New Internationalist 322 April 2000
The European Union (EU) has decided to lift its embargo on military co-operation with the Indonesian military – despite their ongoing role in human-rights abuses against the East Timorese and Indonesians.
The rationale for the lifting of the embargo is that Indonesia’s transition to a democratically elected government is now complete. But the move flies in the face of all prevailing evidence of the military’s role in violence in East Timor last year. Independent findings of both the UN’s inquiry and the investigation of Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission confirm that the Indonesian military were responsible for the militia violence that all but destroyed East Timor (see NI 318 on Indonesia). And the military killed a EU citizen, Dutch journalist Sander Robert Thoenes, who was reporting from East Timor for the Financial Times, according to Australian coroner Greg Cavanagh. ‘I find that on all of the evidence available thus far, it is probable that a member or members of the 745 battalion of the TNI [Indonesian army] shot the deceased,’ he says.
The military and its militias are terrorizing over 100,000 East Timorese refugees still trapped and living in appalling conditions on the border of West and East Timor. In the border enclave of Oecussi, leader of the peacekeeping force Peter Cosgrove has accused the area’s Indonesian regional commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Manuel Maneral, of having links with local militia leader Moko Soares. Tensions remain high as militias have threatened locals and the peacekeepers. And the situation is set to get worse – 500 Jordanian peacekeepers are to replace the Australians in the area. Jordanians are immensely unpopular in East Timor because of the close relationship between former Indonesian Special Forces chief General Prabowo and the King of Jordan. East Timorese human-rights worker Joaquim Fonseca explains: ‘When the situation in Jakarta was tense and the investigators into corruption were getting close to Prabowo, he went to Jordan. The King is a friend of his; they went to military college together.’ In the early 1990s Prabowo directed a terror campaign against villages supposedly harbouring pro-independence guerrillas. José Ramos Horta describes sending Jordanian troops with links to Prabowo to guard Oecussi as ‘like sending wolves to guard the chickens’.
But it is not just East and West Timor that feels the brunt of a military now bolstered by EU arms. The National Commission on Human Rights claims to have uncovered a plot to provoke violence in Ambon and clashes in other parts of the Maluku province, where thousands have been killed and injured in a year of religious rioting. Forged documents have been found scattered in the streets of Ambon following battles between Muslims and Christians, says commission secretary Asmara Nababan. ‘There is a strong suspicion that the documents were produced by members of the political élite in Jakarta,’ he adds. Police sweeping operations in Maluku have netted French-made assault rifles and grenades, which are only available through the army.
President Wahid has warned of a small number of provocateurs who he says ‘want to settle the score’ against his Government after they lost power last year. Kholiq Achmad, secretary of Wahid’s parliamentary faction, says the Government had been leaked information that after 28 January violent incidents would be provoked from Lombok to Bali and then across the densely populated island of Java to Jakarta.
Leader of the PAN political party and Speaker of the upper house of parliament, Amien Rais, warned that unless the provocateurs are arrested ‘we will be living in an endless nightmare’. In its ignorance or complicity, the EU is doing little to awaken Indonesia from this nightmare. The US and other countries are still worried about the situation and refuse to lift their arms embargo until the generals are brought to heel. The EU should maintain the bans against the Indonesian military until it allows the East Timorese refugees to return home, ceases fomenting violence for its own political purposes and demonstrates respect for human rights.
Coconuts kill mosquitoes
Zoraida Portillo/Third World Network Features/IP
Kimi Mamtora and Hobbs Gama / Newslink Africa Vol 17 No 47
But the public is largely unaware of the dangers. ‘It’s not a catastrophic natural disaster that comes out of the blue and wipes people out,’ says Richard de Dear of Macquarie University in Sydney. ‘It’s a stealthy hazard that builds up over a couple of days.’
Leigh Dayton / New Scientist Vol 164 No 2212
Betrayed by the military and ousted from parliament, Ecuador’s indigenous insurgents may be in worse shape than before their short-lived coup on 21 January. On that day Antonio Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), led hundreds of indigenous people who took over the national Congress. The leaders of the civil-military uprising disavowed the Congress, courts and bureaucracy, which they accused of corruption.
But it was the country’s worst economic crisis that sparked the coup attempt. Earlier that week about 5,000 Indian protesters had arrived in Quito to demand the resignation of President Mahuad, Congress and the Courts. The protesters claim that a plan by Mahuad to adopt the US dollar as the country’s currency will impoverish them further. Last year, inflation was over 60 per cent – the highest in Latin America. Unemployment soared even higher and now only one in three workers has a job.
Just before midnight on 21 January, the insurgents announced the formation of a triumvirate joined by General Carlos Mendoza, chief of the armed forces joint command. But three hours later, Mendoza resigned from the struggle, asked to be released from military service, and called for Vice-President Noboa to assume the presidency. Congress opted for this constitutional end to the crisis, nearly unanimously agreeing that Mahuad – who refused to resign – had abandoned his post, and that the Vice-President could replace him.
Some political analysts attribute Mendoza’s resignation to international pressure. Every country in Latin America with the exception of Venezuela publicly condemned the coup and called for a return to constitutional order. The United States went so far as to threaten that Ecuador would be cut off internationally in the way that Cuba has been.
Before this whole episode, indigenous groups had five representatives in the National Congress who had been elected on the Pachakutik ticket, which is a political movement with strong connections to CONAIE. In the midst of the uprising, three of the Pachakutik elected representatives resigned from Congress in order to support the new popular government. Two leaders of the Democratic Left Party did likewise. The small amount of representation that these movements had in the national Congress has now been substantially diminished.
Antonio Vargas says that the indigenous and social movement completely disagrees with the resolution of their uprising. ‘We do not accept that they have placed Noboa in the presidency. We are closely watching the measures that he will take,’ he says. Meanwhile, Noboa claims that the programme to ‘dollarize’ the economy will continue, accompanied by further tough economic measures.
Latin America Press Vol 32 No 3
Breath of fresh air
Casa Alianza: www.casa-alianza.org