East Timor Catastrophe Article by Kerry Morgan 24/9/99 Many aspects of the East Timorese catastrophe were predictable and predicted. The bloody and vengeful ?final solution? or scorched earth campaign of the Indonesian military against a population which voted overwhelmingly for independence, was planned and known about well in advance. The Jakarta government knew, the US and Australian Intelligence knew and the United Nations itself knew. Nevertheless, the scale and intensity of the death and destruction wrought in the course of less than one month has shocked and horrified all those who have witnessed it. Thousands of Maubere (East Timorese) people were killed in the unprecedented wave of violence since the historic August 30 vote. Many hundreds had already been killed in the run-up to the referendum. The ballot had seen a staggering participation in many areas of nearly 100% of registered voters and an overwhelming rejection of rule from Jakarta. As the Indonesian Army (the TNI) and its murderous auxiliaries - the ?militia? - went on the rampage, practically the whole of East Timor?s population was ?displaced? - driven from their homes and terrorised. Hundreds of thousands fled to the perilous safety of the mountains where there is little or no food, water or protection from the militia and Indonesian army thugs. At least 200,000 were forced into exile, most being held as hostages in the concentration camps of West Timor. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald of 24 September quotes eye-witness accounts from refugees there collected by an Australian UN observer, Katharine Kennedy. " ?Heavily armed men wearing Aitarak and Besi Merah Putih militia T-shirts have been roaming the city of Kupang and terrorising refugees and searching for individuals named on hit lists they carry?, she said. On September 13, about 15 young Timorese men were stabbed and thrown overboard from an Indonesian passenger liner, the Pelni Awu, en route from Kupang to Denpasar in Bali. The witness believed the killers were members of the Indonesian Army. On September 8 at the Dili wharf, Aitarak militias separated men from a refugee group and told them to remove their shirts. The militias then shot 10 dead before an Indonesian Army member intervened. On September 6 four alleged members of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) were shot and thrown over the side of an Indonesian naval vessel carrying forcibly deported refugees to Kupang." Horror Australian troops who began arriving in the country at the head of the UN task-force, Interfet, on September 18th and the journalists and photographers who went with them have only begun to uncover the real horror of the devastation and human suffering. Dili, the capital, and every town in the country have been almost totally destroyed and put to the torch. The home of Manuel Carrascalao, a prominent opponent of Indonesian rule, where many terrified Timorese had sought refuge, had been ransacked by the militia. In its grounds a torture chamber had been set up and meat hooks and a primitive guillotine had been used. No less than 30 dismenmbered bodies were discovered piled up in the compound?s well The question on everyone?s minds was why did the United Nations not act more quickly. At the end of the 20th century, far from a ?New World Order?, we have yet more scenes of carnage, genocide and barbarity which have nothing to do with cultural traditions and everything to do with the bloody record of imperialist plundering. Yet again, the United Nations is asked to organise what amounts to a ?sanitary? cleaning up operation after untold damage has been done. For the reasons outlined elsewhere in this edition of Socialism Today, United Nations will always drag its feet. Also, in spite of the individual heroism of some of its civilian and military forces, it will never be able to eradicate the problems they are sent to sort out. History The history of Indonesia and of East Timor over decades proves beyond all doubt that the big capitalist powers that dominate the United Nations are the very ones who have contributed to this human tragedy reaching such an horrific nemesis. For decades they encouraged, armed and did business with the hated general Suharto not only when his troops invaded the newly independent East Timor in 1975. When he bludgeoned his way to power in the ?60s, they failed to condemn the massacre of over one million workers and peasants who were members or supporters of the mighty Indonesian Communist Party. (CIA agents actually supplied the names of people to be annihilated!). When, in 1969, another half-island nation, Irian Jaya, struggled to win its independence, they stitched up a United Nations-approved ?Act of Free Choice? which was nothing of the sort but gave control to Indonesia. Throughout the years of genocide and bloody repression, the governments of the big capitalist powers continued their business links and made no mention of either the murderous role of the army or of the massive corruption endemic in Suharto Inc. After Suharto When in 1997 the economy of the fourth largest country in the world suffered a catastrophic collapse as part of the ?Asian Crisis?, the world?s bankers poured in over $43 billion dollars to shore up Suharto?s crony capitalism. When the hated dictator was anyway overthrown by a revolutionary mass movement in May 1998, the US, Britain and other imperialist countries continued to back Suharto?s appointed successor, Habibie. The new ?transitional? president battled to keep to a minimum the concessions he was forced to make to the aroused oppressed layers in society. Since the incipient revolution found no political party making an all-out challenge to the rule of private interests in finance, land and industry, even the tasks of establishing democratic processes in society and solving national grievances could not be completed. The armed forces remained almost unreconstructed and a powerful force in politics. They continued to employ the brutal methods of the past against opposition movements of workers, students and oppressed nationalities, often including killings, torture and ?disappearances? of known activists. Under Suharto and under Habibie, western imperialist countries - and Australia and New Zealand along with them - have continued to equip and train the Indonesian Army. A British Ministry of Defence spokesman justifies this with the patently unreal assertion that "It is a way of ensuring professionalism in foreign armies. It encourages higher standards, good governance and greater repsect for human rights"! (Observer 19/9/99). Wars, civil wars and military interventions bring out what is most odious and rotten in the capitalist system - its brutality, its double standards and its crass hypocrisy. Imperialism and self-determination The cynical opportunism of the Ausrtralian government is demonstrated by its withdrawal at the end of last year of its notorious recognition of the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia. It had become clear, after the fall of Suharto, that the movement for independence in East Timor was becoming an unstoppable force, and the way had to be prepared for renegotiating business deals - particularly over oil - with whatever government might emerge in an independent East Timor. Imperialist powers do not make a habit of supporting oppressed nations struggling for their independence, but when they are faced with the kind of determination shown by the East Timorese people, they have to look for some ?solution? that will keep things safe for their interests. When Suharto was there was an outburst of youthful demonstrations in East Timor demanding that independence be restored. Material interests As far as the ruling elite in Indonesia was concerned, the loss of their "27th Province" would represent a big blow to their very material interests as well as their prestige. The occupation troops, with Suharto?s son-in-law, Prabowo, playing a commanding role - were amongst the most brutal and hardened of any fighting force in the world. Their officers, including Prabowo were trained in the west in the nefarious military tactics of Vietnam, up to and including the use of napalm, torture, defoliation and depopulation. Many thousands of soldiers had been killed and withdrawal in the 23 year-long battle to hold down the independence movement. Total withdrawal would seem like a betrayal of the ?supreme sacrifice? they had made. George Aditjondro - a lecturer at Australia?s Newcastle University ? has revealed the full extent of the involvement of the Indonesian elite in the tiny half-island territory. "?East Timor is the Indonesian "province" with the second largest landholdings under control of the Soeharto family, namely 564,867 hectares? "These landholdings stretch from the Western border to the Eastern tip of East Timor, consisting of a 50,000 hectares timber plantation allocated to Bob Hasan, one of the Soeharto family?s business operators, to tens of thousands of hectares of sugarcane plantations awarded to the kids on the Southern coast, stretching from Suai to Viqueque and to Los Palos in the district of Lautem. In addition, the best marble deposits in Manatuto, has been awarded to Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, Soeharto?s eldest daughter, who also has a monopoly over coffee production and export from East Timor, through a company of hers in Dili. "...The entire top brass of the Indonesian army and civilian bureaucracy in East Timor are closely interlinked with the former inner circle of Soeharto, which has in turn be taken over by his successor, Habibie. Even Wiranto is not free from Soeharto connections, since all the army charities which are now under his patronage, are co-shareholders of many of the Soeharto family?s timber concessions and telecommunication companies." These extracts come from a document entitled ?Unmasking the Indonesian interests behind the pro-Jakarta militias. (The full text is available from East Timor International Support Center on their web-site: www.easttimor.com). They explain why the author concludes: "? I believe that behind the militia tactics in East Timor there seems to hide a strategy to partition East Timor into a western half which support continued links with Indonesia and an eastern part that would be allowed to become independent. A partition, that would roughly follow the lines of the ?oil-rich? and ?oil-poor? parts of East Timor. "Or, a strategy that would allow the entire territory to obtain its political independence, as long as the landholdings of the Soeharto family and their East Timorese collaborators would be respected by an independent East Timor state, and not be seized by the new government or by those properties rightful, traditional landowners." Reluctance It was clear that, in spite of verbal condemnations, the big powers would not agree to intervene without the ?permission? of their long-time ally and major business partner in the region. They had not challenged Indonesia?s control in East Timor and even after the intervention (rather than invasion) began, they did not insist on the withdrawal of all Indonesian troops. Even though the TNI has been ostensibly making its own way out, at least 5,000 remain in place and are reported to be preventing refugees from returning to their homes. (Its commander of operations in East Timor, (NAME) is alongside the UN appointed commander Peter Cosgrove as he gives briefings to his forces and to the press). Although the major capitalist powers feared the effects of the conflagration in East Timor on the stability of the whole region, they were also concerned about the repercussions of breaking off relations. This meant cutting off loans and lucrative commercial contracts, including those for the very arms being used to kill and terrorise in East Timor. They were also fearful of the destabilising effect inside Indonesia if the military were seen to be totally humiliated. Eventually, however, they were forced to act and impose certain ?sanctions?. In the end the intervention itself was presented as a move to ?aid? Indonesian forces to restore law and order - aid the very same forces who, it is uncontrovertibly clear - were directly behind all the murderous activities of the militia and often actually directly involved in them. Meanwhile BJHabibie was struggling to maintain his position as president. LEAVE OUT?[In offering autonomy within Indonesia and then independence if that was rejected, Habibie was, as on so many issues, trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. Whether he blundered, gambled on fears of too rapid a transition to independence or even deliberately brought about the present situation, it seems unlikely that his own career will prosper.] Jon Aglionby of the Guardian when asked if he thought Habibie was "finished" commented that he has been "written off many times already" But the students facing the batons and bullets of the military on the streets of Jakarta have been shouting down both Habibie and Wiranto (the armed forces commander). The government has been reeling before the renewed demonstrations of tens of thousands of students joined by the poor of the capital and a number of defiant workers. They have achieved the suspension of legislation being rushed through the outgoing parliament to enable the military to step in with more or less unlimited powers in case of a national emergency. This is seen by many as an incipient military coup and a warning against any who might protest the domination of the next government by the military. It has been speculated by regional analysts like Catherine Napier of the BBC that the president in waiting Megawati Sukarnopoutri could be preparing a deal with the military over East Timor. "Under a pact, the army?s past crimes in not just East Timor but the rest of Indonesia could be studiously ignored in the interests of national unity, much as under President Suharto" (BBC News 14/9/99). Megawati has opposed independence for East Timor and blames the referendum for the catastrophic violence in the half island country. In this she reflects the interests of the Indonesian ruling class and their fear of further losses - of oil-rich Aceh and of copper-rich Irian Jaya, in particular - and of a disintegration and humiliation of the Indonesian state. One of the aims of the army?s bloody wrecking tactic in East Timor was no doubt to deter independence movements in these and other areas. In fact, it could well have the opposite effect, and increase their determination to escape from the nightmare of life under Jakarta rule. The carnage in East Timor signifies one of the bloodiest counter-revolutions in history. It alone is proof that the regime issuing from the overthrow of general Suharto is far from democratic. The party that picked up the electoral fruits of the ?reformasi? movement of 1997-8, Megawati Sukarnopoutri?s Democratic Party of Indonesia - Struggle (PDI-P), is now said to have "profited from a wave of nationalism and xenophobia" (Far Eastern Economic Review for week ending 16 Sepember). "Many Indonesians see a UN and American plot to humiliate their country, and they blame foreigners, not their military, for the violence." While they have said they would reluctantly accept the democratic decision of the people of East Timor, it is ironic that the arch ?democratic? figure of Megawati could, by November, head a military bonapartist government, with General Wiranto as vice-president. But what kind can now be expected in East Timor itself? What is the aim and role of the UN approved intervention and how ?independent? a state can be established? Aims and role of intervention The initial force of around three and a half thousand troops proved unable to assure the security of either the UN?s own humanitarian relief agencies or of the mass of the population. They have been powerless to come to the aid of the imprisoned refugees West Timor and will inevitably come into conflict with the starving East Timorese people who have already raide food storecks and begun to take things into their own hands. Phone calls between TNI and militia groups still on the ground indicate the possibility of a number of bloody clashes yet, in which some foreign soldiers and many more unarmed civilians could be killed. David Usborne of the ?Independent? newspaper cites the blood-curdling radio conversations in which militia bands agree enthusiastically to put "those white people" in the river, to exterminate them, "eat them up" etc.(20 September). It will obviously take some time before the few thousand soldiers, most of them without experience in actual fighting, will be able to cope with the situation. They will be there for some time before a new ?independent? government can be established and probably for some time after. It seems certain that the large anti-independence forces massing in the border area with West Timor will continue their bloody terror raids into East Timor on a regular basis. The dependence on Interfet forces itself indicates the weakness of the aspiring rulers of an independent East Timor. It has been clear for some time that the main independence force- Fretilin - could not win a military victory. It had not adopted a strategy of mobilising and arming he workers and poor of the towns. The guerrilla tactics of sorties from mountain bases to pick off particular military targets were insufficient to defeat the all pervasive Indonesian army. The possibility, on the other hand of a movement in the urban areas being able to appeal to and split the occupation forces is not so unrealistic given the reports of mass desertions of the thousands East Timorese in the Indonesian army and of about 1,000 police even before the arrival of the UN sanctioned force. Unfortunately now, with the commander of the task-force, Peter (check) Cosgrove promising impartiality and the declared role of his troops to be the disarming of both ?factions?, it is inevitable that independence fighters will find themselves being called on to hand in their weapons. Apart from a few skirmishes and even successful attacks on Indonesian military, the Fretilin fighters, still in the four cantonments they agreed to restrict themselves to before the referendum, have anyway been under orders not to do anything that might provoke civil war. As if there is already not an extremely bloody and one-sided civil war being carried out against not a ?faction? but the overwhelming majority of the population who voted for their freedom. The orders have been coming from their supreme commander - Xanana Gusmao - recently freed from detention by the Jakarta regime. He has long been appealing for a UN intervention to oversee the transition to independence and talks of ?reconciliation? and ?forgiveness?. He proposes joint policing with the Falintil fighters operating alongside the murderers of the militia bands. Gusmao tries to reassure his backers that revenge will not be taken for the massacres of ?his people? and also that all property rights will remain untouched. Pressure will build up against policies which go against some of the long-held principles of the ranks of the independence movement. What future for East Timor? Gusmao is the acknowledged leader of the East Timorese nation and will undoubtedly become its first president or Prime Minister. He and his colleagues - such as Jose Ramos Horta - are undoubtedly assembling a future East Timorese government as they await in the North Australian port of Darwin the time when they can return to East Timor?s capital, Dili. Under the protection of the Foreign forces now ?securing? the situation in his homeland, he will undoubtedly establish an administration that is heavily dependent on resources being pumped in by the US, Australia and European countries, especially the ex-colonial power, Portugal (whose business-men also have lucrative ventures to protect). Gusmao has already had extensive discussions with the World Bank and throughout the last months of his detention in Jakarta was being courted by business men and politicians from around the world. Deals will have been struck and conditions will have been promised. This grovelling to world imperialism shows to what lengths the national liberation leaders have become representatives of what must be a very feeble East Timorese capitalist class and its attendant middle class layer. In power, they will be unable to satisfy the needs of the masses. The working people and the poor farmers of what was even before the latest catastrophe, one of the poorest countries in the world, will tire of waiting for genuine improvements in their living and working conditions. Massive sums will be needed just to reestablish the elementary infrastructure of East Timor, let alone restore the workplaces, docks and communication systems. Homes, hospitals, offices and schools will all have to be rebuilt and, in this predominantly catholic country, resources will no doubt go into building new churches and missions. Most, if not all, must have been torched and destroyed as their role as sanctuary for the thousands of refugees became meaningless. Such wholesale reconstruction will not be achieved on a capitalist basis - on the basis of such a weak capitalism as that represented by Gusmao and the CNRT front in which Fretilin is the major force. It is clear, that a Gusmao government will have no trace of a socialist coloration, in spite of the declarations of the CNRT in March of this year that the vast properties of Suharto Inc. would be confiscated. The ex-guerrilla fighter, now seen in smart suits and ties, will play a similar role to that of Mandela in South Africa after the victory of the people?s struggle against apartheid in keepingg things safe for capitalism. [His nation will be in hock to the big capitalist powers for the foreseeable future.] As part of his deals with imperialism and with Jakarta, no doubt, assurances have been given East Timor?s land, resources and industries will not become the property of the East Timorese state but will be ?available? for the exploitation of local proprietors as well as Australian, US and even Indonesian magnates. Little benefit will accrue to the ordinary people of East Timor from their struggle to control their own lives. The only way this will be possible will be through a struggle for public ownership of land, minerals, banks and all major companies. Once the heroic youth of East Timor see the inadequacies of a programme that leaves property rights as they were under Indonesian rule, they will begin to organise to take the struggle further. With the recovery of the small but important proletariat of East Timor, new battles with the employers will open up. If these struggle s are co-ordinated behind a programme of socialist demands, they can provide hope for the long-suffering people of this devastated country. Then comes the prospect of genuine, socialist self-rule. An appeal for support to the workers, youth and poor people of Indonesia would spread the struggle. If it was taken up by the powerful working class of Australia, that has in its solidarity actions at the beginning of Sepotember, just begun to show what it is capable of, then the future of the whole region could look socialist. Lessons drawn from the tragedy of East Timor - of the need to take a class, socialist approach on every issue of importance to working and poor people - can provide the spur to workers and youth everywhere to engage in the struggle for a new world - a world free of wars, genocide, exploitation and poverty - a socialist world.