East Timor: Indonesian, US, Australian governments’ role in atrocities

East Timor

By Mike Head:

UN-backed report indicts Indonesia, Australia and US for Timor atrocities

13 June 2006

Despite its limited framework (see: “Incriminating documents looted in East Timor”), the report of the East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) made a series of damning findings against Indonesia, the US and Australia.

The report indicted the Indonesian government and security forces for the deaths of as many as 183,000 civilians—more than 90 percent of whom died from hunger and illness—between 1975 and 1999. It documented 18,600 unlawful killings or disappearances and 8,500 cases of torture, with public beheadings, mutilation of genitalia, burying and burning alive of victims, use of cigarettes to burn victims, and ears and genitals being lopped off to display to families.

The deaths amounted to almost a third of East Timor’s pre-invasion population.

As well as napalm and other US-supplied weapons, the Indonesian security forces “consciously decided to use starvation of East Timorese civilians as a weapon of war”, the report says.

“The intentional imposition of conditions of life which could not sustain tens of thousands of East Timorese civilians amounted to extermination as a crime against humanity committed against the East Timorese population.”

Thousands of East Timorese women were sexually assaulted.

“Rape, sexual slavery and sexual violence were tools used as part of the campaign designed to inflict a deep experience of terror, powerlessness and hopelessness upon pro-independence supporters,” the CAVR found.

A culture of impunity prevailed in the occupied territory.

“The violations were committed in execution of a systematic plan approved, conducted and controlled by Indonesian military commanders at the highest level.”

It was not credible to maintain that rogue elements in the military were acting on their own initiative without the knowledge of superiors in Jakarta.

“In 1999 Indonesian security forces and their auxiliaries conducted a coordinated and sustained campaign of violence designed to intimidate the pro-independence movement….

Military bases were openly used as militia headquarters, and military equipment, including forearms were distributed to militia groups.”

The report concluded that, “Justice and accountability must involve those who planned, ordered, committed and are responsible for the most serious human rights violations [who] in many cases have seen their military and civilian careers flourish as a result of their activities.”

US and Australian complicity

The United States was indicted for backing the 1975 invasion to bolster the Suharto regime in the wake of the US defeat in Vietnam.

“As a Permanent Member of the Security Council and superpower, the US had the power and influence to prevent Indonesia’s military intervention but declined to do so.

It consented to the invasion and allowed Indonesia to use its military equipment in the knowledge that this violated US law and would be used to suppress the right of self-determination.”

The CAVR condemned Australia for its long-term de jure recognition of the Indonesian occupation and its failure to try to prevent the use of force in East Timor.

It concluded that Australia was influenced by a desire to get the most it could out of maritime boundary negotiations affecting oil and gas reserves.

East Timor now: here.

1975 journalists’ massacre: here.

A very strange “coup attempt” in East Timor, February 2008: here.

Balibo tells how five young reporters working for Australian television were murdered in East Timor by the Indonesian military in the lead-up to the invasion of the tiny country in 1975: here.

[Balibo director] Robert Connolly discusses his latest feature about the military execution of five television reporters in East Timor in 1975: here.

John Pilger’s criticism of Balibo film: here.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, said on Thursday that the decision to launch a fresh investigation into the deaths of the so-called “Balibo Five” would harm relations between the three countries involved: here.

Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the referendum that saw nearly 80 percent of the East Timorese people vote to secede from Indonesia and become a separate nation-state. A decade later, independence for the tiny island state has proven to be a fraud: here.

September marked the tenth anniversary of the Australian-led military intervention into East Timor. It is also a decade since a layer of pseudo “left” groups organised “troops in” demonstrations—performing a vital service for the Howard government and the Australian ruling elite: here.

“Alarm bells” ring for Australian government over deepening China-East Timor ties: here.

15 thoughts on “East Timor: Indonesian, US, Australian governments’ role in atrocities

    East Timor’s bloody nightmare

    Review by Barry Healy & Vannessa Hearman
    9 August 2009

    BaliboDirected by Robert ConnollyBased on the book by Jill JolliffeIn cinemas from August 13

    Robert Connolly’s Balibo is an account of the murder of five journalists who went to East Timor to cover Indonesia’s illegal cross-border incursions into the then-Portuguese territory on October 16, 1975 in the border town of Balibo.

    The five newsmen were Greg Shackleton (played by Damon Gameau), Tony Stewart (Mark Winter), Gary Cunningham (Gyton Grantley), Brian Peters (Thomas Wright) and Malcolm Rennie (Nathan Phillips).

    In April 1974, against the backdrop of the looming US defeat in Vietnam, a democratic section of the Portuguese Army overthrew the fascist government in Lisbon. Anti-colonial movements flourished in the Portuguese colonial possessions as the government began to move towards decolonisation of its territories.

    In East Timor, three political parties formed: the left wing, pro-independence FRETILIN (East Timor National Liberation Front), the conservative Timorese Democratic Union (UDT), which wanted continued political association with Portugal; and APODETI, which wanted integration with Indonesia.

    A civil war broke out between Fretilin and UDT. UDT appealed from border camps in West Timor for Indonesian help to defeat Fretilin. This fitted in with Indonesia’s desire to annex the territory.

    Balibo draws on Australian writer Jill Jollife’s book Cover Up, an investigation of the involvement of Indonesian forces in the murder of the five men, and the cover up by the Indonesian government that followed, ably supported by its counterparts in Canberra.

    Australia, under Liberal and Labor governments, was the only country to give legal recognition to Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor from 1975-1999.

    The screenplay co-written by Connolly and playwright John Williamson adroitly narrates three timelines: the fatal journey of the Balibo Five, the Australian freelance journalist Roger East’s visit to East Timor and the present, in which an eyewitness recounts the Indonesian invasion on December 7 1975.

    Roger East (Anthony Lapaglia) went to East Timor to find out what happened to the five newsmen. He arrived just after FRETILIN declared independence from Portugal on 28 November 1975, with the Indonesian invasion imminent. East witnessed the invasion in the form of Indonesian paratrooper commandos, who began a mass slaughter in the streets of Dili.

    East, along with many Timorese was executed at the end of the Dili wharf. Their bodies were dumped into the sea. These were the first of the estimated 185,000 East Timorese to die during the occupation.

    Focusing on the lives of the Australians means that the struggles of the East Timorese tend to become a backdrop for the “white man’s burden” and their experiences. However, the film tries to capture the pro-independence feeling in 1975.

    The strength of the direction, script and acting makes it a satisfying cinematic experience. Balibo is in the tradition of other hard-hitting accounts of courage and martyrdom such as John Duigan’s Romero, the story of the assassination of El Salvador’s outspoken archbishop.

    The sights and sounds of the invasion are muted in this film; they need to be seen, heard and heeded.

    Until now the Rudd government has not acted on NSW deputy coroner Dorelle Pinch’s recommendation in 2007 to look at prosecutions against Indonesian army Special Forces operatives Yunus Yosfiah and Cristoforus da Silva for the deaths of the Balibo Five.

    Balibo reminds us that there are still injustices to be fought.

    From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #806 9 August 2009.


  2. Killings of Balibo Five were deliberate, says former army colonel

    * Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent
    * From: The Australian
    * December 07, 2009 6:43PM

    Balibo Five

    LIBRARY: Journalist Greg Shackleton (27), one of a group of media men killed in East Timor in October 1975. The Balibo Five were killed by Indonesian troops mounting incursions into East Timor.

    THE Balibo Five were deliberately killed during Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor, according to a retired commando who was in the special forces squad that shot them.

    It is the first time a senior Indonesian has broken ranks with the official line that the five Australian-based journalists — Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie – – died accidentally in crossfire in the small town of Balibo.

    According to Colonel Gatot Purwanto, members of “Team Susi”, the squad responsible for the deaths, were waiting for orders from Jakarta about whether to arrest or execute the men when, in response to shots fired from the direction of the house the journalists were hiding in, the Indonesians launched their fatal attack.

    The explosive revelations are contained in the latest edition of Tempo magazine, which interviewed Colonel Purwanto after a clandestine screening of the film Balibo in Jakarta last week by the Indonesian Journalists Alliance.

    Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.
    Related Coverage

    * Indon censors consider Balibo ban

    * We killed Balibo five – former soldier Adelaide Now, 1 hour ago
    * Censor praises Balibo film and then bans it Adelaide Now, 4 days ago
    * Indonesian journos defy Balibo film ban The Australian, 4 days ago
    * Balibo’s Indon premiere without approval Adelaide Now, 7 days ago
    * Special censorship team for Balibo film Adelaide Now, 16 Nov 2009

    The Colonel, who was cashiered from the Army’s Kopassus special forces squad after his involvement in the 1991 Santa Cruz cemetery massacre in Dili, said the five journalists’ bodies were then burned to destroy all evidence of the murders.

    He said it took two days for the remains to be completely destroyed.

    “Our position (at that moment) was extremely difficult,” said Colonel Purwanto, who now runs a private security company.

    “If they were allowed to live, they would have said this was an Indonesian invasion. If they were killed and it was left at that, there would have been evidence they were shot in an area controlled by Indonesian guerillas. To make things easy, we got rid of them completely. We said we didn’t know anything. That was a spontaneous reaction at that moment.”

    The Indonesian Government has always insisted the matter was closed, and last week its Film Censorship Board banned Australian director Robert Connolly’s dramatisation of the deaths, Balibo.

    In his written response to a request for the film’s classification, chief censor Mukhlis Paeni said the film was not to be “distributed and screened in the entire area of the Republic of Indonesia” because it was “based on verbal testimonies with questionable nature” and contained “subjective issues which will potentially open old wounds”.

    According to the Tempo interview, Colonel Purwanto said the shootings happened while members of Team Susi, which included former Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah, were deliberating what to do with the men.

    But he said the orders they had requested from Jakarta never came, and they were forced suddenly to respond to shooting which came from near where the journalists were hiding.

    “We discovered the five of them together in a house – – they were certainly not dead yet,” he explained. “I was still some way down the hill from the house, with Major Yunus. We received a report that the foreigners had been detected. He ordered me to report to the commander, and if I’m not wrong, the commander then contacted Jakarta to ask what they wanted us to do with these people.

    “They were still alive. We surrounded the house and drew our weapons on them. I saw this from 30 metres away. They were still hiding in the house, and filming from that point. Then there was shooting from that direction . . . it could have been that it was someone trying to save them. But our men immediately fired in that direction and the journalists were all killed.”

    Colonel Purwanto said the members of Team Susi had entered the tiny town of Balibo, in Bobonaro province to the country’s west, around dawn on October 16, 1975, but that the journalists were not killed until “around 10 or 11 in the morning”.

    He said it had not been possible to identify them when they were first discovered “because none of them spoke Indonesian, while the military forces in the field could not speak English”.

    He admitted, however, that it should have been obvious that they were journalists “because they carried cameras and other equipment . . . the shooting happened from only about 15 metres away”.

    NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch has recommended that Mr Yusfiah should face criminal charges in Australia – – a recommendation the Australian Federal Police is investigating.



  3. Justice plea for massacre victims

    East Timor: Thousands flocked to Dili today to demand justice for hundreds of pro-independence demonstrators killed by Indonesian troops nearly two decades ago.

    Mourners flocked to the town’s cathedral to pray that they would someday find those missing since the November 12 1991 massacre in the Santa Cruz graveyard.

    No one has ever been prosecuted for the killings.



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