East Timor - five years on

Five years ago on December 7, when Indonesian troops invaded, the people of Portuguese Timor were thrown out of the colonial frying pan into the neo-colonial fire. Today, the eastern half of this largest of the Lesser Sunda Islands in the Indon­esian archipelago remains closed to the world-and is now an Indonesian province.

While the Indonesian military have fought a long and costly war to subdue Timorese nationalists, and stop-go diplo­matic efforts from various quarters have failed to prick Jakarta's conscience, the East Timorese have undergone unrelent­ing suffering with little or nothing to hope for if and when that suffering should end.

Estimates of the death toll vary wildly. In 1975 the official population was 680,000. About a year ago an official Indonesian figure put the population at an exact 522,433. This was quickly amended to 612,017, but both figures provide an indication of the horror which has come to East Timor.

In July this year an Australian aid agency worker, Catholic Father Pat Walsh, charged that Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services aid was getting only to areas under Indonesian control and, worse, some aid was being diverted to corrupt army officers.

In December 1975 a Community Aid Abroad official in Melbourne accused the Australian Government of connivingwith the Indonesian Government to ensure all foreign observers were out of Timor before Jakarta ordered its troops in. Nothing has happened in the intervening years to suggest that Australia has done anything but help Indonesia keep East Timor under wraps.

More recently the British Government has come under fire over its policy on East Timor. The British Campaign for an Independent East Timor (BCIET) charges that while the UK government `does not recognise Indonesian sovereignty' over East Timor, it has consistently abstained on UN resolutions calling for an act of self-determination. It also criticises Britain and other Western governments, including the United States, for continu­ing to provide military aid to Indonesia. BCIET's new booklet, Integration Never! East Timor's Struggle Against Indonesian Aggression , argues that Jakarta, without the acquiescence of the West, could never have waged its war against East Timor. Withdrawal of Western support, it con­cludes, `would shake the Indonesian regime to its foundations and would compel it to heed world public opinion . . . ' BCIET, it seems, has still to measure the Indonesian hide.

New Internationalist issue 093 magazine cover This article is from the November 1980 issue of New Internationalist.
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