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"While Cosgrove and INTERFET were ingrained in our memories as the "heroes" of East Timor, (to remove the Vietnam stain, I wonder?), ... But behind the scene, Howard and Downer were press-ganging the new Timorese leadership into signing the iniquitous Timor Sea Treaty which guaranteed Australia an unfair share of Timor's oil and gas resources while denying them a fair maritime boundary. " Jefferson Lee, Timor Sea Campaign officer, Australia East Timor Association (NSW) & member, Timor Sea Justice Coalition Sydney
See also: BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity / Crimes Contra a Humanidade

... The August 30th 1999 Historic UN Referendum


Jefferson Lee,

Special Projects & Timor Sea Campaign officer, AETA Sydney, NSW
Member, TSJC Sydney, NSW

PO Box 703 Leichhardt, NSW 2040
Home phone: (02) 9519-4788 or
Mobile (0425) 20-1638

Australia East Timor Association (NSW) - Sydney
AETA events / About AETA:

AETA is affiliated with the Timor Sea Justice Campaign:
Timor Sea Justice Coalition (TSJC) - Sydney

It's been 5 years on Monday August 30th next since the historic UN Referendum (or 'Popular Consultation') was held in East Timor. Against incredible odds the Timorese people turned out to vote overwhelmingly to end the 25 year military occupation of their country by the Indonesian Army (TNI).

Despite many citizens having to walk hours over mountainous terrain to reach distant polling booths, risking their lives through roadblocks manned by (Indonesian-backed) armed "militias" who had already killed hundreds of people in the lead up to the precarious ballot, 98% of those eligible to vote did so. They knew it was their only chance to vote for freedom and independence.

But it came at a price. Within hours of Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, declaring that 78.5% of votes cast were in favour of a complete break with Indonesia, the TNI, the Indonesian Police (BRIMOB) and their puppet "militias" (many recruited from across the border from neighbouring West Timor) went on a total rampage in an attempt to burn the capital Dili and the rest of East Timor to the ground or in the words of an Indonesian General still in office "return the country to the grasshoppers".

Within days over 90% of all buildings in East Timor had been burnt or destroyed as the Indonesian Army extracted their revenge on a people and country who refused to be intimidated any more. Houses and offices were ransacked. Even tin from roofing was prised off and carried away. Over 1/3 of the civilian population were forcibly deported at gun point to neighbouring West Timor on Indonesian Naval boats or overland in a crude attempt to depopulate the new nation before it even began.

The UN response was pitiful. They were undermanned and outgunned. The Indonesian Army had been left in charge of security for the Referendum although many in Australian society, like the late Dr. Andrew McNaughtan had warned in separate private briefings to Lieutenant-Colonel Lance Collins and Professor Van Drel (Kofi Annan Special Envoy), as well as in Opinion articles in the Australian media, that only an armed UN Peace Keeping Force overseeing the ballot would save the day. So advised by his private research secretary Phillip Dorling, Opposition Labor Party Foreign Affairs spokesperson Laurie Brereton repeatedly raised the alarm in Federal Parliament but Howard and Downer responded with the 'trust the Indonesian Army' line.

In the lead up to the Referendum the Howard Government's "pro-Jakarta Lobby" cabal of Foreign Affairs advisors had deliberately manoeuvred to ensure only a few hundred (unarmed) Australian Federal Police 'observers', a largely volunteer international electoral and the international media would be the only witnesses. As John Pilger and others have pointed out, when the Head of the US Navy Pacific Command wanted a US warship to go to Dili in February 1999, Howard sent Ashley Calvert (now Head of DFAT) to Washington to counter-lobby George Bush to maintain faith in the Indonesian Army despite it's bloodstained and duplicitous record. DFAT policy on Indonesia was widely regarded as corrupted by the "Jakarta Lobby". Their best source of information on the ground throughout 1998-early 1999, then Head of AUSAID in East Timor, Lansell Taudevin, (author of "East Timor - Too Little,Too Late") was sacked and had his files confiscated for filing pre-requested briefings to the Oz Embassy in Jakarta. His only mistake was he revealed too much embarassing detail on the "militia"-TNI dirty work.

The rest is history. As Dili burned and militia attacks became more random, the  majority of foreign journalists easily intimidated and retreated to the relative safety of Jakarta (such as The Australian's Don Greenlees author of 'Deliverance'and ABC's Mark Bowling) or flew home to their home base in Europe, Sydney or Washington to file their 'eye-witness accounts' from afar. Meanwhile the UN observers and volunteers like Justice John Dowd and former Consul James Dunn, along with Bishop Belo were evacuated to Darwin as the TNI noose tightened. The newly established Australian Embassy was abandoned. Only a few Westerners remained to witness what appeared to be uncontrolled mass murder and destruction as Indonesia's Army gave an "Up Yours!" response to the UN mandate..

While the "militia" and the TNI rampaged through Dili in the second week of September '99, with hundreds of ordinary pro-independence East Timorese now dead in the streets, the UN's main compound with it's high wall and barbed wire became the last refuge for the twenty or so remaining foreign journalists, a handful of Federal Police Officers, the rump of Ian Martin's UN staff and 2,000 internally displaced Timorese. Many of the Timorese were in total shock after throwing their babies and kids over the barb wire fence for protection as they scampered to escape the Red Cross Centre next door which had come under repeated heavy fire and bombing from the "militia" and TNI. This was graphically filmed by Max Stahl and screened on Australian television.

Meanwhile a few days earlier, Canberra Federal Police officer David Savage, Head of the UN office in distant Maliana (and now author of the riveting memoir "Dancing with the Devil") , evacuated his staff (and the ballot boxes) to Dili as they came under constant "militia" attack with bullets flying everywhere. The identified pro-Independence supporters in Maliana were told to go and hide in the police station under the control of the BRIMOB. Two months later Captain Andrew Plunkett (Head of Interfet Forensic Intelligence Unit in Maliana) discovered the "militia" were invited in the next day armed with machetes. They slaughtered over 150 men women and children in the cells of the police station in a bloody vendetta. The son of the Mayor of Maliana, Nivio Mangeles is now a student in Australia at Victoria University in Footscray, Melbourne. At Easter this year he showed me the buckle of a leather belt with a pathetic scrap of leather still attached. That was all that remained of his father after he was murdered then dumped at sea along with the rest.

Suspecting such events were inevitable, here in Australia, as around the world, there was outrage. The Australia-East Timor Association, with other groups, mobilised 30,000 people in Hyde Park. Talk-back phones ran hot with even John Laws and Alan Jones demanding action.The satellite phones of Australian free-lancer H.T.Lee, other correspondents like Carmela Baronowski and Max Stahl, conveyed the chilling situation from inside the besieged Dili compound to the world.

The Howard Government was in total panic mode. It was the fortuitous timing of the APEC Conference in New Zealand that week that enabled Jose Ramos Horta (co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with Bishop Belo) to get the top man in "the free world", President Clinton, on side. Eventually the Indonesians were forced to retreat from Timor as INTERFET and Major Peter Cosgrove cautiously entered East Timor. As the Indonesian Army retreated, (as John Martinkus showed in his book "A Dirty Little War"), they did their best to slaughter innocent civilians; a final act of butchery before they moved their "special forces" off to the more recent "killing fields" of Aceh and West Papua where they remain unpunished and act with yet further impunity.

While Cosgrove and INTERFET were ingrained in our memories as the "heroes" of East Timor, (to remove the Vietnam stain, I wonder?), complete with the Kylie Minogue & John Farnham 'Xmas Concert for the Troops' in December 1999, simulcasted on Channel 7 and Channel 9 television. Then we had the elation of the East Timorese marathon runner receiving a standing ovation during the 2000 Olympics. Next came the Timorese Independence Celebrations in May 2002 when Ignatious Jones gave them a fireworks display to rival Sydney's New Year's Eve galas. But behind the scene, Howard and Downer were press-ganging the new Timorese leadership into signing the iniquitous Timor Sea Treaty which guaranteed Australia an unfair share of Timor's oil and gas resources while denying them a fair maritime boundary.

Monday August 30th marks more than an historic event. East Timor's freedom has come at a cost. Australia has played a mixed role in that freedom. It's for this reason we are celebrating at Leichhardt Town Hall from 2pm onwards with a program of events which includes a film and video festival and a "teach-in" on the Timor Sea issue. All Australians are welcome to come along and participate and celebrate with the Sydney East Timorese community.

from .....

Jefferson Lee
Special Projects Officer,
Australia-East Timor Association (NSW)
C/- PO Box 703, Leichhardt, NSW 2040

AETA is affiliated with the <> Campaign.

Home phone: (02) 9519-4788 or  mobile (0425) 20-1638


See also: BD: War Crimes & Crimes Against Humanity / Crimes Contra a Humanidade

About the Australia East Timor Association (AETA)

The Sydney Branch was formed in 1992. 

The Sydney Branch brings out a monthly email diary of coming events available to anyone upon request:
An edited version focusing on East Timor (& possibly Indonesia) events appears at:

The Sydney Branch meets the 4th Wednesday of the month at:
6.30pm, Room 318, 3rd Level (behind Students Assoc Office), UTS Tower Bldg, Broadway, Sydney
Details: Stephen Langford
Phone: (02) 9331-5986

Sydney AETA executive email contacts:

AETA Secretary for membership and monthly meetings:
Stephen Langford: (02) 9331-5986
Postal address: c/- PO Box 751, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010

Special Projects & Timor Sea Campaign:
Jefferson Lee: (02) 9519-4788
Postal address: c/- PO Box 703, Leichhardt, 2040

Timor Assistance Coordinator:
Alix Mandelson:

Brendan Doyle:

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