By Chris Latham
The withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor was a significant victory for the East Timorese resistance movement, and the international solidarity movement. But the struggle for independence came at a price.
Since the Indonesian invasion in 1975, more than 200,000 East Timorese have been killed. After the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence on August 30, the Indonesian army (TNI) and police, and their gangs of “militia”, killed and forcibly deported thousands of East Timorese and destroyed East Timor's infrastructure. More than 85,000 people remain unaccounted for.
There was a massive response from working people internationally. In Australia, thousands mobilised calling for an immediate armed intervention to stop the violence. In Australia, the federal Coalition government was forced to act, going against 24 years of support for the Indonesian occupation.
Australian support for genocide
Throughout 1999, Prime Minister John Howard's government denied that the terror gangs in East Timor had any links with the Indonesian military and claimed that any problems were due to “rogue elements” in the TNI. It argued against a United Nations security force overseeing the ballot, despite widespread violence having already twice forced the referendum to be postponed.
Canberra supported the Indonesian government and the TNI because it saw this as vital to maintaining the stability required for Australian business to make profits in East Timor and Indonesia. Despite being forced to act to help East Timor, political stability and profits continue to be the driving forces behind Australian foreign policy.
The government continues to protect the TNI. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has blocked the International Commission of Jurists from interviewing East Timorese refugees.
As well, the Australian Federal Police have initiated disciplinary action against an intelligence officer who was in East Timor because he reported to a parliamentary standing committee on the collaboration between the TNI and the militia.
The government has spent $1 billion on the military operation in East Timor, but has committed only $6 million to rebuilding East Timor. It continues to push for the deportation of East Timorese who are attempting to obtain asylum in Australia following the 1991 Dili massacre, despite the fact that much of East Timor remains in ruins.
Meanwhile, the Howard government is attempting to turn its foreign policy defeat into a victory -- making the Australian people pay for strengthening its capacity to intervene militarily in the region. The government's “Timor tax” -- an increase in the Medicare levy -- will help to cover the costs of having troops in East Timor and the establishment of two more combat-ready battalions.
People aid not militarism
The Australian government should pay massive war reparations to East Timor, funded by a levy on the businesses that have had made profits in East Timor and Indonesia.
Much of the aid that is going to East Timor is not finding its way to the people. Most well-paying jobs go to non-East Timorese and those locals who do have jobs are paid wages that are the same as during the occupation. Since the arrival of Western non-government organisations in East Timor, the cost of food and basic goods has risen dramatically.
On January 5, the Timorese Socialist Party led a workers' protest outside the United Nations building calling for the employment of East Timorese, increased wages, an increased minimum wage and a reduction in prices. The solidarity movement should support such actions, and the right of the East Timorese people to control the transition process.
Resistance demands that East Timorese refugees be able to enter Australia without visas, be allowed free access to Australian universities and be provided with support to return to East Timor if they choose.
There is still much to be done. Resistance will continue to build campaigns alongside the solidarity group Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, and will keep young people informed through Resistance magazine.
From Green Left Weekly issue #390
Wednesday, January 26, 2000
By Chris Latham