Subject: GLW: Reflecting on Australia's role in East Timor

Green Left Weekly, Issue #419 September 6, 2000

Reflecting on Australia's role in East Timor


SYDNEY — Unlike most of the media coverage commemorating the first anniversary of East Timor's vote for independence, a day-long seminar organised by the Australia East Timor Association held at the Leichhardt Town Hall on August 30 sparked discussion and debate.

Around 150 people attended the seminar which discussed the roles being played by the Australian government, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) and various aid agencies in East Timor's reconstruction.

Sister Susan Connelly from the Mary Mackillop Institute for East Timorese Studies criticised the disparity between the lifestyles of the poverty stricken East Timorese and highly paid UN staff and international aid agency workers. Connelly and Sister Carmel Hanson warned that aspects of the UN's presence were distorting East Timorese society, resulting in an increase in street begging and a “cargo cult” mentality.

Connelly lambasted the Australian government's portrayal of itself as the saviour of East Timor. She said that the country's independence was won primarily by the resistance and struggle of the East Timorese people and their supporters around the world.

A representative of the Australian Defence Force, Major Sean O'Connell outlined the investigations undertaken by the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) military police into the killings committed by the Indonesian military and militias. Nearly 300 bodies have been exhumed and another 500-600 possible massacre and mass grave sites have been mapped. Forensic information provided by Interfet and UNTAET investigators will be used in trials of militia members involved in the killings.

There was overwhelming consensus among seminar participants that Indonesian government-run investigations would not implicate the high-ranking Indonesian military officers and government officials responsible for the killing and terror campaign.

There was a strong sentiment among participants that both the federal Coalition government and the opposition ALP were unwilling to accept responsibility for the Australian government's betrayals of the East Timorese people. It was agreed that continuing political pressure on the government is needed to ensure that promises of help for East Timor go beyond rhetoric and grandstanding.

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