Backgrounder

Krishna Lalbiharie umlalbi0 at SPAMcc.UManitoba.CA
Wed Sep 8 17:51:00 MDT 1999




Krishna


East Timor:

A brief history

The island of East Timor, situated in between the Republic of Indonesia and
Australia, remained a Portuguese colony for over 400 years. In 1974, the
new Lisbon government evinced a commitment to allowing former colonies to
pursue self-determination; Portuguese governor Lemos Pires was dispatched
to East Timor with decolonization as his principal aim.

Two main political associations emerged in the new climate of political
independence: the Associacao Social Democratia Timorense (which later came
to be known as Frente Revolucianaria de Timor Leste Independente, or
Fretilin) and the Uniao Democratica Timorense (UDT). Fretilin desired
immediate recognition of East Timor's independence and a transition to
self-rule within 10 years. The UDT favoured a slower transition and
continued association with Portugal.

The Indonesian government, led by General Suharto, found East Timor's
impending independence threatening, and the potential leadership of the
Marxist-leaning Fretilin unacceptable, despite popular support. Mindful of
the rich oil reserves off the coast of East Timor, and fearful that an
independent East Timor might impel other ethnic groups in Indonesia to seek
independence, the Indonesian military initiated a special "intelligence"
command, Operasi Komodo, designed to destabalize East Timor. In April and
July of 1975, the head of Indonesian intelligence met with leaders of the
UDT to convey the militaristic government's concerns. In clandestine
meetings between these UDT leaders and certain Indonesian generals, the
Indonesian government succeeded in persuading the UDT to launch an
anti-Fretilin coup. Instability, the government reasoned, would permit
Indonesia's invasion towards the purpose of "restoring order."

Shortly thereafter, in August 1975, a civil war began between Fretilin and
UDT forces. Between 1500 and 2000 Timorese were killed in this clash.
Portugal withdrew its military and civil personnel from the island; UDT
forces withdrew into the Indonesian territory and stated that they desired
integration with Indonesia. Fretilin, the victor in the civil war, assumed
de facto administration in East Timor. On November 28, 1975, Fretilin
declared the independence of the Democratic Republic of East Timor.

The Invasion by Indonesia

The Fretilin claim of independence for East Timor was not well-received by
the Indonesian government. On December 7, 1975, Indonesian troops seized
the capital, Dili. The bloodshed was extraordinary; it is estimated that
10,000 people were killed in the first few weeks of the conflict, and that
60,000 were killed in the first six months. Mass executions and torture
became  common occurrences in post-invasion East Timor.

On December 18, 1975, Indonesia declared the establishment of a Provisional
Government of East Timor. East Timor was formally annexed on July 17, 1976,
after a 37-person "representational" assembly of the Provisional Government
petitioned President Suharto to establish East Timor as an Indonesian
province.

The United Nations has drafted several resolutions deploring the Indonesian
invasion of East Timor, while concurrently calling for Indonesian forces to
withdraw. However, while the UN refused to recognize the Indonesian claim
to East Timor, it concomitantly did not honour East Timor's independence
and made no concerted effort, until 1999,to remedy the situation.

Fretilin guerrillas (joined by former enemies in the UDT) continued to
fight the Indonesian occupation. An invasion that the Indonesian forces
believed would conclude in a mere 24 hours, has instead lead to a conflict
that has persisted for 23 years. This conflict has led to continued
killings, torture, ostensibly arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as
restrictions on movement, speech and association.

Towards Independence:

Following the resignation of President Suharto in 1998, paramilitary
groups, supported by the Indonesian military, have carried out arbitrary
detentions, torture and unlawful killings during violent attacks in several
towns across East Timor, in an attempt to seek out supporters of
independence. At minimum 25 people, and possibly more, were executed at the
village of Liqusa on April 6 when paramilitary units attacked a church
where nearly 2000 local residents had sought refuge from earlier
paramilitary assaults.

Since April 17, reports indicate that an additional 20 people were killed
in the Timorese capital of Dili by paramilitary units. Despite the signing
of a peace agreement on April 21 (between the Indonesian military, the
National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) and pro-integrationist
paramilitaries), concomitant with an historic UN-sponsored referendum on
Timorese independence (scheduled for August 8), the situation in Dili
remains dire.

Yayasan Hak, a Dili-based human rights organization, reports that as recent
as May 16, an additional 12 Timorese were summarily executed at the village
of Atara by members of 'Team Pancasilia,' a newly established
pro-Indonesian militia force. A further 20 Timorese are reported as missing
and are presumed dead following the strike.


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