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"Scrapping military aid to Indonesia was a central demand of the East Timorese resistance movement during its long struggle for independence — the military occupation of East Timor was only possible through the billions of dollars worth of arms and training that the armed forces received from the US and other allies." Jon Land

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Green Left Weekly,

Issue #435
February 7, 2001

EAST TIMOR: Foreign policy heads west

BY JON LAND

Imagine someone referring to prime minister John Howard and his foreign minister, Alexander Downer, as “more generous than Mother Theresa”. You wouldn't be surprised if it came from a Coalition backbencher — but these are the precise words of East Timorese leader Jose Ramos Horta. [See: Jan 26 Financial Times: East Timor demands oil money BD]

Horta, who is the representative for foreign affairs in East Timor's transitional cabinet, made the remark in reference to Australia's position on the disputed Timor Gap Treaty. Reporting the comments, an article in the January 26 Financial Times also claimed “Mr Ramos Horta is confident that Australia would be sympathetic to East Timor's requests”.

While rumour has it that the Howard government may be ready to compromise on the division of royalties from oil and gas exploration in the Timor Gap, there seems little cause for confidence that it will retreat from its opposition to UN and Timorese requests for the maritime boundary to be set along the median line between East Timor and Australia.

Horta's likening of Howard and Downer to a charitable nun is the latest of a series of public comments by him which indicate a new, pro-Western foreign policy is being developed which will whitewash the past betrayals of the major imperialist powers, including the US and Australia.

The most serious such indication was Horta's call, during a January 22-24 goodwill visit to Jakarta, for Washington to improve its military ties with the Indonesian armed forces. [See: Jan 24 Reut: Top E.Timorese wants U.S. to help Indonesian army BD]

“Because of the sanctions in the past two years, [the Indonesian armed forces] are stretched and [facing] enormous difficulties in logistics and in the delivery of troops and police”, Horta told journalists.

According to a report by Lusa news service on January 24, Horta said he would urge the US to partially lift sanctions on military cooperation with Indonesia.

In the wake of Horta's visit, Indonesia's foreign minister Alwi Shihab told journalists on January 29, “I am optimistic that the military sanctions will be lifted because the Bush government is more pragmatic and realistic”.

Echoing comments made by Horta, Shihab claimed that the lifting of the sanctions was “necessary for the ongoing process of democracy”.

Shihab plans to meet with the new US secretary of state, Colin Powell, in March to discuss the prospect of normalising military ties between Jakarta and Washington. Both Horta and Shihab heaped praise on the Gulf War “hero” when his nomination for the post was announced in December.

Scrapping military aid to Indonesia was a central demand of the East Timorese resistance movement during its long struggle for independence — the military occupation of East Timor was only possible through the billions of dollars worth of arms and training that the armed forces received from the US and other allies.

Any move to improve the level of military aid or assistance that the Indonesian military currently receives from the US, the European Union, Australia or other states would be a major set-back for the progressive and democratic forces in Indonesia and, especially, for the movements for self-determination in Aceh and West Papua, which both face heavy military repression.

If anything, Horta's call for the resumption of military ties will help legitimise the Indonesian military's moves to reassert its role in domestic politics.

Commenting on Horta's proposal that the US improve military ties with the Indonesian military, the British-based solidarity and human rights group, TAPOL, summed up the feeling of many solidarity groups and activists world-wide:“ If this is a correct report of what Jose Ramos-Horta said, it represents an extraordinary and highly damaging reversal of CNRT [National Council of Timorese Resistance] policy on military aid to Indonesia ... We all need to re-double our efforts to ensure that the new US administration does not decide to resume military aid to Jakarta”.


Green Left Weekly
GLW was launched in 1990 by the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), the socialist youth group Resistance and other progressive activists to present the views excluded by the big business media. In these days of growing media concentration GLW is an independent voice committed to human and civil rights, global peace and environmental sustainability, democracy and equality.
Email: glw@greenleft.org.au Homepage: http://www.greenleft.org.au  ET News Webpage:  http://www.greenleft.org.au/current/index.htm#INTERNATIONAL

See also:

Jan 27 ETAN/IHRN: Rights groups urge continued suspension of military ties with Indonesia
"The U.S. must not support TNI before Indonesia fully meets its repeated pledges to the international community, including the safe return of East Timorese refugees and disarming and disbanding of militia groups in West Timor. Indonesian authorities must arrest and extradite militia leaders and must cooperate with the creation of an international human rights tribunal for crimes committed in East Timor. Most critically, there must be civilian control of the Indonesian military. If the Bush administration genuinely supports democracy in Indonesia, it must make its commitment clear to the Indonesian military," John Miller, ETAN.

Jan 24 Reut: Top E.Timorese wants U.S. to help Indonesian army
"One of East Timor's most prominent leaders, who denounced abuses by Indonesian troops in his homeland for decades, made a turnabout on Wednesday and urged the United States to resume military aid to Jakarta. It was a bizarre change of tack for Nobel peace prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta who was at the vanguard of the fight against the often brutal 23-year rule of East Timor by Indonesia." Joanne Collins

Jan 11 FPIF: U.S. - East Timor Foreign Policy in Focus Brief
"The U.S. has declined to provide full support for an international human rights tribunal that would examine the abuses and killings (in East Timor) ... [but the Pentagon] has persisted in advocating military assistance to Indonesia, even when this has meant exploiting loopholes in legislation enacted to end military aid," Lynn Fredriksson, FPIF


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