Timor Conspiracy: 
Australia's role

By John Pilger

My first, secret, filming trip to East Timor produced memories that remain indelible.

There is an extraordinary beauty about East Timor. There is also something you will never see anywhere else in the world: great black and white crosses on peaks, crosses on the hillsides, crosses beside the road.

These crosses stand as evidence to what has happened in East Timor since 1975. The inscriptions on them tell of whole families and communities wiped out in the space of months, weeks, even days. When East Timor is free, these symbols of grief and suffering will speak to the world of one of the great, unrecognized crimes of the 20th century.

The word "genocide" is often misused; this was genocide.

The Australian government, along with other Western governments, watched the genocide unfold. We now know, from leaked documents, that the Defence Signals Directorate spy base in northern Australia knew everything the Indonesians were doing.

This was confirmed to me by the CIA desk officer in Jakarta at the time, Philip Liechty, after he had retired. He said: 

"I saw all the hard intelligence. There were people herded into school buildings by Indonesian troops and the buildings set on fire. There were people herded into fields and machine gunned. The place was a free-fire zone, and Suharto was given a green light by the United States to do what he did."

"We sent the Indonesian generals everything that you need to fight a major war against somebody who doesn't have any guns ... they got it direct, straight to East Timor. Without US military support, the Indonesians might not have been able to pull it off. None of this got out in the media."

"No one cared, you see ... It's something I will be forever ashamed of."

"The only justification I heard was that East Timor was on the verge of being accepted as a new member of the United Nations and there was a chance that the country might be leftist or neutralist, and not vote with the US in the General Assembly."

Asked if other Western governments were part of this, Liechty said: "Of course they were ... The intelligence was shared. After all, it came from an Australian facility. To the Australians, like the Americans, the East Timorese were simply expendable."

Jakarta lobby...
Now it's July 1999, and for the East Timorese, this is an historic, and dangerous, time. Independence seems so near, and yet so far. And Australia's role has never been more crucial. By reviewing the Australian record we can interpret the present actions of the Howard government in their proper context.

We know, from cabinet papers released under the 30-year rule, that the Menzies and Holt governments supplied secret aid to Suharto, even though they were aware of his extermination of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians [in the 1965 coup].

Prime Minister Harold Holt's throwaway remark on a visit to New York that the victims of the slaughter were "only communists" was never reported in Australia.

The terrible events of the mid-sixties in Indonesia were a precursor to the genocide in East Timor, the scale of which was not reported in Australia for more than a dozen years, with the honourable exception of journalists like Brian Toohey, Marian Wilkinson, the late Bill Pinwill and others.

The silence has been broken in recent years, but East Timor has been a shameful chapter in the history of Australian media, with journalists like Greg Sheridan and Paul Kelly of the Australian behaving in a way reminiscent of the famous appeasers in the British press during the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s.

They belong to a group known as the "Jakarta lobby" -- journalists, academics and diplomats who used their privileged positions to help reinforce the dictatorship in Indonesia.

The Australian National University (ANU) produced more than its fair share of so-called experts who wrote in empty, dehumanised jargon about the need for "regional stability" and supported what their friends in Jakarta called "Asian values", the code for tyranny.

They supplied the verbiage for books that former ALP foreign affairs minister Gareth Evans thought would help him become the next secretary-general of the United Nations.

Those who still believe in the independence of academic life might look closely at the corruption that has given such authority to apologists for genocide. The principals of the Jakarta lobby have come from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra.

Richard Woolcott is the most famous. This is the man who, as ambassador in Jakarta in 1975, was tipped off by the Indonesians that the invasion was coming and then secretly cabled Canberra, proposing that "we leave events to take their course ... and act in a way designed to minimise the public impact in Australia", while at the same time showing "private understanding to Indonesia of their problems".

This is the man who first suggested that Australia connive with Indonesia to carve up East Timor's oil and gas resources a subsequent act of piracy that was celebrated by Evans and Indonesia's foreign affairs minister Ali Alatas with champagne as they flew over the Timor Sea.

Woolcott is still at it. In the March 10, Age he wrote that it was Fretilin's unilateral declaration of independence that largely triggered the Indonesian invasion.

Former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser has built a reputation as a crusader for universal human rights, yet in 1976 he flew to Jakarta and said his government " acknowledged the merger" with Indonesia, but "only for humanitarian reasons".

Accompanying Fraser was J.B. Reid, a senior executive of BHP, which had just acquired a controlling share in the Woodside-Burmah company, then drilling for oil in the Timor Sea.

Labor's shameful record...
However, it was under Fraser's successor, Labor PM Bob Hawke, that the great betrayal got into its stride -- a betrayal of more than 40,000 East Timorese who died trying to defend Australia from invasion by the Japanese.

To my knowledge, Hawke not once mentioned this blood debt to East Timor, yet he cried in public for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre and, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, said, "Big countries cannot invade little countries and expect to get away with it".

Hawke and Evans, and Hawke's successor Paul Keating, did everything in their power to help Suharto "get away with it." Evans saw himself as a kind of Australian Henry Kissinger, a worldly wise navigator around the so-called international community. He created a media court in Canberra and flattered selected insiders, who reported him uncritically.

In February 1991, Evans said, "The human rights situation in East Timor has, in our judgement, conspicuously improved, particularly under the present military arrangements". Nine months later, the Indonesian military killed up to 400 people in a massacre in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili. Evans described this as "an aberration".

He later congratulated Jakarta for setting up a so-called commission of inquiry which Amnesty International dismissed as a stunt.

Evans also did his best to defend the regime from documented evidence in my film Death of a Nation that the wounded survivors of Santa Cruz had been systematically murdered. The missing people, he said, had "probably gone bush".

It was on Evans' recommendation that the chief apologist for the massacre, Ali Alatas, was given the Order of Australia.

Evans' record is outdone only by Keating, for whom Suharto was "something of a father figure". In 1993, Keating astonished the US Foreign Relations Committee, which had just voted unanimously to end arms sales to Indonesia, by turning up in Washington and haranguing Congress for not taking a more pliant view of Indonesia's human rights record.

The crowning achievement of Keating's foreign policy was the signing of what he called "an historic security treaty" with Indonesia. It was negotiated in secret without a word to parliament or the Australian people.

A spokesperson for Keating said at the time that the PM had not wished to give the Timor lobby a chance to exploit the situation -- the Timor lobby being, according to a survey by the Age newspaper, more than 70% of the Australian people.

Most of this treaty was drafted by an Australian general, with plans for joint Australian-Indonesian military operations in "counter-terrorism", together with the exchange of intelligence and arms sales.

What the treaty achieved was formally to integrate the Australian military into Indonesia's war effort against the people of East Timor.

For years, the Australian SAS had trained units of Kopassus, whose record of torture and murder in East Timor is documented, at its base near Perth. Australian officers taught a course known as "hostile interrogation".

It was the forerunner of Kopassus that murdered Australian TV newsmen Greg Shackleton and his four colleagues at Balibo, and went on to spearhead the invasion.

In 1995, Major-General Panjaitan, the senior Indonesian officer responsible for the Santa Cruz massacre, was invited to Canberra as guest of honour of the Australian Defence Department in spite of the fact that five months earlier, a district court in the US had awarded New Zealander Helen Todd US$14 million in damages against Panjaitan for the murder of her son at Santa Cruz.

Whose interests? So what has changed in Australia?
Take the Jakarta lobby. Woolcott has done nicely as a consultant for BHP and is still advising politicians in Canberra and academics at ANU. The current head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is Ashton Calvert, an ex-member of Keating's personal staff and an enthusiastic backer of the infamous defence treaty.

Howard's staff adviser on international policy is Michael Thorley, who worked for Keating and strongly supported his love affair with Suharto.

The advice that Howard gets from the defence department is dominated by Hugh White, a keen supporter of Indonesia's annexation of East Timor.

The head of the Australian Security Intelligence Service is Alan Taylor, a former ambassador to Jakarta best remembered for his ludicrous inquiry into the killing of Shackleton and his four colleagues.

The current ambassador to Jakarta is John McCarthy, a long-time supporter of good relations with the Jakarta regime and a fierce critic of the "hysteria" over East Timor.

One year ago, Lansell Taudevin, an AusAid worker in East Timor, warned the Australian embassy in Jakarta that the Indonesians were arming and training militias. He provided concrete evidence, but was dismissed as "extremist" and "alarmist".

Why was this ignored? Why did Howard ignore another clear warning five months ago that the army was training militias, many of them brought in from West Timor?

On March 4, his department was given an intelligence document that would have left him in no doubt about the coming violence.

A month later, he and foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer were still expressing "confidence" in the Indonesian military's willingness to ensure a "peaceful and stable" environment for the vote in August.

Why do Howard and Downer not demand to know why tens of thousands of East Timorese are being held in concentration camps? How much more evidence do they need?

For months, they have talked about "rogue" elements in the military, when even Australian intelligence says this is nonsense.

Last month, White told the Senate Estimates Committee that the Indonesians were importing arms straight to East Timor.

Moreover, we now have evidence from Mario Carrascalao that the funding of the militias may well be coming out of the foreign ministry budget -- overseen by Alatas.

Recently, the minister for defence, Senator Brown, admitted that the government's spending on so-called cooperation with the Indonesian military has risen to a record $6,446,000 this financial year. The Australian taxpayer indirectly is helping to pay for Indonesia's violence in East Timor.

It is business as usual it seems.

Indonesian troops out!
People ask: should the Australian military be sent to East Timor to help the UN? The answer is no because the Australian military is integrated with the Indonesian military.

What the Australian government should do is say clearly to Jakarta that the Indonesian army must get out of East Timor. It is naive to expect the Australian political and business establishment to act for the best of reasons, but a free, stable East Timor is in the interests of everybody, including the Howard government.

Indonesia is changing rapidly and whether Howard and Downer like it or not, the Jakarta regime and military chief General Wiranto are not the Indonesian people.

The old order is dying in Indonesia, and if Australia is not to cap the shame of its grotesque record of appeasement and stupidity by ensuring a legacy of bitterness and contempt among the new political class in Jakarta, a legacy that will affect trade and investment and Australia's influence in the region for generations, then the Howard government must act -- and act now.

What can we, who care about East Timor, do now? We must bring relentless pressure on the Australian government to speak the truth to the world: that the Javanese establishment, still controlled by the Suharto elite, is trying to destroy the independence movement in East Timor, and the peace process, rendering the population defenceless and demoralised.

The sheer absurdity of giving those responsible for some of this century's greatest crimes the job of providing security during the election makes a mockery of the UN.

Howard and Downer know this to be true. If they are at all serious about the welfare of East Timor, they have no choice but to appeal to the UN Security Council to impose immediate, strategic sanctions on Indonesia -- such as on arms shipments and all forms of military equipment -- at least until Wiranto gets every one of his troops out of East Timor.

That's the issue: the Indonesian military must get out of East Timor now.

At the same time, the Australian government should demand the release of Xanana Gusmao and recognition of his right to return to his homeland before the August vote.

From the perspective of the East Timorese leadership, a softly softly approach may seem seductive, but Jakarta is brilliant at exploiting perceived weakness. It serves both principle and tactics for the leadership to speak out clearly against an Indonesian campaign to undermine self-determination.

The Indonesian military may be good at torturing and shooting unarmed people, but it's corrupt, disorganised and divided. It can be blown over by public opinion, and action, in Indonesia and all over the world.

The resistance in East Timor has shown us the way for more than 23 years. The students in Jakarta showed us the way last year when they achieved the seemingly impossible. They are the heroes, and they must not be let down.

So now it's up to us, in mass organisations, in voluntary bodies and as individuals, to bring pressure to bear on an Australian government that claims to represent us.

The UN must be allowed to organise the coming referendum in safety, and the people to cast their vote without intimidation.

That means that the militias must be disarmed and every Indonesian soldier withdrawn; nothing less will make a genuine peace process.


An Indonesian soldier congratulating pro-Indonesian militiamen, displaying a severed head


A Sri Lankan soldier with the severed head of a Tamil Civilian

Abridged from a speech given by JOHN PILGER, a journalist and author, at a public meeting at the University of NSW, Sydney, Australia ( July 17th 1999) organised by the National Council for Timorese Resistance and Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor.