Humanitarian Violence

During the North Atlantic Terrorist Organization's bombing of Kosovo and Yugoslavia, the leaders of the "free world" and their media mouthpieces expressed horror over ending the millennium with a humanitarian catastrophe. Somehow, bombing would be humanitarian and the "enlightened states" would never let a humanitarian catastrophe happen again on their watch.

I will not discuss the absurdity of humanitarian violence. Why? Because Noam Chomsky and many at Z Magazine have thoroughly destroyed N.A.T.O.'s pretexts and the accompanying arguments. I will however, discuss what Australian journalist John Pilger called "the greatest, most enduring crime of the late 20th century"--the slaugher in East Timor.{1}

A Little History

In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor under the pretext of "maintaining order" after Portugal left its former colony. East Timor was an easy target, considering that in 1975 its population was 700,000 while Indonesia's population was about 136 million people. Indonesia tried to turn East Timor into a client state by backing a coup, but after that failed, they invaded. The invasion led to the deaths--people died as a result of massacres, forced starvation and disease--of 200,000 East Timorese or almost one third of its population, making it one of the most horrible bloodlettings in history compared to its total population.{2}

During the occupation, girls in elementary school were forced by soldiers to line up outside their school buildings and were injected with Depo Provera to induce sterility. In the early 1980s, Indonesia launched a "family planning" program in East Timor--one that received partial funding from the World Bank--even though there was no need for it. Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Carlos Belo observed, "with so many dead, we have no population problem." Bello reported in 1994 that village women were being subjected to a "systematic sterilization program" at village clinics under military supervision. Rape has been used as a tactic in the effort to break the people's will to resist their invaders. Many wives of resistance fighters have been made to fly in helicopters over the mountains where guerillas have taken refuge and urge their husbands to surrender. Women unable to persuade their husbands to lay down their weapons are often shot and dumped into Dili's harbor or thrown from the helicopters. In 1991, when a peaceful demonstration protesting the murder of East Timorese marched into Dili's cemetery (Dili is East Timor's capital) Indonesian troops fired into the crowd and killed 271 people. Two U.S. journalists, Allan Nairn and Amy Goodman were beaten during the Indonesian army's attack on the demonstrators. A women named Bella Galhos who helped organize this demonstration, whose brothers were murdered by Indonesian soldiers "because they were crying out of hunger," whose aunt was raped to death by Indonesian soldiers, joined the Indonesian military to avoid murder, and defected while stationed at the Indonesian embassy in Canada. She now works to increase awareness of the horrors in East Timor.{3}

Current Events

On August 30th, the United Nations (finally) held a referendum on East Timor's independence, a referendum postponed many times due to the terror of the "militias", paramilitaries and irregulars who are basically unofficial military accomplices. It was a vote in which about 80% of East Timor's population voted, and 78.5% of them voted for independence.{4}

The "militias" and the army unleashed a slaughter in which over 7,000 people died in a few weeks, according to the United Nations.{1} If pre-N.A.T.O. Kosovo was a "humanitarian catastrophe" in which 2,000 people on both sides had been killed in a period of 10 years, what the hell was East Timor where 7,000 East Timorese died in a matter of weeks? "Collateral damage"? Why didn't the self-proclaimed leaders of the free world and so-called defenders of human rights intervene in East Timor when over two and half times as many people were killed there than in Kosovo? Why did the U.N. effectively surrender and fail to protect the East Timorese from violence that only the stupid and blind could not see coming? When the "militias" lined up in front of a church and hacked to death several priests in a hail of bullets and then entered the church firing long bursts of automatic weapons fire, finishing the job with three grenades, why was this not broadcast over the airwaves as ferverently as Serb atrocities in Kosovo?{1} As blood flowed from the steps of this church, a human rights worker reported that his wife saw thousands of bodies piled up in Dili's police station, which "was chockablock full of dead bodies right up to the roof, a whole building, thousands (of bodies)... All she could see through the bars were arms hanging out, heads, old and new, blood dribbling out under the door."{5} Why is it that these atrocities warrant no one hour specials or sections on the evening news? Where is the media's indignation at these events?

The role of the West before referendum

As it turns out, the U.S. backed the invasion of East Timor in 1975, doubling its arms shipments to Indonesia the year after the invasion occured despite the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of Indonesia's actions. According to Philip Leichty, the C.I.A.'s man in Jakarta (Indonesia's capital), "The invasion was delayed two days so [President Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger] could get the hell out... We were ordered to give the Indonesians everything they wanted, and U.S. arms were shipped straight to East Timor without Congress knowing. I saw all the hard intelligence. The place was a free-fire zone... and all because we didn't want some little country being neutral or leftist at the U.N."{1} In fact, the U.S. government has sold Indonesia over $2 billion worth of military equipment to Indonesia since 1975, $1 billion worth under the Clinton administration, or in other words, 90% of Indonesia's arms.{2&3}

Not only did the United States arm the Indonesian military, but it trained it as well. Before 1992, Indonesian officers came to the United States for training. In light of the 1991 Dili massacre, Congress prohibited this practice. The U.S. war machine shifted gears and began training the Indonesian military under the auspices of the Joint/Combined Exchange Training program which included exercises in Indonesia with the bloodthirsty Kopassus forces and the 1st Special Forces Group "Airborne", a unit based in Torri Station in Yomitan village, Okinawa. According to U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific, between 1992-1998 the Kopassus were trained under this program. The Kopassus are the most widely feared unit in Indonesia and especially East Timor because of their brutality and sadism in "counterinsurgency" operations.{2} The military college Norwich University in Northfield Vermont established a training program with the Kopassus in 1997. Kopassus headquaters selects "students" and pays their $20,000 tuition. After graduation, the "students" return to Indonesia and get right to work. At least 4 went directly to East Timor last spring.{6}

As Robert Martens, a former official at the U.S. embassy in Indonesia stated after the invasion, "They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad... There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."{1} What kind of justification is this for the murder of over 200,000 people?!?!? A top Clinton official called Suharto, the man who ruled Indonesia since 1965 with an iron fist, "our kind of guy" when he visited the United States in 1995. Of course, official enemies like Milosevic cannot be called "our kind of guy" because he is not working in the "national interests" of the almighty United States of America.

the Role of the West after the referendum

Instead of proclaiming that "we have to do something" to save East Timor, Secretary of Defense William Cohen whined "The United States cannot be--and should not be--viewed as the world's policeman".{7} To bomb Jakarta for human rights would be very absurd in the first place and contrary to the "national interest" in the second. What the United States could have done and should have done if it really cared about human rights, would be to have given Habibe [Indonesia's leader at the time of the referendum] and armed forces chief General Wiranto polite phone calls asking them to discontinue the atrocities and to get the hell out of East Timor.

At this point you may be asking, "Are you kidding? What makes you think that asking a dictator to back off will get that accomplished?" In May of 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine "Mad Bomber" Albright called upon Indonesian tyrant Suharto to resign and provide for "a democratic transition." A few hours later, Suharto transferred authority to his vice president, Habibie. Of course, nothing is that simple, but the events illustrate what relations prevail.

The Western media also played a crucial part in distorting events in East Timor. It wasn't the Indonesian military's regulars who were committing the atrocities, it was those goddamn "pro-Jakarta militias" as they were dubbed in countless A.P. reports. Later, it was established by the same "free media" that it wasn't loyal Indonesian troops committing the atrocities, it was "rogue elements" of the military stationed there. Forget the fact that many journalists reported seeing both Indonesian regulars and the "pro-Jakarta militias" stopping people at roadblocks together.{1} 38 year old A.C. Pereira said he saw Indonesian police and militiamen execute 10 people with machetes and burning the bodies after they were done. "The (victims) were tied up in the back of the truck and the militiamen hacked them to death with machetes. I could hear their screams from where I was on the hill."{8} The mainstream media reported that though it was not the Indonesian regulars hacking people to death with machetes, they certainly did not try and stop those who did.

the Ca$h Incentive and East Timor's Blood for Oil Program

Indonesia's invasion of East Timor resulted in a highly successful "blood for oil" program in which the Indonesians took East Timor's oil, and in return for the resources, a fine batch of brutality, barbarism, death and destruction was whipped up and shoved down East Timor's throat.

Indonesia is hailed as "a paradise for investors". It is home to Nike subcontractors (a.k.a. sweatshops), Freeport McMoRan mines and major oil companies. (I've heard a rumor, a rumor, that Mobil let the Indonesian government borrow bulldozers to dig a mass grave somewhere in the country.) The President of Coca-Cola said "When I think of Indonesia--a country on the equator with 180 million people, a median age of 18, and a Muslim ban on alcohol--I feel like I know what heaven looks like".{2} The countries with the most money invested in Indonesia and/or trade with Indonesia are the United States, Japan, Australia and "Great" Britain. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly if you are well informed) all of these countries either gave the Indonesian military weapons, training or both (except Japan because they have no military)! The United States ranks fifth in cumulative direct foreign investment in Indonesia from 1967 to 1996, with a total of $12.5 billion. This figure does not include the oil and gas sector "where the United States is by far the largest player," according to a report released last July by the U.S. embassy in Jakarta. The report states that "U.S. companies, including Caltex, Maxus, Arco, Mobil, Union Texas, and Unocal pump the lion's share of Indonesia's crude petroleum and natural gas." In April, U.S.-based Phillips Petroleum bought interests in the Bayu Undan gas field and the Elang and Kakatua oil fields in the oil and gas rich body of water lying south of East Timor which was carved up by Indonesia and Australia after the invasion. The Indonesian Petroleum newsletter reports that since last July, approximately 20,000 barrels per day of crude oil have been flowing from the Elang and Kakatua fields.{3}

Japan has been the largest investor in Indonesia since 1967, accounting for 20 percent of all direct foreign investment in the Southeast Asian nation, according to Indonesia's Capital Investment Coordinating board. As of March 1998, the Japanese investment since 1967 has totaled $42.04 billion dollars. Indonesia's second largest foreign company, Indonesia Petroleum Ltd., or Inpex, is a Japanese joint venture with headquaters in Tokyo. It has been conducting pertoleum exploration and exploitation in conjunction with the Indonesian state oil and gas company since 1966--right after Suharto consolidated his power by "purging" Indonesia of up to one million alleged communists. Inpex has a substantial share in the Timor Gap, including a 21 percent share of the Bayu Undan gas field. Indonesia's largest automobile manufacturer, P.T. Astra, is a joint venture between Toyota and the Indonesian government. Japanese investors also figure prominently in Indonesia's pulp, paper and petrochemical industries.{3}

Japan also ranks as Indonesia's largest trading partner, purchasing 27 percent of Indonesia's exports, while producing 22 percent of Indonesia's imports. The Japanese government also disburses more development aid to Indonesia than any other nation.{3}

"Great" Britain, the second biggest investor in Indonesia over the past three decades, has supplied Hawk fighter jets to the Indonesian military, and according to observers on the ground, these were used to bomb rebels and civilians in the countryside of East Timor.{3}

General Benny Murandi, who led the invasion of East Timor, now owns a company called P.T. Denok, which enjoys a monopoly on all of the coffee grown in East Timor. Another military owned company, P.T. Scent, controls the harvesting and sale of East Timor's sandalwood. These two companies are subsidiaries of the P.T. Batara Indra Group, which dominates the East Timorese economy. The group is reportedly owned by the Indonesian military or interests close to the military.

the Fox and the Henhouse

When Indonesia invaded East Timor, the ONLY country to officially recognize East Timor as a province of Indonesia was Australia -- the same government that divided the spoils of the invasion (it's the economy, stoopid!) and the same country that will make up the bulk of the "peacekeeping force." Australia also trained the Kopassus to do what all capitalists dream of -- crushing the resistance to the ruthless pursuit of profit.

When Interfet (Internaional Force for East Timor) moved in, some of the guerillas didn't want to hand over their arms. "When the platoon commander required them to surrender their arms it became very tense indeed".{9} Well, gee, what problem could these "separatists" (as they are known to many media outlets) have with the friendly, benign Australians? Perhaps the "separatists" can see that the foxes are guarding the henhouse.

Refuse and Resist

It seems as though nothing was done to mitigate the plight of the East Timorese. Nothing could be more wrong.

When the killing was taking place, Australia's main union federation announced that workers would refuse to process Indonesian crude oil or handle air freight between Australia and Indonesia. Australian dockworkers refused to unload Indonesian ships. Thousands of students took to the streets to protest the Indonesian government's slaugher of East Timorese and some workers went on strike, disproving the theory that Indonesia is some sort of democracy representing the will of the people.

The events in East Timor also laid bare N.A.T.O.'s humanitarian lie; the Pentagon suspended official relations with the Indonesian military nine days into the slaughter. The horror of ending the millennium on a humanitarian catastrophe never surfaced in the media nor the leaders of the "enlightened states". Why? Because they were too busy counting their gold.


1. Socialist Worker, September 24, 1999.
2. "East Timor Questions & Answers" Z Magazine, October 1999.
3. "Bella Galhos" Z Magazine, September 1999.
4. Associated Press, September 4, 4:22 PM ET.
5. Associated Press, September 11, 11:14 PM ET.
6. Socialist Worker, October 22, 1999.
7. Associated Press, September 8, 6:09 PM ET.
8. Associated Press, September 29, 9:32 AM ET.
9. Associated Press, October 4, 3:33 AM ET.

About the author: Pham Binh is a junior attending Wilson Magnet High School. He studies poltics in his spare time, and is a member of the International Socialist Organization. 1