issue 253 - March 1994
C WILLMER / CAMERA PRESS
Touting for terror
Mark Curtis focuses on one of the most active participants in the
trade in repression with Indonesia – the British arms industry.
The supply of British arms to Indonesia is an issue of grave concern for two main reasons. First, the legitimacy of the military dictatorship in Jakarta is enhanced by such sales, narrowing the options of those opposing repression within Indonesia. Secondly, it is believed that British-supplied Hawk aircraft have been used in Indonesian offensives against East Timorese. Frigates, submarine communications equipment and surveillance radar from Britain have also helped the Indonesian military to isolate East Timor from the outside world through a naval blockade. Saladin, Saracen and Ferret armoured vehicles supplied by Britain, meanwhile, have been used for repression in Indonesia after the invasion of East Timor, as have counter-insurgency aircraft which, according to retired US admiral Gene La Roque, ‘changed the entire nature of the war’. Supplies of transport aircraft, armoured cars, rifles, mortars, machine guns and communications equipment enabled Indonesia to conduct the slaughters in East Timor in the late 1970s.
Major British arms sales began in 1978, when British Aerospace (BAe) announced an export order for eight Hawk jet trainer aircraft, Rolls Royce engines, spares and training of pilots and engineers. Britain refused to give assurances that the aircraft would not be used in a combat role. Further sales of Hawks and three contracts worth over $300 million for the Rapier air defence system followed, whilst the Royal Navy supplied three frigates worth $40 million to the Indonesian Navy in 1984. By 1987 other arms companies were touting for business with Indonesia, with Rolls Royce signing a technical agreement with Indonesia’s state-run aerospace company, Thorn EMI reportedly aiming to sell a radar system, and Vickers a light tank.
These deals were signed amidst continuing terror in Indonesia. In 1983-85, as the contracts for the air defence system were being signed, 3,500-4,500 people were murdered by army death squads. Similarly, on the same day in 1991 that a co-production agreement between BAe and Indonesia was reported, the US press observed that ‘foreign human-rights investigators and Western diplomats in Jakarta now estimate that up to 5,000 people have been killed or have “disappeared”,’ in Aceh province. ‘Although there has been killing on both sides,’ the report continued, ‘human-rights activists say most of it appears to originate with the Indonesian army’. Amnesty estimated 2,000 deaths between 1989 and July 1993, with ‘most of the victims’ having been ‘ordinary villagers living in areas of suspected rebel activity’. The Indonesian military commander in Aceh province was quoted in November 1990 as saying that ‘I have told the community, if you find a terrorist, kill him. There’s no need to invest-igate him... If they don’t do as you order them, shoot them on the spot, or butcher them.’
In September 1991 Indonesian News (published by the Embassy in London) reported that UK Defence Minister Tom King met his Indonesian counterpart, Benny Murdani, to discuss ‘improving military co-operation between the two countries’. Murdani had organized and commanded the first invasion of East Timor in 1975. He had also issued, in 1983, a message to resistance leader Xanana Gusmao to the effect that ‘there is no country on the globe that can help you. Our own army is prepared to destroy you if you are not willing to co-operate with our republic’, before declaring that he would show ‘no mercy’ to resistance forces in East Timor. In December 1992, meanwhile, the same source reported that Margaret Thatcher was presented with an honorary medal from the Indonesian Engineering Association by President Suharto at the State Palace in Jakarta. Referring to the award, Thatcher reportedly said: ‘I am proud to be one of you’.
Britain was untroubled by the Dili massacre of November 1991, when the Indonesian army killed 200 East Timorese demonstrating against the occupation. The announcement of the sale of a navy support ship was delayed in January 1992 owing to the international outcry over the massacre – and went ahead the following month. It was also later reported that Britain was offering places in military training programmes for three Indonesian army officers. Their boss – chief of the armed forces, General Try Sutrisno – had formerly promised to ‘wipe out all separatist elements’.
In April 1993 Foreign Secretary Hurd visited Indonesia and signed an agreement for a $98 million British loan to the country. On the same day as Hurd arrived in Jakarta, a UN special envoy expressed his desire to meet with Xanana Gusmao, captured leader of the East Timorese resistance movement, who was eventually given life imprisonment after his ‘trial’. The Indonesian news agency, Antara, reported that ‘referring to human-rights issues, Hurd said that Western countries cannot export Western values to developing nations without making adjustments to local economies and cultures. Differences in cultural life and economic level are decisive factors for the adoption of Western values by developing countries, he said.’ Antara could further note that: ‘What is done by Indonesia is proof of its recognition that basic freedoms such as freedom for union, freedom to express opinion and press freedom is a fundamental right, he [Hurd] said’.
With such apologetics BAe could endure few moral qualms about signing a $750 million contract for 24 Hawk aircraft (along with $75 million-worth of engines from Rolls Royce) two months after Hurd’s visit, in June 1993. The Managing Director of BAe Defence declared that the deal built on the ‘strong business relationship which has evolved’ between BAe and Indonesia, whilst Defence Minister Malcolm Rifkind stated that the sale would ‘enhance the existing good relations between the United Kingdom and Indonesia’. ‘Indonesia is a very exciting part of the world,’ a representative of Rolls Royce had observed the previous year, when Britain was on the verge of signing a deal for 40 Hawks, becoming Indonesia’s second largest arms supplier.
The principal reason why Britain (and the West) has acquiesced in Indonesia’s brutal rule at home and violence in East Timor is that the Suharto regime has consistently offered Western businesses the opportunity to benefit from the country’s political ‘stability’, most notably by exploiting the country’s vast mineral resources. A few months before the invasion of East Timor, a Confederation of British Industry report noted that Indonesia presents ‘enormous potential for the foreign investor’. According to one press report the country enjoyed a ‘favourable political climate’ and the ‘encouragement of foreign investment by the country’s authorities’. RTZ, BP, British Gas and Britoil are some of the British companies who have since taken advantage of Indonesia’s ‘favourable political climate’. By 1992 a spokesman for the East Timor independence movement termed Britain ‘the single worst obstructionist of any industrialized country’ over promoting international action on East Timor.
Leading Western aid donors are continuing their economic support for the Suharto regime, with agreements to provide $4.2 billion in 1991, $3.9 billion in 1992 and $5.1 billion in 1993. A US Department of Commerce publication notes that Indonesia offers ‘excellent trade and investment opportunities for US companies’ under a headline reading: ‘Indonesia: trade opportunities here too good to be ignored’.
East Timor itself also offers Western business interests the prospect of substantial profits, with Australia leading the way. A year after the invasion the Japan Times reported on negotiations between an Australian oil company and Indonesia on extracting the vast oil resources in the Timor Sea, whose ‘200-mile stretch of water constitutes the only gap in the resources line agreed between Australia and Indonesia’. An Australian official commented that with the dispute over East Timor ‘Australian access to a potentially good oil area remains in doubt’. ‘Until the East Timor issue is out of the way and fully resolved,’ he commented, ‘there is little we can do publicly.’
In December 1989 the resources issue was finally resolved by an agreement to jointly exploit the Timor Sea, involving Australian, British and US companies, amongst others. A month following the Dili massacre, in December 1991, an untroubled Australian Government approved 11 oil-production contracts with Indonesia.
There have been some recent signs of US willingness to put pressure on Indonesia over human-rights abuses in East Timor. In 1992 Congress halted the US-Indonesian military training programme and in July 1993 the US blocked the transfer of four warplanes from Jordan to Indonesia. In September the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee voted for an amendment to the Foreign Appropriations Bill which asks the President to consult with Congress to determine whether improvements in the human-rights situation have taken place before approving arms sales.
There have, however, been no signs from the British Government that a moratorium on arms sales is in the offing. Rather, further sales of Hawk aircraft are expected to follow shortly. The evidence suggests that Britain’s policy will continue to be dictated by commercial interests which – with numerous precedents – override considerations of human rights and international law. It would prefer to profit from the socio-economic conditions offered by the Indonesian military regime despite the fact that, according to Amnesty International, ‘disregard for human life is an integral part of the Indonesian security forces’ approach to its work’ and ‘in the quarter of a century since it came to power, the Government of Indonesia has been responsible for a staggering range of violations of human rights’.
Mark Curtis is a former Research Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Bringing the blood back to
At three o’clock in the morning on 6 January 1993 I cut my way into the British Aerospace site at Stevenage. I wore a white lab coat (with ‘BAe bomb disposal’ written on the back of it) and a fake pass. I knew where to go because I had written to British Aerospace saying I was a student of radone technology, I wanted to visit them, and they had sent me a map of the site.
I headed for the building where they made the radones – or radar nose-cones – for the missiles and military aircraft. I intended to damage those for the Hawk military aircraft because these are being exported to Indonesia. After trying the door I used a hammer to break one of the windows on an emergency door and pushed down the bar. The first building was a design office. I uncovered one of the drawing boards and found blueprints for a trailer system for missiles. I had with me a baby’s bottle containing about an inch of my blood which I poured over the military blueprints.
I wanted to use blood in this way because British Aerospace’s premises are so clean and sterile and their publicity is so glossy and glamorous, with images of missiles disappearing into the sunset. There is never any kind of acknowledgement of what the weaponry they produce does. I wanted to bring the blood back to British Aerospace, to say in a very clear way, ‘this is a bloody business’. I had with me photographs of friends’ children and some pictures of Iraqi children playing in the rubble. I put those pictures together with the blood on the blueprints to make people think.
I went into the testing area and hung up a banner reading: ‘Heal the world, swords into ploughshares’. Then I broke into the building where the radones were. There were dozens of them. I hammered the radones. These are very sophisticated and finely machined so just hammering on them can make them useless. Then I sprayed slogans around the building.
I was on the site for about two hours. It was very dark and I was quite scared because the security guards could come in at any moment and I didn’t know how they would react. They finally spotted me as I was leaving and asked me what I was doing there. I put my hands up and replied: ‘I have come to disarm British Aerospace’.
I was held in custody and charged with doing $712,000 of criminal damage. During this time I got lots of letters of support for my action, and from my fellow prisoners too, once I had explained about the situation in East Timor. A lot of prisoners understand about oppression and exploitation; that’s why half of them are in there.
At my trial I conducted my own defence, arguing that I was ‘using reasonable force to prevent crime’. I particularly focused on the issue of East Timor, saying that British Aerospace and the British Government knew exactly what was going on and were well aware of the 10 United Nations Resolutions against the occupation. By supplying Indonesia with these sophisticated deadly weapons they were permitting murder or conspiracy to murder.
The trial lasted four days and ended with a hung jury. This was a big surprise to me, I must admit. I was retried five days later. This time British Aerospace produced one of their lawyers as an expert witness. In his statement he said that British Aerospace always abided by the law and never contemplated breaking it. After three days’ trial I was found guilty of criminal damage and sentenced to eight months, half to be served in prison and half on probation. Because I had already served six months on remand I was released immediately.
I’ve been campaigning against British Aerospace for about six years now, and will carry on doing so. I remember several years ago having a meeting with two British Aerospace directors during which they told me that in their ‘game’, as they called it, ‘we have to leave our consciences at the door’. So I have tried to disturb the consciences of the British Aerospace people. I’ve heard that people in East Timor know about the action and were encouraged by it. That has touched me deeply.
Chris Cole is a member of Swords into Ploughshares, which can be contacted at NVRN, 162 Holloway Road, London N7.
T E S T I M O N Y
Your feelings don't work
I don’t know, not in numbers, I don’t know how many people I’ve killed. I’ve been killing since I was 18. It upsets me when I think about these things, that’s why I spend all weekend and nights at the pub.
I was in high school, a student, when the war started in Timor. I had no political ties, didn’t belong to any party. My friends and I were forced to join the Indonesian army. We were warned: all who didn’t join their army had to take the consequences. That means they say you are Communist. None of us wanted to but there was no way not to fight. If you don’t fight you get killed yourself.
We had to destroy the village of Turiscai. At first it was attacked with mortar fire. Then napalm was used. I think the people in Turiscai had run away but there were a lot of stone houses there, and the order was to destroy the place. Then I was in a big operation to capture Mount Perdido. There they used another method: from helicopters they drop drums of petrol and when it lands they fire into it and it just blows up everywhere. After that the ships start to fire too, and when the ship stops the tanks start.
I had Indonesian friends; some of their army people were not so bad. You see, Indonesian people are against their government too. They don’t like Javanese officers. But we were friendly with the ones who were not Javanese, who came from other islands, some of them Christians. They were invading our country, they told us they were forced to go to Timor.
I was forced to kill my best friend. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t feel good when I think about it. He was a really close friend, we were in the same classroom at school. They knew he was my friend and I was forced to shoot him. They do these things to test you. It’s deliberate.
I think the war in my country won’t stop because the Indonesian army are cruel and they want to keep the war going. It’s their way of getting money, of getting promoted. They don’t care how many are killed, their soldiers, our people.
Whispering terrible things
People came all the time to tell me in secret, to clear their conscience of the things they were forced to do or see. Even out of the confessional, all the time people were coming, knocking softly on my door to talk to me because they felt so guilty when they were forced by the times to do things they knew were wrong. For example, it was common in 1980-81 to take groups of people after interrogation up in a helicopter from Lospalos to Jako (a little rocky island) and drop them to smash there, or to fly over the sea and drop them. Some Timorese had to go with the soldiers to help do that.
For us in the Church it was terrible, there was no-one the people could go to for help except us, and we could do so little. Each time I went to the commander and complained; for years I did this. Maybe it helped for a short while, but really nothing; the military treated us with contempt, so after five years I started to speak out. I spoke in the church against the military. I told them that if they wished to kill me they knew where I was, I was ready for death.
I talked with Indonesian officers and doctors about the resettlement villages. They bring people down from the mountains to the low ground where there is malaria. They sometimes built tin houses but they have no medicine there. The people do not like to be there, they would rather be back on their own land. They get depressed and sick and die there.
We had some food and medicine to give away to people in need but it was never enough. People don’t like to beg, you have to ask them what they need. We had rice and milk to give for the children. We received money from abroad through the Church to buy food and medicine. It was funny, of course we must buy it from the Indonesians; maybe it has been given as aid but still we buy it. But that doesn’t matter, we don’t think of this, just keeping as many people alive as we can, because food was always a problem since the war. I took food to give when I went around.
In Indonesia they try not to let their own people know what happens in Timor. In Dili Hospital Indonesian soldiers who are wounded asked me to contact their wives. Sometimes I could do this. The military often does not tell the wives. When I went to Jakarta many wives and children of Indonesian soldiers came to me asking what had happened to their husbands.
Both extracts from Michele Turner, Telling – East Timor: Personal Testimonies 1942-1992, New South Wales University Press, 1992.
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