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Timor - Background

Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world. It consists of five major islands and about 30 smaller groups. Indonesia's population consists of more than 300 ethnic groups each of which speaks its own language and adheres to its own customs and traditions. This plurality is compounded by the size of its population (approximately 193 million at the end of 1994) and its uneven distribution among 17,508 islands.

The Territory of East Timor corresponds to the eastern part of the island of Timor; it includes the island of Atauro, 25 kilometres to the north, the islet of Jaco to the east, and the enclave of Oé-Cusse in the western part of the island of Timor. Its capital is Dili, situated on its north coast. The south coast of East Timor lies opposite the north coast of Australia, the distance between them being approximately 430 kilometres.

In the sixteenth century, East Timor became a colony of Portugal; Portugal remained there until 1975. The western part of the island came under Dutch rule and later became part of independent Indonesia. Following the "Carnation Revolution" in April 1974, the Government in Portugal was replaced by a new regime which acknowledged the right to self- determination - including independence - of the territories under Portuguese administration. The new Government of Portugal convened conferences on decolonization in May 1975 in Dili to which it invited the representatives of several East Timorese political groups.

Indonesia, which seems not to have sought previously to annex East Timor to its own territory and had maintained friendly relations with Portugal, appears to have begun considering the annexation of East Timor in the 1970s. In July 1975, the President of Indonesia asserted that East Timor would not be competent to attain its independence.

The political group UDT, which supported the approach of the Indonesian Government, organized a coup d'état on 11 August 1975. Following internal disturbances in East Timor, on 27 August 1975 the Portuguese civil and military authorities withdrew from the mainland of East Timor to the island of Atauro. On 28 November 1975 the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor [FRETILIN], an avowedly Marxist faction, declared the full independence of the territory and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of East Timor. From Jakarta's point of view, this state of affairs held out the alarming prospect of a communist or radical socialist regime emerging under the leadership of FRETILIN. Moreover, FRETILIN's rhetorical invocation of kinship with other Third World communist revolutionary movements raised the specter of a national security threat.

FRETILIN's ascent in an area contiguous to Indonesian territory alarmed the Indonesian Government, which regarded it as a threatening movement. Some other political parties, such as UDT and APODETI, which considered that it would be difficult for East Timor to maintain its independence, were willing to be annexed by Indonesia. On 30 November 1975 the representatives of those groups made a declaration of the separation of the territory from Portugal and its incorporation into Indonesia. Following appeals from FRETILIN's Timorese opponents, on 7 December 1975 the armed forces of Indonesia , comprising ten battalions, intervened in East Timor. On 8 December 1975 the Portuguese authorities departed from the island of Atauro, exacerbating power struggles among several Timorese political factions. The Indonesian government took the position that because Portugal was unable to reestablish effective control over its colony, it was necessary for Indonesian forces to restore order at the request of local political leaders. Indonesia sent an army of 10,000 men to Dili, and on 17 December 1975, the pro-Indonesian parties declared the establishment of a provisional government of East Timor in Dili. Indonesian military forces overcame FRETILIN's regular forces in early 1976, although small-scale guerrilla activity persisted. As many as 60,000 Timorese were killed in the initial assault [out of a total population of about 600,000]. The slaughter of East Timorese during the 1975 invasion emphasized the ruthlessness of Indonesia's incorporation of the former Portuguese colony

Asserting that on 31 May 1976 the people of East Timor had requested Indonesia "to accept East Timor as an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia", Indonesia incorporated Timor as part of its national territory. Responding to an alleged appeal from the people of East Timor, Indonesia passed a law on 15 July 1976 providing for annexation, which the President of Indonesia signed on 17 July 1976. East Timor was thus given the status of the 27th province of Indonesia. However, this incorporation had not thus far been accepted or recognized by the United Nations which, in the language of the Secretary-General, is engaged in the search for "a comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor". While the United States recognizes Indonesia's annexation of the area, long-standing American policy stresses that East Timor must be heard on the issue of its status within the Republic of Indonesia. Since 1979 it had been Australian policy to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. Australia accepts that East Timor retains the right to self-determination, but does not specify what self-determination might mean for East Timor within Indonesia.

Following the intervention of the armed forces of Indonesia in the Territory and the withdrawal of the Portuguese authorities, the question of East Timor became the subject of two resolutions of the Security Council and of eight resolutions of the General Assembly, namely, Security Council resolutions 384 (1975) of 22 December 1975 and 389 (1976) of 22 April 1976, and General Assembly resolutions 3485 (XXX) of 12 December 1975, 31/53 of 1 December 1976, 32/34 of 28 November 1977, 33/39 of 13 December 1978, 34/40 of 21 November 1979, 35/27 of 11 November 1980, 36/50 of 24 November 1981 and 37/30 of 23 November 1982.

Security Council resolution 384 (1975) of 22 December 1975 called upon "all States to respect the territorial integrity of East Timor as well as the inalienable right of its people to self- determination"; called upon "the Government of Indonesia to withdraw without delay all its forces from the Territory"; and further called upon "the Government of Portugal as administering Power to co-operate fully with the United Nations so as to enable the people of East Timor to exercise freely their right to self-determination".

Security Council resolution 389 (1976) of 22 April 1976 adopted the same terms with regard to the right of the people of East Timor to self- determination; called upon "the Government of Indonesia to withdraw without further delay all its forces from the Territory"; and further called upon "all States and other parties concerned to co- operate fully with the United Nations to achieve a peaceful solution to the existing situation ...".

General Assembly resolution 3485 (XXX) of 12 December 1975 referred to Portugal "as the administering Power"; called upon it "to continue to make every effort to find a solution by peaceful means"; and "strongly deplore[d] the military intervention of the armed forces of Indonesia in Portuguese Timor". In resolution 31/53 of 1 December 1976, and again in resolution 32/34 of 28 November 1977, the General Assembly rejected "the claim that East Timor had been incorporated into Indonesia, inasmuch as the people of the Territory have not been able freely to exercise their right to self- determination and independence".

Indonesian military operations culminated in 1978, with the effective destruction of FRETELIN's fighting strength, a campaign helped by new arms provided by the Carter administration. The death toll to date is estimated as high as 200,000. The human cost of the civil war--Indonesian military actions and the famine that followed--was heavy. Estimates of Timorese deaths because of the conflict between 1975 and 1979 range from 100,000 to 250,000.

By the late 1980s the situation in East Timor had changed dramatically, with emphasis on rural development, civic action, and improvement of the economic infrastructure. Over half of the military forces in the province were involved in civic action missions, including infrastructure construction, teaching, and agricultural training. Although incidents of unrest sometimes occurred in Dili, they generally reflected economic grievances and social conflict brought about by high expectations for employment and social infrastructures that had not had sufficient time to develop. Ironically, after hundreds of years under a colonial regime that left a legacy of 5 percent literacy, the greatly improved level of education of Timorese youth brought a classic example of unfulfilled rising expectations. Coupled with economic domination by non-Timorese migrants, discontent made exploitation of the situation by the small number of remaining FRETELIN supporters inevitable. Periodic heavy-handed army security operations also fueled opposition.

The ability of FRETILIN to mount a low-intensity resistance, the draconian countermeasures adopted by Indonesian military forces against suspected Fretilin sympathizers, and charges of Indonesian aggression against East Timor combined to make the problem of the status of East Timor a continuing foreign policy problem for Indonesia in the early 1990s.

FRETILIN had routinely conducted guerrilla actions ever since the 1975 invasion. According to current estimates, Fretilin forces were small, numbering less than 200 personnel. Indonesia maintains an 800-man combat battalion and six territorial battalions, totaling 4,500 personnel, on the island. While territorial units primarily conduct nationbuilding activities, they support combat operations and counter-guerrilla actions. Military units and civilian paramilitary forces regularly detain civilians for interrogation; most were held in extralegal military detention centers, often with no notification of relatives, mistreated for several days, and then released.

Jakarta-appointed governor Mario Carrascalão, a Timorese committed to integration, sought to moderate inter-ethnic conflict and resolve intra-Timorese divisions among indigenous political parties. Although the central government invested heavily in Timor's development with more Inpres funds per capita than any other province, resentment of Indonesian rule persisted and was growing in the early 1990s. For many individuals and nongovernmental organizations, as well as for some foreign governments, Indonesian policy in East Timor became the touchstone for negative attitudes toward the Suharto government. The Roman Catholic Church staunchly defended the Christian identity of the Timorese in the face of an influx of Indonesians from other provinces. The church worried about the government's condoning, to the point of encouraging, Islamic proselytization, and about its own freedom of action.

By the 1990s discontent with Indonesian rule escalated among the younger generation of East Timor, particularly those citizens born since the island's annexation during the mid-1970s. The emerging militancy of East Timorese youth, rather than scattered FRETILIN elements, posed the greatest challenge to security and stability in the province in the early 1990s. On 12 November 1991 troops fired on youthful marchers in a funeral procession at Santa Cruz Cemetery in the East Timorese capital Dili. Amateur video footage of this massacre of at least 70 peaceful protesters by Indonesian troops at this pro-FRETILIN political demonstration showed people being shot and clubbed. This event focused world attention on East Timor and galvanised outrage against what was widely seen as mass murder by the Indonesian army. The central government's main concern seemed to be to contain the international criticism of what some foreign observers called the Dili Massacre.

Indonesia received funded security assistance from the United States every year since 1950 except 1965 and 1966 when relations were at a low ebb. Grant aid of military equipment, which ended in 1988, was used mainly for logistics equipment, communications systems, and combat matériel for internal security. The United States also provided grant aid training under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program between 1950 and 1992, when the United States Congress cut the aid as a reaction to the human rights situation in East Timor. In that forty-two-year period, more than 4,000 Indonesian military personnel received IMET training in the United States. The IMET program was partially restored in 1994 and 1995 as a smaller program called E-IMET to provide classroom instruction in human rights. However, under the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), exercises continued to be conducted with US troops in Indonesia. United States Foreign Military Sales credits were made available periodically to Indonesia starting in 1974, and helped defray the expenses of purchases of United States-made military equipment. As of the early 1990s, Indonesia had also received military aid from Australia, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and West Germany, among others.

The growing popular resentment of Indonesia became embarrassingly evident in November 1994 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting attended by US President Bill Clinton. Some 29 East Timorese scaled a fence surrounding the US Embassy in Jakarta and occupied the embassy compound for two weeks. They demanded the release of Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, jailed for leading an armed uprising, and asked President Clinton to intercede on behalf of the East Timor people. Simultaneous rioting in the East Timor capital of Dili left four dead and saw additional clashes with police. These continuing incidents, the rising separatist sentiment and a clear polarization of East Timor's younger generation characterize the island as a potential hotspot.

The general military situation in East Timor since the beginning of 1996 was marked by constant large scale and anti-guerrilla Indonesian military operations targeted on the East Timorese guerrilla as well as on the Clandestine Front. World sympathy was aroused by the award of the 1996 Nobel peace prize to exiled East Timorese independence crusader Jose Ramos Horta, and Dili's Bishop Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo.

With the demise of the Suharto regime in May 1998, United Nations-sponsored Portuguese-Indonesian talks on East Timor gained new momentum, as the two sides agreed to discuss an Indonesian plan to offer special status for East Timor, which went well beyond what had been considered by the previous government.

Recent violence was ignited by Indonesia's surprise announcement in January 1999 that East Timor could eventually become independent if residents there reject a government autonomy plan. Anti-independence forces launched a plan, whose name in Indonesian was reported as "Operasi sapu jagad" (total cleansing operation,) which apparently entailed massive shifts of the population. This initiative was launched in March 1999 with the "Aitarak" militia's establishment in Dili. Some reports claims that at an April 1999 meeting between United States military officials and General Wiranto [the Indonesian Defence Minister], the "green light" had been given to work with anti- independence militias in East Timor. Pro-Independence East Timorese, who were Roman Catholic, had been on the receiving end of most of the resulting violence. Mostly pro-Jakarta Moslem East Timorese militias had perpetrated this violence. Independence movement leaders and Roman Catholic leaders claim the militias were supported by the Indonesian military.

Because of attacks on the pro-independence East Timorese, their leader Xanana Gusmao called for retaliation, but there were at least 10,000 Indonesian soldiers plus many more pro-government paramilitary soldiers in East Timor compared to only around 700 separatist guerrillas. The separatists were armed with only a few guns, machetes, homemade spears and bow and arrows. Pro-Jakarta militia leader, Eurico Guterres, was ready to meet the retaliation called for by Gusmao. Conditions in the countryside deteriorated and anti-independence militias attacked not only civilians but UN personnel. Tens of thousands of internally displaced persons had been forced to flee their homes due to violence and threats.

On 05 May 1999 Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations' Secretary-General signed an agreement in New York to grant the right of self-determination to East Timorese through a popular consultation to take place on the 30th of August. As provided for in this historic agreement, Indonesia is responsible for ensuring a peaceful environment in East Timor so the voting process could take place as scheduled. It was with this understanding that many of Indonesia 's close friends, including the United States, contributed resources and personnel to the UN mission. On 11 June 1999, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution No. 1246, which mandated the UN Secretary General to launch the UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), which will assist and arrange for balloting until August 31, 1999. The original ballot date of August 8, 1999 was been reset to 30 August 1999.

The Government of Indonesia announced that should the autonomy offer be rejected, the Government would propose to the new People's Consultative Assembly to consider the parting of East Timor from the Unitary State of Indonesia. In that event, Portugal would then serve as the territory's administering power. Together with the UN, it would take charge of East Timor's transition to independence.

The agreement on the modalities for the popular consultation signed by the Governments of Indonesia and Portugal with the United Nations provided for a code of conduct for the campaign. Two codes of conduct governed the activities of the popular consultation, negotiated between the United Front for East Timor Autonomy and the National Council of the Timorese Resistance. The first one, signed on 9 August 1999, commits participants to avoid and condemn political violence or intimidation. However, subsequently there was an upsurge in militia activity in certain areas, namely Maliana, Suai, Viqueque, Liquica and Ainaro, to intimidate local people and to move them away from where they registered to vote.

The New York Agreement on Security states that "all sides must lay down their arms and subsequently disarm." But this had not proved to be easy. The second code of conduct governs the laying down and surrendering of arms. That code of conduct explains that there were several stages which would have to be implemented for the disarmament and laying down of arms. This matter is being pursued by the Commission on Peace and Stability, in continuation of the draft Code of Conduct which was signed at the end of its meeting on 18 June 1999. Under the cantonment of weapons process completed in mid-August, an individual possessing a weapon was regarded as outside the framework of the cantonment and would be dealt with by the Indonesian police. The UN viewed the move by both sides toward a cantonment of weapons as a positive development and a first step on the road towards total disarmament.

Following discussions in Jakarta on 11 August between the East Timorese leaders, an agreement had been reached to form an East Timorese Consultative Commission. This Commission, to be inaugurated on 31 August, the day after the vote, will be responsible for fostering reconciliation and cooperation until the result of the vote is implemented. The Commission will be made up of 25 members. Ten will be nominated by each side and appointed by the Secretary-General, and the remaining five will be appointed by the Secretary-General after discussions with Indonesia, Portugal and the two sides.

After the signing of the 5 May accords, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas had said publicly several times that he wanted to call independence leader Ramos Horta's bluff concerning the wishes of the East Timorese. Instead, the referendum had called the bluff of the Indonesians. Eighty per cent of the vote had favoured independence despite intimidation and terror. A majority of East Timorese, wherever they were, voted in the popular consultation held on 30 August 1999.

On 06 September 1999 the Indonesian military joined in a militia reign of terror in East Timor in what appeared to be a campaign to force thousands of people to flee the territory. Advancing forces consist of 12 battalions, over 10,000 strong, which with the militias made a total force 20,000 to 30,000. The assault appeared to be intended to seize the entire west of East Timor to divide the former Portuguese colony, and to eliminate the resistance by implementing ethnic cleansing measures. Initial estimates were that 70 to 80 percent of Dili's business area had been destroyed, and 50 percent of all homes had been burned. The violence threatened to overturn the results of the vote organized by the UN on whether East Timor will be given independence or more autonomy within the Indonesian government.

The United Nations said an estimated 200-thousand people who had fled militia violence were desperately short of food. But the security situation had prevented aid officials from reaching refugees in East Timor's interior or in camps along the West Timor border.

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Page last modified: 28-09-2016 19:56:18 ZULU