Subject: ANU does an about-turn on East Timor

The Canberra Times October 30, 2000

ANU does an about-turn on East Timor

BRUCE JUDDERY argues that the university's invitation to Jose Ramos Horta demonstrates an interesting reversal in thinking on Indonesia's treatment of the former Portuguese colony.

NBEL LAUREATE Jose Ramos Horta has been invited to join the Australian National University's Centre for Strategic and Defence Studies. It is hoped he will arrive at the end of November.

Ramos Horta's movements are very much a moveable feast. I recall the days, back in 1976, soon after the Indonesian invasion of East Timor (for which he was fortunately absent, as ambassador-at-large for what now is increasingly being called Timor Soro Sa'e), when he and a few other members of Fretilin used to call in at my place in Weston for the bed in the spare room. The significance of the ANU's invitation, however, has less to do with nostalgia than with the extraordinary institutional turn-around that it represents. The ANU is probably foremost amongst no fewer than 21 Australian universities that have stretched out a helping hand to the proto-state of Timor Soro Sa'e during the past several months. It has been a remarkable intellectual volte face.

For more than two decades ANU academics, particularly in what is now styled the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, were among the chief apologists for Indonesian policy in the territory. One suggested, in a letter to the editor of this newspaper, that the position of Fretilin leaders should be discounted because they were all part-Portuguese.

(When I pointed out that of the Fretilin central committee only one member, Ramos Horta, had a recent Portuguese infusion, in his case from a father exiled for anti-Fascist activism, and that anyway half-castes are entitled to political freedom and human rights, I received no response.)

Bruce Miller, the former head of the RSPAS's international affairs department, has confessed that its scholarly program during the Vietnam War was influenced by Australian Government policy to that war. I don't know if similar considerations influenced his colleagues' treatments of Indonesia/ Timor relations. I also hope there are no such compromises in the latest works of the RSPAS on the subject of Timor Soro Sa'e.

The school has produced an excellent book on the recent history, up to and shortly after last year's referendum, on 'autonomy versus independence' and the ghastly aftermath, called Out of the Ashes: East Timor. The introduction by a co-editor, Professor Jim Fox, on the (relatively) early history of Timor is valuable, as are the two chapters by his collaborator (and student) Donisio Babo Soares. More useful, even, are the chapters by ANU analyst Harold Crouch on the role of the Indonesian army and, especially, John B. Haseman, who spent three terms at the United States' Embassy in Jakarta, making 13 trips in all to Timor Soro Sa'e.

No doubt the instant conclusions of this collection of essays (no better than a bunch of good journalists' clippings, though with the imprimatur of a leading university, in this case, and admirably, the ANU) will be challenged by future historians, but the ANU evidence would appear to be that the much-denigrated General Wiranto, head of the Indonesian armed forces last year (and thus responsible for their behaviour under a Westminster system, which they do not enjoy with us), comes across as less of a villain, as some have tried to portray him, than a total fool. The evidence seems to be that when Wiranto actually got around to surveying the evidence on the ground, he was startled by the extent to which the gangs of thugs, legitimised as 'militia', albeit supported by the army of which he was officially the head, had been running riot.

There was nothing new there. The initial invasion of Portuguese Timor (as it then was called), in October 1975, during which five Australian-based journalists were murdered, was supposed to seize East Timor's capital, Dili, in November. When it did not, on December 7 the army dropped a lot of soldiers into the sea, and they drowned.

The ANU's book, and especially Colonel Haseman's chapter, illuminates the ignorance of Indonesian 'intelligence' in the run-up to the two East Timor invasions of 1975. Haseman's chapter, though I do not agree with all his conclusions, indicates that Wiranto's high command was seriously isolated, by what passes for 'intelligence', from reality on the ground. 'Militia' terrorism would produce the 'integrationist' outcome at the polls they desired (for reasons spelled-out elsewhere in the book).

All this has significance for Australia. More significant, perhaps, is the work being done to develop relations with Timor Soro Sa'e, not to mention Indonesia. The head of the ANU's RSPAS, Professor Fox, says he does not see Australian institutions' relationship with East Timor, including the Horta invitation, as involving a 'dichotomy' between East Timor and Indonesia, so much as part of engendering 'in many ways' a conversation between participants, including Indonesia, Australia and East Timor.

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