Australia issued more intelligence than was usual to the United States during the crisis in East Timor, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday.
Speaking at the launch of a book written by the Department of Foreign Affairs and entitled East Timor in Transition 1998-2000: An Australian Policy Challenge, Mr Downer sought to scotch criticism of Australia’s actions before and after the 1999 independence ballot.
The book draws on public and departmental sources to explain how Australian officials saw events from the fall of former Indonesian president Suharto in May, 1998, to one year after the ballot.
It has already been attacked by Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton as a partisan and highly selective work.
The book provides some insight into Australia’s position on the unfolding and escalating violence perpetrated by the Indonesian military (TNI) and its militia proxies.
It also exposes some behind-the-scenes efforts to convince Indonesia to stop it.
But it fails to precisely describe when Australia knew the TNI was funding, arming and organising the militias.
The book said Australia knew of such evidence, but not that it had the evidence.
It says that by mid-1999 it was obvious the TNI was encouraging the militias to intimidate people to stop them from voting.
Mr Downer described as scandalous allegations that Australia knew of plans for post-ballot violence and failed to pass the information on, and that Australian soldiers had been ordered to minimise death tolls.
He also rejected claims Australia withheld intelligence on East Timor from the US, especially on links between the militias and TNI.
“I have received a written assurance from the Director-General of the Office of National Assessments confirming on behalf of all Australian intelligence agency heads that Australia maintained close and constant contact with the US in the intelligence field during the crisis . . . and held back nothing that would normally be shared between the two countries,” Mr Downer said.
He said he wanted the book to be written because of the high public interest in East Timor and the events before and after the August 30 ballot.
Since the post-ballot violence, Australia has been criticised for blaming out-of-control officers or sections of the Indonesian military - so-called rogue elements - for the continuous violence pre- and post-poll.
An Indonesian investigation since the ballot has implicated several high-ranking officers in the violence, but none have been brought to trial.
After the ballot, hundreds of people were killed and more than 200,000 forcibly evacuated as the half-island descended into chaos with militias and the TNI shooting and looting.
As early as February, 1999, Mr Downer pressed his Indonesian counterpart Ali Alatas to control the situation, the book said.
Indonesia invaded the then Portuguese colony of East Timor in December, 1975, and officially integrated it in 1976 in a move never recognised by the UN.
Jul 17 ABC: Australian
report links Indonesian military with Timor militia
News & release added July 18
"The study, written by Australian diplomats, says the Indonesian military supported the violence of the East Timor militia with weapons, money, transport and strategic direction. It says Indonesian special forces set up a second chain-of-command to deal with the militia. ... A senior Foreign Affairs official says the book shows that Australia must be worldly wise and see that assurances from Indonesia’s military are not always reliable." Australian Broadcasting Corporation
16 Aust: Tony Kevin: Timor has Downer in full spin Article
added July 18
"But Australia’s role through 1999 is profoundly disturbing. To what extent did we wrong-foot Wiranto’s group into launching stupid and murderous actions that would ravage East Timor and shame Indonesia? Did we understand beforehand that the price of East Timorese independence could be widespread bloodshed or did we really believe that we could wing it, with minimal collateral death? Did we deceive ourselves or did we recognise that our real policy was that the end justified the means: that this window of opportunity had to be grasped, whatever the risks we took with East Timorese lives?" Tony Kevin, visiting fellow, school of Pacific and Asian studies, Australian National University
7 ABC: TNI used media strategy to disguise militia links
Interview transcript updated July 14
" ... it was ... in some ways a very slick PR operation. ... By simply focusing on saying that it was the militia who were destroying Dili, or the militia who were responsible for the majority of the destruction, which was simply not the case, it was very methodical carried out by TNI soldiers [Indonesian military] and you could see that. The militia simply wouldn’t have had the infrastructure trucks, planes, ships to carry out such a large-scale deportation of you know, a third of the population basically." John Martinkus, Australian journalist and author of “A Dirty Little War - an eyewitness account of East Timor’s descent into hell"
16 SBS: See No Evil TV documentary added May 18
"I want to make quite clear - it wasn‘t from General Cosgrove and it wasn‘t from the military mission here that decided that policy [of not making public key details of his investigation]. We had a Department of Department of Foreign Affairs rep in Dili and we were getting political advice directly from Canberra, and not necessarily from politicians, but certainly from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade." Captain Andrew Plunkett, Australian Army senior military intelligence officer in charge of gathering evidence of atrocities committed post-ballot
9 SBS: Australias East Timor secret TV documentary added
"In an extraordinary investigation, reporter Mark Davis returns to East Timor to disclose disturbing new revelations about Australia’s secret intelligence information prior to the country’s independence referendum. ... A senior officer has now revealed for the first time that Canberra knew the Indonesian Army had plans to destroy East Timor and murder independence supporters, and failed to alert those most at risk." SBS Dateline (Australia)
BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity - A collection of recent press releases, petitions, articles and news
BD: Military and political aid to Indonesia - A collection of recent reports, articles and news