Subject: GLW: ET's Foreign policy heads west

Green Left Weekly, Issue #435 February 7, 2001

EAST TIMOR: Foreign policy heads west


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.

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.

“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”.

see also: ETAN/IHRN - Continue Suspension of Military Ties With Indonesia

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