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East Timor counts its dead

Dale Mills | 19.01.2006 02:05 | Repression

A United Nations Report reveals the extent of Indonesian atrocities in East Timor.

One of America’s allies on the war against terrorism has been found responsible for the deaths of up to 183,000 civilians on the small island of Timor, just north of Australia. This figure represents one-third of the pre-invasion population.

According to the 2,500-page United Nations report, the Indonesian military used starvation to exterminate sections of the East Timorese population. Indonesia, with a population of 230 million, invaded East Timor in 1975 and then systematically attacked its small 600,000 population. Indonesia occupied the country for 24 years and East Timor gained full independence in May 2002.

During Indonesia’s occupation of Timor there were some 18,600 unlawful killings or disappearances between 1975 and 1999. The Report says that the Indonesian military was responsible for 70% of the killings.

8,500 were tortured. This included public beheadings, genital torture, burying victims alive and burning victims alive. Genitals were amputated to display to families. Napalm was also used.

''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 UN Report found.

The Indonesian security forces ''consciously decided to use starvation of East Timorese civilians as a weapon of war. 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.''

The Report has been leaked to the Australian newspaper and was reported in its January 19 edition. The East Timorese government, now independent after a protracted national liberation struggle, wishes to downplay past Indonesian atrocities in order to cultivate economic ties. East Timor is one of the poorest countries in the region.

Indonesia, too, wants to downplay its past human rights abuses: only a few soldiers have been disciplined for the systematic murder and rape of East Timorese. During an independence referendum in 1999, departing Indonesian soldiers and pro-Indonesian militias killed about 1,500 civilians, as well as destroying a majority of East Timorese towns.

The invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975 is still sensitive within Indonesia itself. Three films about the invasion and occupation have been banned in Indonesia, according to the January 13 Straits Times.

Australia’s approach has been to use a hard bargaining position against Timor over splitting oil reserves as both countries share a continental shelf which each country has claimed entitles it to exploitation of oil reserves.

Australia withdrew from an international tribunal which would have allowed objective assessment of each country’s merits as to where the border should be placed. Critics say the currently agreed border is in violation of international law, but Timorese had little choice but to agree to Australia’s terms. As both parties represent the richest and poorest countries in the region, the bargain is weighted heavily in Australia’s favour.

Australia is moving ever closer diplomatically and militarily to Indonesia. A new joint security pact is being signed during 2006, which will guarantee Australia will not interfere in Indonesia's affairs – meaning that Australia will not support secessionist movements such as the one in the Indonesian province of Aceh (pronounced ah-chay).

There are further provisions relating to defence and counter-terrorism. There has also been new cooperation in hosting joint maritime patrols, as well as allowing for a resumption of military cooperation between Australia’s special forces and Indonesia's elite Kopassus, according to a January 11 Reuters report. The Indonesian Kopassus is thought to have been behind many of the human rights abuses in East Timor.

The UN Report has yet been published in full, but this is expected to occur in the next few days. When it is released, many in Australia and Indonesia will not want people to read its harrowing contents.

Dale Mills
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