BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home    July news

“It is a matter of record that Mr Downer accepted Indonesian Foreign Minister Alatas’s denials that the Indonesian military were orchestrating militias in East Timor. He did so at a time when the Australian Government knew from its own Defence Intelligence reports that this was a deliberate strategy to sub-contract out violence against pro-independence supporters. ... It is also a matter of record that the Australian Government actively argued against pressing Jakarta to accept the early deployment of peacekeepers.” Laurie Brereton MP, Shadow Minister For Foreign Affairs
See also: BD: Military and political aid to Indonesia - A collection of recent reports, articles and news  [section on Australian aid to Indonesia]



17 July 2001


The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, today noted the publication of a DFAT volume providing commentary and documents concerning the Howard Government’s East Timor policy from 1998 to 2000.

“It is unfortunate that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its Secretary, Dr Ashton Calvert, have seen fit to produce a highly selective and partisan account of the Howard Government’s East Timor policy”, Mr Brereton said.

“DFAT should have known better than to engage in a partisan exercise in this election year.”

“This publication was initiated at the suggestion of Foreign Minister Downer and has been produced by DFAT officers directly involved in the Government’s East Timor diplomacy.  It cannot be regarded as objective or balanced.”

“It would have been more appropriate for any such publication to be produced by DFAT’s non-partisan and highly-respected Historical Documents Project.  Such an approach would have involved independent scholarly review and provided a much more objective and credible analysis.”

“Today’s selective release of documents and commentary is a defence of Foreign Minister Downer’s flawed diplomacy, including his persistent dissembling on the question of Indonesian military support for anti-independence militias.  Taxpayer funds should not have been spent on this political exercise.”

“It is a matter of record that Mr Downer accepted Indonesian Foreign Minister Alatas’s denials that the Indonesian military were orchestrating militias in East Timor.  He did so  at a time when the Australian Government knew from its own Defence Intelligence reports that this was a deliberate strategy to sub-contract out violence against pro-independence supporters.  Even as late as September and November 1999, Foreign Minister Downer falsely maintained that only ‘rogue elements’ were responsible for the violence in East Timor.”

“It is also a matter of record that the Australian Government actively argued against pressing Jakarta to accept the early deployment of peacekeepers.  Speaking on behalf of the Australian Government in February 1999, Dr Calvert told the United States Government that:  ‘One of the central themes to achieving a resolution was to convince the Timorese that they had to sort themselves out, and to dispel the idea that the UN was going to solve all their problems while they indulged in vendetta and bloodletting.’  The Government could not have been more wrong.”

A chronology of relevant public statements and extracts from leaked documents reported in the Australian media are attached for information.


5 December 1998:  Associated Press reports announcement by Indonesia’s military commander in Dili, Colonel Tono Suratman that the military intends to arm civilians to fight pro-independence rebels.
Colonel Suratman says that weapons would be issued to volunteers who would join the people’s defence force known as the WANRA.  “I will equip those volunteers with guns in order to protect villages that are prone to rebel attacks.”

7 December 1998East Timor International Support Centre Press Release
ETISC highlights the Indonesian military’s plan to arm paramilitary groups in East Timor, warning “A ‘people’s defence force’ is just a cruel excuse to create another paramilitary group in East Timor.  This defence force will be used by ABRI to do their dirty work, and being out of uniform they are unaccountable for the abuses they might commit.’

6 January 1999:  Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation Current Intelligence Brief reports the first killings by pro-integrationist militias.
ABRI’s decision to arm local militias has drawn its first blood.  As long as ABRI continues to contract-out some of its security responsibilities, more clashes are likely.
ABRI has developed a defensive operational posture that aims to reduce the profile of regular units and turn some of the armed activity over to WANRA militia.  ABRI has identified 440 villages where the population is sufficiently integrationist to permit WANRA units to be armed.  ABRI recognises that using force against pro-referendum groups will continue to attract international criticism.  So using force against the referendum movement looks likely to continue to be subcontracted to WANRA.
More clashes ... are likely as tension rises between pro-referendum villages and those where WANRA units have been formed.

5 February 1999:  Downer interview on ABC Radio
Foreign Minister Downer says the Government cannot confirm reports that the Indonesian military are arming militias in East Timor.  Downer:  “The Indonesian military are denying this ... It’s obviously very hard for us to verify one way or another.”

22 February 1999; Meeting in Washington between DFAT Secretary Dr Ashton
Calvert and US Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth
A record of Conversation shows that Mr Roth expressed the view that a full-scale peacekeeping operation in East Timor would be unavoidable, and that in the absence of international action to push for peacekeepers, the territory would descend into violence.  Roth further described the Australian Government’s determination to keep peacekeeping at arms length as ‘defeatist’ and argued the necessity of early and positive action to build an international coalition to persuade UN members and the US Congress that peacekeeping simply had to be done.
Speaking on behalf of the Australian Government Calvert scotched Roth’s initiative saying that Australia wouldn’t support such an approach and declared:
One of the central themes to achieving a resolution was to convince the Timorese that they had to sort themselves out, and to dispel the idea that the UN was going to solve all their problems while they indulged in vendetta and bloodletting.

25 February 1999:  Downer Press Conference following meetings with the Indonesian Government
Journalist:  “Did you press the Indonesians on the question of disarmament and if so what was their response?”
Downer:  “Yes, with Ali Alatas I did.  I made it clear to him that we had heard reports that the Indonesians were providing arms, and that we were concerned about this.  It wouldn’t improve the environment.  Obviously it wouldn’t.  And he explained to me that they weren’t giving arms out to pro-integrationists.  But what they were doing was what they were doing in all the provinces, or just about all the provinces.  I think he might have said all the provinces of Indonesia, and that is that they do have some civilian people who help in a policing function.”

4 March 1999:  Defence Intelligence Organisation Current Intelligence Brief
ABRI personnel in East Timor are condoning the activities of pro-Indonesian militants who have threatened Australian lives.  Further violence is certain and Dili will be a focus.  ABRI in East Timor are clearly protecting and in some instances operating with, militants who have threatened Australian lives.  ... Wiranto’s views on ABRI’s involvement with militants are not known, but no vigorous action to reign in ABRI have been noted, implying that he is at least turning a blind eye. ... Unless Jakarta takes firm action, ABRI elements will continue to support intimidation and violence, or at least won’t prevent it.

7 March 1999:  Downer Interview with Laurie Oakes on the Sunday Program.
Asked about the arming of militias, Downer said:
“If its happening at all and there is concern that it could be happening, if its happening at all, it certainly isn’t official Indonesian Government policy, it certainly isn’t something that’s been condoned by General Wiranto, the head of the armed forces.  But there may be some rogue elements within the armed forces who are providing arms of one kind or another to pro-integrationists who have been, you know, fighting for the cause of Indonesia. ... The Indonesian Government when we’ve raised it with them, including when I raised it with Ali Alatas the other day, have said that it certainly wasn’t happening, that they weren’t arming paramilitaries, there was some arming of the informal police support group who are civilians in East Timor but that applies in all of the provinces of Indonesia.  There is nothing different or unusual about that, so I mean, I do accept the Indonesian Government’s word for it, that it’s not official Indonesian policy, but on the other hand it may be that some soldiers informally are doing this.”

31 March 1999:  Downer Questions and Answers at National Press Club
Downer: Well let me say something about this issue of the arming of paramilitaries, we obviously as I’ve pointed out have broached this on many occasions in many different ways with the Indonesian government and I can go back to last month when I raised this issue with the Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and he told me that the Indonesian armed forces ABRI were not arming paramilitary’s.  Nevertheless whilst we accept that is not the official policy of ABRI or the Indonesian government, there is a risk that some rogue elements within ABRI may be or may have been providing arms to the so-called paramilitaries in East Timor. ... I think it’s important to understand this, I don’t think that it is fair to claim that it is official Indonesian Government policy to arm paramilitary’s, I think it is however, possible that there has been some arming of those paramilitaries by rogue elements within ABRI, of course ABRI has a long history in East Timor.

8 April 1999:  Defence Intelligence Organisation Current Intelligence Brief
DIO’s preliminary assessment of the Liquica massacre notes that while ABRI’s exact role is unclear,
... it is known that ABRI had fired tear gas into the church and apparently did not intervene when the pro-independence activists were attacked.  BRIMOB [Police Mobile Brigade] were allegedly standing behind the attacked at the church and firing into the air. ... ABRI is culpable whether it actively took part in the violence, or simply let it occur.

9 April 1999:  Interview on ABC Radio with John McCarthy, Australian Ambassador to Indonesia
McCarthy announces that Australian diplomats have been granted permission to travel to East Timor to investigate the Liquica massacre.
Journalist:  What evidence are you hearing or do you have that ABRI may be involved?
McCarthy:  Ah, the evidence that I’ve heard is more to the effect that ABRI weren’t active as they might have been, but there certainly has been , there’s been other evidence that they were involved, and I think we just need to wait until we get some clarification.  There are a lot of conflicting accounts of what happened ... There have been a number of suggestions, which ABRI deny, that ABRI have encouraged some of the militias to take the actions that they have taken, or at least have stood back and let these things occur.  Now ABRI deny that.  But clearly we need to look at it thoroughly, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

11 April 1999:  Downer interview with Glen Milne on Channel Seven Face to Face Program
Milne:  Do you accept that the Indonesian army was involved in this incident?
Downer:  Well, look, they were present, I understand, at the incident but there again, there’s a debate about what part they played.  They clearly didn’t themselves kill people, but there is an argument, about whether they did try to stop the fighting or they didn’t do enough to try to stop the fighting, and the trouble is it’s very hard given we ourselves had no eye witnesses there, to be able to prove the case either way.  The military give one story.  Others give another story.  Still others give a different story again.  So our report is that you’re getting very conflicting accounts, wildly different accounts of what actually happened, but what you can be sure of is that some people did die, some people were injured and it was a very violent and unfortunate incident and we hope that such an incident doesn’t occur again.

16 April 1999:  Further Downer comment on the Liquica massacre
Downer refuses to release the report prepared by Australian diplomats following a visit to East Timor to investigate the Liquica massacre.  “We aren’t in a position to be able to prove what happened there”, Downer said.  A spokesman for Downer said the report was unable to say what role ABRI played in the massacre.

27 April 1999:  Downer interview with ABC Radio immediately after the conclusion of the Bali summit
Downer:  “There isn’t any doubt that the Indonesians through this process are committed to the laying down of arms, endeavouring to achieve disarmament using the Peace and Stability Commission which they established on 21 April to assist with that process but also to do so in consultation with the United Nations.  I can say that much, and obviously we’re delighted to get that commitment from the Indonesians.  ...We’ve been given firm commitments by the Indonesians - that is President Habibie, General Wiranto and the Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas.  And their success in fulfilling those commitments, well all I can say is it remains to be seen, but we have no reason at all to doubt their goodwill.”
“... What the Indonesians have said to us today is that the military’s role is increasingly going to be a role associated with broader national security and national defence and that the police will have a much more significant role in terms of internal security.  I think people will feel more confident with the police playing a much more substantial role on the ground rather than the armed forces.”

28 April 1999:  Press Conference by Prime Minister Howard on the outcome of the Bali summit
Howard:  “There has been a strong commitment made by the Indonesian government to the holding of an open and clean ballot. ... I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the commitments that were made yesterday by both the President and also the other ministers who were present.  So overall I think the outcome was very positive. ... There is no doubt that there has been a quantum shift so far as the assertion of control both in relation to the military by the Government and also the central control of the military in relation to its activities in East Timor. ... I am certainly satisfied from what’s happened publicly from the presence yesterday of General Wiranto, his participation in the discussions and the general attitude taken by Dr Habibie that there is a realisation that things had to change, that things have begun to change.”

1 August 1999:  Downer interview with Laurie Oakes on the Sunday Program following Downer’s visit to East Timor
Oakes:  “So what undertakings did the [Indonesians] give you then about how they would keep the peace in phase two?  Did they give you undertakings?”
Downer:  “Oh yes, they’ve given undertakings they’ll keep the peace and ...the strategy that we’ve been promoting and they have let me say, have been quite positive in response to this, is that before we get to phase two there should be cantonment of the different parties, that is of the Falantil which is the military wing of the pro-independence group, of the militias which are the pro-integrationists and the Indonesian army should basically remain in their barracks.  And the police would be responsible for the security of East Timor and the Indonesians are responding, well reasonably positively to that idea.”

30 August 1999:  Defence Intelligence Organisation Current Intelligence Brief issued on the day of the ballot
TNI will continue to foster violence against its perceived enemies.  But violence will remain orchestrated and its form and extent predictable at least for the next few weeks. ... Pro-Indonesia militant violence occurs within strict guidelines laid down by TNI.  And the purposes and functions of violence in the territory are clear.  We have good and timely indicators of any likely change in TNI policy on violence.

3 September 1999:  Defence Intelligence Organisation Report prior to declaration of the ballot.
TNI is still hoping for a win or, at worse, narrow defeat for autonomy at the ballot, but privately many are more pessimistic.  A key aspect of TNI’s efforts has been activity to disrupt UNAMET. ... GEN Wiranto has been fully aware of TNI activity, but until late August had not acted forcefully to control it.  His chain of command is intact, with loyal officers in operational control.  He was personally represented by MAJGEN Zacky Anwar ... and MAJGEN Adam Damiri, and he regularly directed the East Timor military commander.  Wiranto did not, however, effectively rein in TNI support to the militias, and orders supposedly issued from Jakarta were not being fully heeded by officers in the province.

5 September 1999:  Downer interview on Channel Ten’s Meet the Press Program
Presenter:  “Doesn’t the experience of the last few days tend to suggest the chain of command is by no means what we would like it to be, in terms of the influence that Wiranto and Alatas can have?”
Downer:  “Well, I mean, it’s a fair question and it’s one that... on which there’s been a great deal of speculation for the last six months. But, look, I get the impression that President Habibie, Mr Alatas, General Wiranto are all trying to do the right thing. And some of the commanders, clearly, are trying to do the right thing. But there have been and there still are some fairly wild elements within the Indonesian military.”

9 September 1999:  Defence Intelligence Organisation Current Intelligence Brief
TNI has pursued a centrally conceived and directed strategy throughout the East Timor crisis.  The strategy has been flexible, and perhaps extended as events developed.  Its immediate aim was to retain East Timor as part of Indonesia.  Its broader and longer-term aim was to strengthen the position of TNI, and Wiranto, in the Indonesian political system. ... TNI embarked on a finely judged and carefully orchestrated strategy to retain East Timor as part of Indonesia.  All necessary force was to be employed, but with maximum deniability, maintaining public adherence to Indonesian commitments under the agreement while privately subverting the process of self-determination in East Timor.
The TNI strategy throughout has been controlled and managed from Jakarta, though its detail has evolved as the process developed. ... Scope has been allowed within the overall strategy for local initiative - and, as the momentum developed, there has been some loss of local control and rogue incidents. ... The militia intimidation campaign was designed to achieve [a pro-autonomy] result within internationally acceptable levels of violence.
... TNI’s action in East Timor serves several purposes, beyond its original intent of revenge and sending a message to other disaffected provinces.  Wiranto has consolidated TNI behind him.  He has dealt himself back into Jakarta politics.  And he has menaced all comers.  An all-out military government is unlikely in the next year.  But TNI strategy of an increase in military influence seems likely to be successful.  Wiranto has destabilised Indonesia by reintroducing violent confrontation and repression as a means of doing business.

20 September 1999:  Hansard: Downer answer to question whether the DIO assessment of 4 March was highly prescient.
Downer:  “This particular report was one assessment by a DIO analyst.  That is of course one assessment; there were dozens of assessments. ... You read out a reference to General Wiranto.  There has been a great debate here in Australia: What did General Wiranto know and what didn’t he know.  It has been impossible to be conclusive about precisely who knew what, when, how and why.  Intelligence assessments are such that you can very seldom be conclusively sure about these things, but I think the conclusion one can draw, which we would have drawn then and is the view we have held for a very long time, is that there are at least some elements of TNI that were working with the militias, and that was a matter of very great concern to us.”

5 October 1999:  Downer interview on the ABC 7.30 Report following the disclosure in the Bulletin magazine that Foreign Minister Alatas had told Downer in February that that the arming of civilians in East Timor was the “legitimate arming of auxiliaries”.
Downer:  “...[Alatas] said that they were not arming the militias and he said this on many occasions.  But of course he made it clear that in Indonesia they’d established, straight after the events of May 1998, security auxiliary groups which supplement the police and TNI, and he said that they were armed mainly with sticks and batons.  But I made this clear in the press conference I gave two days later, on 25 February.  I said in that press conference that this is what Ali Alatas had said.  Now, this was all publicly known.  The existence of these auxiliaries which exist, still exist, by the way, throughout Indonesia in most, if not all, provinces of Indonesia - that is widely known.  People who had followed this issue would have known that this was always the case.  These are not the same people as the militias.”

23 November 1999:  Downer interview on the ABC Radio ‘World Today’ program following the disclosure of DIO documents on ‘AM’ that morning
Downer:  “The DIO documents have nothing in them which is in the slightest surprising. ...I mean there is no inconsistency ... We had a large number of sources and of course we depend on primary sources not just some analyst sitting over in the Defence Department.”

See also:
BD: Military and political aid to Indonesia - A collection of recent reports, articles and news  [section on Australian aid to Indonesia]

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