Subject: TAPOL Statement on East Timor
From: (TAPOL)

2 February, 1999


The decision by the Indonesian Government announced in Jakarta on 27 January to let go of East Timor when the newly-elected Supreme Legislative Assembly meets later this year if the East Timorese reject its proposal of autonomy is a great victory for the people of East Timor and their 23-long year struggle against the Indonesian occupation. For the first time ever, Jakarta has publicly acknowledged that independence is an option for East Timor and admitted that it no longer regards its integration of the former Portuguese colony as immutable.

It reflects the fact that Indonesia under Habibie's transitional government regards East Timor as an insuperable burden which can only continue to haunt the country on the world stage and further exacerbate Indonesia's grave economic crisis. This is a great victory for the persistent and courageous struggle of the people of East Timor, for the mature leadership of the resistance movement under Xanana Gusmao, and for the tireless efforts of its diplomatic front led by Jose Ramos-Horta.

At the same time, Jakarta has arranged for Xanana Gusmao to be transferred from Cipinang Prison to a residence 200 metres from the prison, placing him under house arrest, making it easier for him to receive visitors and delegations. By so doing, the government has acknowledged that Xanana must be allowed to play a full and active part in seeking a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor by peaceful means.

These developments also signify that the Indonesian government now recognises that East Timor should best be handled by the United Nations and Portugal.

However, the Habibie Government has failed to explain how it proposes to establish whether the people of East Timor accept or reject its autonomy proposal and has only complicated matters for itself by continuing to insist that it will not contemplate the holding of a referendum.

The announcement, coming at a time when tripartite discussions are underway between Indonesia and Portugal under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, has compelled the UN to seek urgent clarifications from Jakarta about its intentions. The forthcoming Foreign Ministers meeting scheduled for April this year has now been brought forward and is likely to be held early in February, reflecting the urgency which the UN now attaches to the question of East Timor and its wish to take the matter forward quickly. Now that Jakarta has publicly said that it will abide by the views of the people of East Timor, the question of setting in place the mechanism for this to occur becomes even more pressing.

Wittingly or not, the Indonesian government has forced the issue of East Timor onto the world's agenda as never before and has made it a major topic of discussion in Indonesian itself. Already several opposition leaders, notably Abdurrachman Wahid who chairs the mass based Nahdatul Ulama and Amien Rais of the PAN party have expressed support for a referendum in East Timor.

Meanwhile, the situation in East Timor is very serious. Para-militaries formed by the Indonesian army of occupation, many of whom have recently been equipped with firearms, are spreading havoc in the territory. Up to twenty people are thought to have been killed by these gangs since the beginning of the year and thousands of villagers have fled their homes as a reign of terror grips parts of the country. It is clear that certain elements are bent on causing a rift within the community between those in favour of a referendum and those who want East Timor to remain part of Indonesia. If these gangs are allowed to continue with their operations, it could seriously jeopardise developments at this critical moment and promote the idea that the people of East Timor are not ready for independence, and even that a move in that direction could plunge the country into civil war.

It is essential for the international community to take immediate action to call for the disbandment of these para-militaries, not only to protect the lives and safety of the long-suffering East Timorese but also to safeguard the situation at a critical time in the struggle of the people of East Timor for self-determination and independence.

The following steps now need to be taken:

1. The British Government and all member-states of the European Union should urge the Indonesian Government to enter into direct negotiations with the leader of the East Timorese resistance, Xanana Gusmao, and Bishop Belo, as the only way to securing a peaceful transition to independence for East Timor. 2. The British Government and all member-states of the EU should call for the disarming and disbandment of the para-militaries and for a substantial and immediate reduction in the number of troops in occupied East Timor. 3. The British Government and all member-states of the EU should call on the UN as a matter of urgency to dispatch a monitoring force to East Timor to oversee the disbandment of the para-militaries, the reduction of troops and to protect the population against human rights abuses.

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign 111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey CR7 8HW, UK Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322 email: Campaigning to expose human rights violations in Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh

Back to February Menu
Main Postings Menu

Postings of Human Rights Violations in Timor