Indonesian troops, the placement of international peace monitors throughout East Timor and the immediate release of resistance leader Xanana Gusmao and all East Timorese political prisoners.
The situation within East Timor has deteriorated in recent months, with the formation and arming of new paramilitary groups by the Indonesian military.
Involving several thousand, these militias have been conducting a reign terror, particularly in remote villages to the South-West and South-East, most notably at Maubara, Alas, Turiscai, Cailaco and Cassa. More than 3000 refugees have fled to Dili and larger regional centres to escape kidnappings, torture and extra-judicial killings.
The East Timor Human Rights Centre issued an urgent appeal on January 27 following militia attacks throughout the Zumalai sub-district. On January 25, it is believed four people were killed in the village of Galitas and a further six kidnapped (five of whom are aged under 17). In an incident the previous day, 27 year-old Fernando Cardoso was brutally murdered, and allegedly had his limbs removed and was buried by the side of a road with his head exposed.
Speaking at a meeting of the Australia East Timor Association (NSW) on January 27, conveyor Andrew McNaughtan said that there is a "horrendous nightmare" going on in East Timor at the moment and that the Australian government is not doing enough to pressure the Habibie regime to halt this.
He was also scathing of the media, which had tended to treat incidents of human rights abuses as isolated cases, rather than reporting them as part of a widespread campaign of terror which has been taking place for many months.