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That’s the same argument put forward by the Indonesian dictator General Suharto, whose regime is responsible for the deaths of 200,000 people in East Timor. General Suharto has given large amounts of money to the ANC, and President Mandela has given him South Africa’s highest honour. John Pilger, Apartheid Did Not Die, ITV 1998
East Timor is a tiny country just four hundred miles to the north of Australia. A Portuguese colony for more than four hundred years, East Timor was invaded in 1975 by Indonesia, the fifth largest nation in the world and led by a military dictatorship. Indonesia has no historical or legal claim to East Timor, yet its brutal occupation has met with mostly silence from the world’s governments and international agencies ... As a result of the Indonesian invasion and occupation some 200,000 died here. That’s a third of the population. John Pilger, Death of a Nation – The Timor Conspiracy, ITV 1998
There are also documents showing torture was officially sanctioned with established procedures for the torturer. One such manual is entitled, Guiding the Village Comprehensively, and lists the dos and don’ts of torture. And here they are: avoid taking photographs showing torture in progress; and when people are being subjected to electric current, and when they have been stripped naked etc. Remember not to have photographs developed outside East Timor which could then be made available to public by irresponsible elements. Interrogation should be repeated over and over again until the correct conclusion is drawn. ibid.
There is also a wider question: are international relations at the close of the twentieth century to be dominated by euphemisms and lies that override justice and make small nations expendable? The fate of the people of East Timor is pivotal to this. For if we allow our governments to arm their oppressors and steal their resources and to do so in our name, how can we claim the universal rights that are denied them? ibid.
In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor. Like Saddam’s attack on Kuwait, the occupation was declared by the UN to be illegal. But no action ever followed. In the last 18 years a third of the East Timorese population has been killed, while Western governments have remained silent, or, like Britain, have sold arms worth hundreds of millions to Indonesia. John Pilger, article 12th February 1994, ‘The West’s Dirty Wink’
In my film Death of a Nation, there is a sequence filmed on board an Australian aircraft flying over the island of Timor. A party is in progress, and two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. This is an historically unique moment, says one of them, that is truly uniquely historical. This is Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister. The other man is Ali Alatas, principal mouthpiece of the Indonesian dictator, General Suharto. It is 1989, and the two are making a grotesquely symbolic flight to celebrate the signing of a treaty that allowed Australia and the international oil and gas companies to exploit the seabed off East Timor, then illegally and viciously occupied by Suharto. The prize, according to Evans, was zillions of dollars.
Beneath them lay a land of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides. Filming clandestinely in East Timor, I would walk into the scrub and there were the crosses. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. In 1993, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Australian Parliament reported that at least 200,000 had died under Indonesia’s occupation: almost a third of the population. And yet East Timor’s horror, which was foretold and nurtured by the US, Britain and Australia, was actually a sequel. No single American action in the period after 1945, wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre. He was referring to Suharto’s seizure of power in 1965-6, which caused the violent deaths of up to a million people.
To understand the significance of Suharto, who died on Sunday, is to look beneath the surface of the current world order: the so-called global economy and the ruthless cynicism of those who run it. Suharto was our model mass murderer ... One of our very best and most valuable friends, Thatcher called him, speaking for the West. For three decades, the Australian, US and British governments worked tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto’s gestapo, known as Kopassus, who were trained by the Australian SAS and the British army and who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler and Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica riot-control vehicles. Prevented by Congress from supplying arms direct, US administrations from Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton, provided logistic support through the back door and commercial preferences.
In one year, the British Department of Trade provided almost a billion pounds worth of so-called soft loans, which allowed Suharto buy Hawk fighter-bombers. The British taxpayer paid the bill for aircraft that dive-bombed East Timorese villages, and the arms industry reaped the profits. However, the Australians distinguished themselves as the most obsequious. In an infamous cable to Canberra, Richard Woolcott, Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta, who had been forewarned about Suharto’s invasion of East Timor, wrote: What Indonesia now looks to from Australia is some understanding of their attitude and possible action to assist public understanding in Australia ...
Covering up Suharto’s crimes became a career for those like Woolcott, while understanding the mass murderer came in buckets. This left an indelible stain on the reformist government of Gough Whitlam following the cold-blooded killing of two Australian TV crews by Suharto’s troops during the invasion of East Timor. We know your people love you, Bob Hawke told the dictator. His successor, Paul Keating, famously regarded the tyrant as a father figure. When Indonesian troops slaughtered at least 200 people in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, and Australian mourners planted crosses outside the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, foreign minister Gareth Evans ordered them destroyed. To Evans, ever-effusive in his support for the regime, the massacre was merely an aberration. This was the view of much of the Australian press, especially that controlled by Rupert Murdoch, whose local retainer, Paul Kelly, led a group of leading newspaper editors to Jakarta, fawn before the dictator.
Here lies a clue as to why Suharto, unlike Saddam Hussein, died not on the gallows but surrounded by the finest medical team his secret billions could buy. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s, describes the terror of Suharto’s takeover of Indonesia in 1965-6 as the model operation for the American-backed coup that got rid of Salvador Allende in Chile seven years later. The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders, he wrote, [just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965. The US embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a zap list of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. Roland Challis, the BBC’s south-east Asia correspondent at the time, told me how the British government was secretly involved in this slaughter. British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in the terrible holocaust, he said. I and other correspondents were unaware of this at the time ... There was a deal, you see.
The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia. In November 1967, the greatest prize was handed out at a remarkable three-day conference sponsored by the Time-Life Corporation in Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all the corporate giants were represented: the major oil companies and banks, General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British American Tobacco, Siemens and US Steel and many others. Across the table sat Suharto’s US-trained economists who agreed to the corporate takeover of their country, sector by sector. The Freeport company got a mountain of copper in West Papua. A US/ European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia’s bauxite. America, Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra. When the plunder was complete, President Lyndon Johnson sent his congratulations on a magnificent story of opportunity seen and promise awakened. Thirty years later, with the genocide in East Timor also complete, the World Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a model pupil.
Shortly before he died, I interviewed Alan Clark, who under Thatcher was Britain’s minister responsible for supplying Suharto with most of his weapons. I asked him, Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human suffering?
No, not in the slightest, he replied. It never entered my head.
I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and are seriously concerned about the way animals are killed.
Doesn’t that concern extend to humans?
Curiously not. John Pilger, article January 2008 ‘Suharto, the Model Killer, and His Friends in High Places’
This country has all the ingredients of a top tourist destination ... There’s trouble in paradise. A fifth of the population are said to be gang members, and violence is endemic. Ross Kemp on Gangs s3e4: East Timor, Sky 2007
Arson being one of the weapons used by the gangs. Along with bows and arrows, poison darts and machetes. ibid.
The gangs are gaining political influence. ibid.
Even the unaffiliated had a gang name: Zero Zero. ibid.
The island of Timor lies between two of the region’s superpowers – Indonesia and Australia. ibid.
Signs of gang activity are everywhere. ibid.
Despite the violence this is a deeply religious society. ibid.
Something has to be done about the poverty and the unemployment here. ibid.