Forwarded from Clinton Fernandes (reply to Tom O'Lincoln)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Aug 23 22:25:26 MDT 2003

Response to Tom O'Lincoln

The Indonesian military weren't going to withdraw. They were going to stay 
and overturn the ballot result. Australia's plan (Operation Spitfire) 
fitted in with the Indonesian military strategy; the plan was to evacuate 
all foreign observers so that the Indonesians could act without witnesses.

It was the overwhelming pressure from below that forced the Australian 
government to send troops in ­ and the US government to warn the Indonesian 
military to knock it off.

Tom O'Lincoln's hyper-theorising is perhaps intended to justify why his 
little group of "revolutionaries" sat on the sidelines when the Australian 
public rose up and demanded that the Timorese be saved. But he cannot 
escape the facts, which are as follows:

The Indonesian military (TNI) terror campaign was carefully calibrated in 
intent, timing and location. For all its visceral, punitive aspects, the 
aim was to reverse the result of the ballot. It would have to be 
discredited as rigged, by suggesting that a majority of Timorese were 
voting with their feet. The diplomatic track - of claiming that the ballot 
had been rigged - functioned alongside the military terror campaign. This 
claim was made constantly. Allegations of bias were made as early as the 
day of the ballot, when the strength of the voter turnout signaled that the 
campaign of intimidation had not worked.

The diplomatic track was accompanied by dramatic scenes of human suffering, 
which served to blind many observers to what was really going on. The 
Indonesian military needed to remove all foreigners in order to execute its 
plan without the impediment of outside attention. Therefore, for all its 
sensationalism and violent imagery, the execution of the terror campaign 
was carefully controlled. The military campaign would work sequentially as 

1. Use the militia proxies to confine and remove foreign observers. 2. With 
foreigners gone, attack the local population and use logistics assets to 
move them across the border. 3. Provoke a desperate retaliation from 
FALINTIL, thereby drawing it into a conventional war. 4. Announce that TNI 
was forced to intervene between the "factions", and then, freed from 
restraints, attack and destroy FALINTIL in conventional warfare. 5. Create 
new facts on the ground, ensuring that the results of the ballot were 
irreversibly overturned.

Step 1: Confine and remove foreign observers.

Foreign observers were treated very differently to native Timorese. They 
were intimidated and driven into confined areas where they could not 
provide eyewitness reports to the outside world, but they were largely 
unharmed. There was good reason for this: the Indonesians remembered all 
too clearly the diplomatic difficulties they encountered in the West 
following the killings of six Western journalists in 1975. By comparison, 
the deaths of tens of thousands of Timorese following the 1975 invasion and 
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians in 1965-66 did not cause 
quite so many difficulties with Western governments. The Australian 
evacuation plan fitted in with the Indonesian strategy. This evacuation 
plan was known as Operation Spitfire, planning for which commenced on 11 
May 1999. The Australian National Audit Office's Performance Audit into the 
Management of ADF Deployments to East Timor (2002) is very specific about this:

"On 11 May 1999, Defence began planning for Operation Spitfire, the 
possible involvement of the ADF in an evacuation of UN, Australian and 
certain other nationals from East Timor" (page 29).

Operation Spitfire was about evacuating personnel, not peacekeeping. The 
experience of the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment in Townsville confirms this. 
On Monday 22 August 1999, the Commanding Officer received a verbal 
warning-order from Headquarters 3 Brigade for the Conduct of Operations. He 
was told unambiguously that the operation would be an evacuation operation, 
not a peacekeeping operation. As the Regimental Sergeant Major said, "The 
CO advised that the Brigade was undertaking planning for an operation that 
if launched, would see elements of the formation deployed to East Timor to 
undertake a Services Protected Evacuation (SPE) of Australian and other 
approved foreign nationals. The Operation was named as Operation SPITFIRE 
and if launched would be for 7 to 10 days' duration". (Kevin J Vann, 
"Bridging The Gap")

Step 2: With foreigners unable to report, attack the local population and 
use logistics assets to move them across the border.

Timorese, in contrast to foreign observers, were attacked and driven from 
their homes and shepherded to land or sea transport to West Timor or other 
parts of Indonesia.

John Martinkus's eye-witness report is as follows: "The entire city is 
effectively unfit for habitation. There is no water, no power and no 
telephones. People have been marched at gunpoint out of the city. On Monday 
and Tuesday we witnessed columns of crying people being herded towards the 
dock area in scenes reminiscent of the worst footage of World War II. 
the Sunday and Monday, the boats ­ Indonesian navy and commandeered 
commercial craft ­ kept arriving and departing. Then, as the Indonesian 
military became directly involved in rounding up and marching people down 
to force them to evacuate, the situation turned ugly. Militia, armed with 
machine guns, were given free rein to search the crowds and take away 
anyone they recognised. Possessions were rifled and anything of value was 
stolen. For the deportees, this wasn't the end: according to unofficial 
reports, they were met by militia when they disembarked in West Timor. More 
were killed and they were herded into camps, where they remain. Dili was 
burning; what wasn't burning was stolen, loaded onto military trucks or 
into the commandeered utes of the militia. In all of this chaos, however, 
it was remarkable that not one of the more than 1000 foreigners who were in 
Dili on Saturday when the ballot was announced was killed. That can only 
support the argument that this was a premeditated, well-organised and 
executed operation, right down to the continual psychological pressure on 
those who stayed throughout the successful evacuations that almost led to 
the UN abandoning the mission entirely on the Wednesday night."

In the two weeks following the 4 September announcement, the UN and 
Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission estimated that 70% of the 
buildings had been destroyed. Vital infrastructure was crippled, leaving 
Dili and major towns without running water, electricity or telephones. 
Approximately 250,000 people were estimated to have been driven across the 
border to West Timor and other Indonesian islands. Thousands of frightened 
Timorese fled to the hills and into the UN compound, which was besieged. It 
was clear that this was an organised campaign, planned and directed by 
senior Indonesian generals, whose aim was to reverse the ballot and create 
new demographic facts on the ground.

The Australian government continued to make public statements that took the 
pressure off Indonesia. Alexander Downer, for instance, said:

I get the impression that President Habibie, Mr Alatas, General Wiranto are 
all trying to do the right thing. And some of the commanders, clearly, are 
trying to do the right thing. But there have been and there still are some 
fairly wild elements within the Indonesian military. (Meet the Press 1999)

Step 3: Provoke a desperate retaliation from FALINTIL, thereby drawing it 
into a conventional war.

This terror campaign would have the added benefit of provoking FALINTIL 
into a desperate retaliation, thereby drawing it into something approaching 
conventional warfare, where the TNI clearly had the advantage. A FALINTIL 
reaction would allow the Indonesians to claim that it had to intervene 
between the "factions". The pressure on FALINTIL was indeed severe. In Uai 
Mori on the northern coast, Taur Matan Ruak (Operational Commander, 
FALINTIL) was receiving reports of the devastation and finding it almost 
impossible to remain in cantonment. Speaking by satellite telephone to 
Xanana Gusmao on 7 September, the day of Gusmao's release from house 
arrest, Matan Ruak conveyed his feelings to Gusmao. Gusmao implored him to 
stay in the cantonments and, after further frantic messages, Matan Ruak 

Step 4: Announce that TNI was forced to intervene between the "factions", 
and then, freed from restraints, attack and destroy FALINTIL in 
conventional warfare.

The Indonesian strategy failed at Step 4. While it imposed martial law 
under the pretext of "intervening between the factions", and continued to 
claim that the ballot had been rigged, it was unable to go any further.

The imposition of martial law was accompanied by familiar allegations that 
the ballot had been rigged. Indonesia's Permanent Representative to the UN 
reiterated this allegation when he claimed that the violence had been 
triggered by 'the deep disappointment of pro-autonomy factions over the 
referendum's outcome, coupled with UNAMET's failure to respond 
satisfactorily to reports of irregularities before and during the vote'.

Indonesia talked up the violence and the dangers, knowing that Western 
governments contemplating a peacekeeping force were reluctant to accept 
casualties. Ali Alatas, warning that a foreign peacekeeping mission could 
sustain casualties, spoke of the 'failure of this kind of mission when 
there is no peace yet to be kept'. The second was the announcement that 
additional troops were being deployed. Ostensibly to 'maintain law and 
order', their significance was clear, and recognised as such by military 
planners overseas ­ foreign governments (like Australia) should realise 
that a unilateral intervention would meet armed opposition. On occasion, 
the significance was overt: the Air Force Commander was quoted as saying 
"We are ready to face any intruders from Australia". Clear and unambiguous 
warnings were issued, in case the message had not registered: 'Any nations 
willing to send peacekeepers to the province would have to shoot their way 
in'. This warning, issued by Foreign Minister (and Officer of the Order of 
Australia) Ali Alatas, showed just how little clout the Australian 
government had when it mattered most. Ruling out peacekeepers, Alatas 
warned, 'Don't give us ultimatums, don't talk to us about peacekeepers'.

The US understood the message clearly; Samuel Berger, National Security 
Adviser to President Clinton, noted that there were '20,000, roughly, 
Indonesian soldiers in Timor, and obviously in the absence of [Indonesian] 
agreement, it could be a rather bloody situation'.

The Australian government's initial reaction to the Indonesian campaign of 
state-sponsored terror was shock and paralysis. The government's diplomatic 
representations to the Indonesian government had no effect at all. The 
"special relationship", nurtured by successive Australian governments 
despite the disapproval of the public, had given it no leverage whatsoever.

The immediate US reaction to the ethnic cleansing campaign was that it was 
not contemplating military intervention. It signalled the Indonesians that 
there would not be any meaningful US opposition to their actions, although 
they would need to act quickly to take the heat out of the issue. US 
Ambassador to Indonesia, Stapleton Roy met President Habibie but said that 
'the topic of armed peacekeepers was not discussed':

That was not the purpose of our discussion. It was to explore any ideas 
that could be helpful. We were not there to make a proposal for armed 
peacekeepers. We were there to explore how to assist Indonesia with its 
responsibility to maintain a good security environment there and how the 
international community could be more helpful.

At the regular Pentagon briefing on 7 September 1999, spokesman Kenneth 
Bacon talked about 'regrettable and unfortunate problems in East Timor'. He 
said that the US position was clear: 'We are going to continue to encourage 
the Indonesian authorities to provide security. Second, we are going to 
await the report of the UN survey team, and when we have that information 
in hand, we'll decide what to do'. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger 
also signalled the Indonesians that although they had to wind up operations 
quickly, the US would not intervene:

My daughter has a very messy apartment up in college, maybe I shouldn't 
intervene to have that cleaned up. I don't think anybody ever articulated a 
doctrine which said that we ought to intervene wherever there's a 
humanitarian problem. The assessment of the TNI leadership was that it 
could stave off international pressure long enough to create new facts on 
the ground. This assessment was based on a rational understanding of the 
nature of power: as long as the UN, not the US, was most insistent, the TNI 
could act with a degree of freedom. The Indonesian military understood all 
too well what former US Secretary of State George Shultz once said about 
the rule of force in world affairs: 'Negotiations are a euphemism for 
capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining 
table'. Shultz went on to dismiss those who advocated 'utopian, legalistic 
means like outside mediation, the United Nations, and the World Court, 
while ignoring the power element of the equation' (Shultz 1986). This was 
identical to the assessment of the Indonesian military.

The reality of the situation was obvious to all when UN spokesman Fred 
Eckhard "admitted that the UN did not even have a contingency plan to 
contain the violence". Indonesia could therefore afford to ignore UN 
officials like Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who 
called for the convening of a 'special session of the UN Commission on 
Human Rights'. Indonesia could also afford to stonewall the UN Security 
Council's five-man mission that arrived in Jakarta on 8 September, 
particularly in light of the remarks of the man who sent them, UN Security 
Council President Arnold Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands. Van Walsum 
made it clear that the Council would not authorize the deployment of 
foreign forces without the express consent of the Indonesian government. 
Effectively conceding what the Indonesians already knew ­ that the UN 
Security Council mission had no leverage without the 'shadow of power cast 
across the bargaining table' ­ van Walsum said:

I can assure you the Security Council will not give the green light if 
there is no permission on the part of the Indonesian government (Aita 1999).

The Indonesian authorities could draw comfort from the Chinese government's 
statements in the UN Security Council, where it held a veto. China's 
Ambassador to the UN, Shen Guofang, said that "although some Council 
members called for armed peacekeepers, Beijing would not want any such step 
taken without Indonesia's consent".

The Australian public was outraged at what it saw and demanded intervention 
to save the Timorese. Kerry Myers, Letters Editor at the Sydney Morning 
Herald, noted that the public response 'was quite overwhelming:

Readers were shocked, angered, saddened, appalled by the terrible, terrible 
story. But what was almost palpable was the frustration and impotence 
expressed by so many. Correspondents wanted something, anything, done to 
relieve the suffering they were exposed to through daily news reports from 
Dili. And there appeared nothing much they could do at all. Letters 
attacked the government, specifically the Prime Minister and the Foreign 
Minister, for what the writers saw as hand-wringing inaction
 And as the 
week wore on there was the chilling realisation that there was to be no 
rescue for the East Timorese.

Downer recalled that 'people were ringing up, crying over the phone, we had 
more calls on that issue than I've ever had in my life on anything'.

The public was doing much more than 'ringing up' and 'crying over the 
phone'; the union movement had swung into action, dramatically increasing 
the pressure on the government. Rank-and-file anger had taken the union 
leadership by surprise. Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Leigh 
Hubbard said that 'a lot of these members are ahead of the leadership on 
this one'. The Australian Services Union declared bans on Garuda. The 
Transport Workers Union banned the airport loading of all Indonesian 
freight. The CEPU put national bans on all mail and telecommunication 
services, including fault repairs, to the Indonesian Consulate and to 
Indonesian businesses. The MUA declared all Indonesian shipping and freight 
banned, stranding $22 million in wheat in Melbourne. In Sydney, a Malaysian 
ship was held up until Indonesia-bound containers were taken off. In 
Newcastle, wharfies refused to load produce bound for Indonesia and about 
30 containers were taken off a vessel in Brisbane. In Adelaide, the MUA 
took 20 containers to a warehouse and declared they would not be released 
until Timor was free. The International Transport Workers Federation called 
on its 500 affiliates worldwide to follow the example of the MUA and 
'organise appropriate protest action against Indonesian commercial 
interests including air and sea traffic coming from or bound for Indonesian 
ports and airports'. Thousands of CFMEU members walked off construction 
sites to join rallies around the country; the CFMEU also provided 
significant resources and logistical support, backed by the Labor Council 
of NSW. In Melbourne, the union banned the use of Indonesian supplies worth 
$7 million. The Australian Workers Union stepped up the pressure, telling 
BP, Caltex and Shell not to order Indonesian oil because its members would 
refuse to process it. Garbage workers - with the backing of Randwick 
Council - refused to pick up rubbish from the Indonesian Consulate. 
Printing workers refused to handle paper products made in Indonesia. The 
Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union called for all government departments 
- including the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games - to 
suspend production contracts with Indonesia. The Australian Nurses 
Federation placed members on standby to respond overseas if necessary.

The Australian Education Union urged public schools to support peace in 
East Timor by observing two minutes silence at midday on Tuesday. Students 
and teachers were asked to use lesson time to draft letters to world 
leaders asking for their help to bring peace and freedom to East Timor.

Realising for the first time the seriousness of its own position in the 
electorate, the government finally did what it could have done months ago ­ 
work with the US to exert pressure on Indonesia to allow peacekeepers in.

Contrary to the Australian government's earlier claims, four days of 
diplomatic pressure is all it took for Indonesia to agree to foreign 
troops. The earlier US stance was based on its calculation that it 'must 
put its relationship with Indonesia, a mineral-rich nation of more than 200 
million people, ahead of its concern over the political fate of East Timor, 
a tiny impoverished territory of 800,000 people that is seeking 
independence'. The public bitterness and official dismay at the reluctance 
of the US to respond to Australian requests meant that a reappraisal of the 
relationship would be inevitable unless something was done. Warned that the 
alliance was in jeopardy, the Clinton administration acted swiftly. As a 
senior official said, "We don't have a dog running in the East Timor race, 
but we have a very big dog running down there called Australia and we have 
to support it".

Wednesday 8 September 1999 was the day that serious diplomatic initiatives 
began. The Clinton cabinet made an in-principle decision to support a 
peace- keeping operation. To that end, its official pronouncements on the 
Timor situation carried a hint of menace towards Indonesia. Defence 
Secretary William Cohen warned that 'the international community has a 
number of levers we can pull on. There are serious economic consequences to 
be sure'. State Department spokesman James Rubin also reminded his audience 

Indonesia's relations with the international community, including the 
United States, are at risk here... we do spend tens of millions of dollars 
on economic development directly with the Indonesian Government and, 
obviously, the Indonesian government receives substantial billions of 
dollars in support pursuant to an agreement with the International Monetary 
Fund. The International Monetary Fund has indicated it is closely 
monitoring the situation in East Timor.

Aware of the power of the TNI, the US leadership ensured that its messages 
went to the right address. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
General Hugh Shelton telephoned Wiranto during the week after the 
announcement of the referendum result. The message was also delivered in 
person - Admiral Dennis Blair, Commander-In-Chief of the US forces in the 
Pacific, spoke to General Wiranto in Jakarta on 8 September 1999. Greenlees 
and Garran (2002: 243-244), quoting Admiral Blair, do not 'characterize 
what went on', but Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering revealed that 
Blair informed Wiranto that the US was suspending its military ties with 

For the Australian government, the coincidental timing of the APEC meeting 
in Auckland was crucial. Scheduled for the weekend of 11-12 September 1999, 
it allowed for intensive lobbying of the US President, who would be 
attending. Crucially, it allowed for face-to-face meetings between all the 
key players. In days leading up to the APEC meeting, the US's warnings 
became unmistakable. On 9 September, just before leaving for New Zealand, 
Clinton warned that 'if Indonesia does not end the violence, it must invite 
­ IT MUST INVITE ­ the international community to assist in restoring 
security... it would be a pity if the Indonesian recovery were crashed by 
this'[Emphasis in the original]. He said that his 'own willingness to 
support future assistance will depend very strongly on the way Indonesia 
handles this situation'. If the violence continued, there would be 
'overwhelming public sentiment to stop the international economic 
 nobody is going to want to continue to invest there if they 
are allowing this sort of travesty to go on'. Later, in a refueling stop at 
Hickham Air Force Base in Hawaii, he was briefed on the Timor situation by 
Admiral Dennis Blair, who had recently met Wiranto. Then, while aboard Air 
Force One en route to Auckland, Clinton issued his strongest statement yet, 
accusing the TNI of direct involvement: 'It is clear the Indonesian 
military is aiding and abetting the militia violence
 This is simply 

The IMF and the World Bank fell into line with the US as well; two days 
after Clinton's warning, the IMF announced that it was suspending its 
scheduled visit to Indonesia, required for the approval of the next 
instalment of US$450 million. The IMF threat was very real: its total 
rescue package was $12.3 billion, of which $2.3 billion was yet to be 
transferred. Hubert Neiss, the IMF's Asia-Pacific director, also warned 
Indonesia to end the violence if it wanted its loan review to be 
re-scheduled. The director of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, urged 
President Habibe to honour the results of the referendum; later, the Bank 
froze its $1 billion aid program to Indonesia.

The TNI could read the writing on the wall. In a visit to Dili on 11 
September, Wiranto acknowledged as much when he said, "We cannot rule out 
the possibility of accelerating the arrival of the peace-keeping force". 
Finally, in an emergency debate in the UN Security Council on 12 September 
1999, US envoy Richard Holbrooke warned Indonesia that it faced 'the point 
of no return in international relations' if it did not accept an 
international peacekeeping force.

Indonesia's resistance ended within hours. On 12 September 1999, Habibie 
emerged from a special Cabinet meeting, stood alongside Wiranto and made a 
nationwide announcement of the decision to allow a UN force into Timor. 
Wiranto's presence beside Habibie sent a clear signal that the TNI was 
aligned with the decision. There was a last-ditch attempt by the 
Indonesians to determine the composition of the force; the Indonesian 
military spokesman Brigadier General Sudrajat said that 'the armed forces 
reject Australia as part of any peacekeeping troops
 the majority of the 
force [should] come from ASEAN'.

However, this was quickly resolved by the US's insistence that Indonesia 
not interfere: "they should not be able to say who is in or not in the 
force and what the structure of the force would be".

Hours after Sudrajat's protests, Habibie confirmed to UN Secretary General 
Kofi Annan that Indonesia was 'putting up no conditionalities, so it is all 
up to the United Nations to prepare the composition'.

This is how Australian troops were sent in ­ from an evacuation mission, 
which fitted in with the TNI strategy, to a peace keeping mission, which 
the Australian government had done its best to avoid. It was forced to turn 
against its Indonesian ally, albeit temporarily, because of pressure from 

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