Barely three months have elapsed since the bloodbath that followed the independence referendum in East Timor. The callous slaughter of East Timorese under the administration of Indonesia shocked the entire world out of its complacency about Indonesia’s illegal annexation of this former Portuguese colony.
Watching their televisions in late December, the Australian populace might have been excused for thinking that the crisis which saw its young men and women potentially exposed to unfriendly fire in a neighboring nation for the first time in decades was over. On December 22, 1999, two of Australia’s four major television networks carried live prime-time coverage of a rock concert in Timor. Billed as a Christmas concert for the troops, the concert featured some of the country’s best-known names in front of 10,000 cheering and cavorting army personnel and Timorese civilians at the football stadium in Dili.
Only a matter of hours beforehand, The Australian newspaper reported the discovery of a mass grave in the enclave at Oecussi, a pocket of East Timor within West Timor, believed to contain the bodies of 52 independence supporters killed by Indonesian military, police and militia soon after the August 30 ballot.
The Australian also reported that “militiamen continue to harass and intimidate refugees in West Timor with virtual impunity.” These are shades of Kosovo, where Kosovo Liberation Army militia still slaughter ethnic Serbs. There are about 160,000 East Timorese still in West Timor, of whom 100,000 want to return home, according to the officer-in-charge of Operation Stabilise, Major-General Peter Cosgrove.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, former Indonesian armed forces commander General Wiranto has continued to deny allegations of military involvement in the atrocities. Indonesian Lieutenant-General Jaja Suparman, who heads the elite Kostrad army force, warned of “possible consequences” if senior officers were questioned on military human rights abuses. “Plans by the [Indonesian] parliament to summon several top generals…may offend soldiers and lead them to act ‘wantonly’…. If that happens, then pity the innocent people” (The Australian, Dec. 16, 1999).
Meanwhile, as the situation on the island of Ambon descends into outright civil war between Christians and Muslims, the uncertain future of the entire Muslim-dominated Indonesian archipelago should be of grave concern.
Especially so to Australia, recently described as “childish” by newly elected Indonesian President Wahid, following that country’s criticism of Indonesia’s handling of the refugee crisis which, in recent months, has seen a flood of “boat people,” mostly from Iraq, attempting to land on Australia’s largely unprotected coastline. It would seem that Iraqi refugees are using Muslim Indonesia as a staging point for illegal entry into Australia.
With the depletion of Australia’s military capability dramatically exposed by the commitment of a mere 5,000 troops to East Timor, defense reservists for the first time face compulsory overseas service in combat, emergency and peacekeeping operations.
While opposition to such a policy could be expected from a biased media or the left-wing “doves” of Australian politics, the most vociferous criticism has come from the business sector, which has complained about having to release for longer periods staff whose reservist activities currently only make them “weekend” soldiers.
Sadly, it may only be when the “killing fields” reach Australian soil that the media, the leftish “doves,” the business sector and the entire population will finally recognize the warning message presently being trumpeted in the pages of this magazine.