John Pilger: Australia defends "stability"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Oct 11 07:00:41 MDT 1999

Australia's under side

Canberra has looked the other way to protect western business interests in

John Pilger

The Guardian, Tuesday October 5, 1999

What is the "international community" really doing in East Timor? After
their arrival almost two weeks ago, Australian troops have secured only the
capital, Dili, and a few towns. In West Timor, fewer than a dozen foreign
aid workers struggle to guarantee the safety of 230,000 refugees, including
35,000 children, while the power of life and death remains with the
Indonesian military.

An explanation is offered in a remarkable interview given by John Howard,
the Australian prime minister, in which he described his government as
Washington's deputy sheriff. What mattered was the "stability" of Indonesia,
and the protection of western business interests. His honesty, or
garrulousness, is to be applauded, along with his historical accuracy. From
the Boxer rebellion to Vietnam, Australians have fought the battles of the
great imperial powers. In 1989, Australian troops were sent to Bougainville,
an island off Papua New Guinea, and site of a huge mining operation by the
multinational Rio Tinto. The Bougainvilleans had taken over the mine and the
island, in a bid for independence.

East Timor is no exception. When Australia's then prime minister Gough
Whitlam met the Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1974, his message was that
the Portuguese colony was Jakarta's for the taking. The two leaders,
reported the Melbourne Age, "agreed last weekend that the best and most
realistic future for Timor was association with Indonesia". The East
Timorese were not asked. One year later, Indonesia invaded.

As the UN security council deliberated on how to respond, the US secretly
re-armed the invaders while the Australian representative at the UN, Ralph
Harry, presented the invasion as a civil war with "elements" of the
Indonesian military. In 1982, Whitlam, although no longer in office, made an
extraordinary appearance at the UN, where he declared: "It is high time the
question of East Timor was voted off the UN agenda." As he spoke, the sea
around East Timor was being explored by Australian companies for vast
deposits of oil and gas: a preliminary act of grand larceny at the
centrepiece of the Australian establishment's "special relationship" with
the Indonesian dictatorship.

Richard Woolcott, Canberra's ambassador in Jakarta who had been tipped off
by the Indonesians that they planned to invade East Timor, set up a
propaganda body, the Indonesia-Australia Institute, funded by the
government. On its board was Paul Kelly, editor-in-chief of Australia's only
national newspaper, the Australian, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Kelly
introduced other editors to Suharto in Jakarta and his newspaper described
the dictatorship, one of the most blood-soaked of the late 20th century, as

For years, none of them heard, or wanted to hear, the cries of the East
Timorese. In 1991, when it was impossible to ignore evidence that hundreds
of unarmed East Timorese had been killed in the Santa Cruz cemetery inDili,
the Australian foreign minister, Gareth Evans, described the massacre as an
"aberration". Major-General Sintog Panjaitan, the senior Indonesian officer
responsible for the massacre, was invited to Canberra as an honoured guest
of the Australian military. Ali Alatas, Indonesia's foreign minister and
principal apologist for that and other massacres, was awarded the Order of
Australia, the country's highest honour.

While Prime Minister Bob Hawke raged against Saddam Hussein's invasion of
Kuwait, saying that "big countries can't expect to invade little countries
and get away with it", he neglected to mention that Australia had recognised
Indonesia's illegal occupation of its small, defenceless neighbour. A
"historic" military pact with Jakarta followed, including plans for
Indonesian-Australian operations in "counter-terrorism". The proud heirs of
Anzac were formally integrated into Indonesia's war effort against the East

In July last year, a senior Australian aid worker in East Timor warned that
the Indonesian military was setting up militia gangs. He was dismissed as
"alarmist". In November, Canberra was told that a 400-member assassination
squad of the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus, had been sent to East
Timor. The defence minister, John Moore, flew to Jakarta and reassured the
regime that Australian policy was to "prop up the institution [of the
military] as best we can". As this summer's bloody events unfolded, the
Howard government was told by Australian intelligence that Indonesia planned
a "scorched earth" in East Timor following the independence vote. Yet it was
on Australia's insistence that the UN gave the Indonesian military
responsibility for the security of the independence referendum in August - a
decision that led inexorably to the deaths of thousands.

The Australians can now stand back; other, more senior, deputy sheriffs are
on the way. This week, a World Bank team arrives in Dili and the
International Monetary Fund will follow soon. Unless Xanana Gusmao and his
East Timorese leadership are both deft and bold, the freedom for which their
people struggled alone for so long may be quietly lost and their devastated
country, slotted neatly into the globalised system of exploitation, debt and
poverty, known as "stability". They deserve a great deal more.

Louis Proyect


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