Subject: GLW: Howard ignores the lessons of Timor

Green Left Weekly, Australia's socialist newspaper Issue #460, August 15, 2001

Howard ignores the lessons of Timor


It doesn't come as much surprise that PM John Howard has been so quick to visit Jakarta. Barely a day after the new Indonesian cabinet was announced, Howard was on his way to make a deal with the Sukarnoputri-military government.

In essence the deal goes like this: we'll support territorial integrity - turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in West Papua and Aceh _ if you pursue, under IMF supervision, neo-liberal austerity and other measures to benefit Western, particularly Australian, business.

Howard's Indonesia visit is also taking place following agreement between Canberra's and Washington's defence chiefs that Megawati Sukarnoputri's government provides an opportunity to restore full military ties with Indonesia's armed forces, the TNI.

The moves to do so come despite revelations by an East Timorese militia leader that he was recruited to the elite Kopassus forces and trained by Australian soldiers.

The rebuilding of military ties also ignores the fact that the TNI and Suharto cronies are still at liberty to do as they please.

Tommy Suharto, the only Suharto to be charged with corruption, remains at large, the terror campaigns aimed at Acehnese civilians and pro-referendum activists continue unabated with more than 1000 people murdered this year alone, the number of political prisoners in Indonesian jails is now greater than during the last year of Suharto's reign, and no senior TNI officer has been brought to justice over crimes against humanity in East Timor.

In fact, TNI officers in charge during the 1999 post-ballot carnage in East Timor have now been deployed to West Papua and Aceh.

Since Sukarnoputri took power with the backing of Indonesia's political elite, these and other human rights abuses seem to have all but disappeared from view.

Instead, Sukarnoputri is being hailed by Howard and opposition leader Kim Beazley as a true “democrat” for the “constitutional” transition to power.

Western leaders, for example, have rushed to praise her decision to amend the decree on the establishment of an ad hoc human rights court for crimes committed in East Timor — yet the new decree only extends the court's jurisdiction to crimes committed in Liquica, Dili and Suai in the months of April and September 1999.

London-based human rights group TAPOL makes the point that the changed jurisdiction doesn't allow for the exposure of the systematic and widespread nature of the violence committed over the whole year, or the Indonesian army's organisation of militia forces.

Howard and Beazley have learnt nothing from East Timor.

They have made it clear they will support Jakarta's bid to block the movements for self-determination in Aceh and West Papua. Beazley said it is the ALP's “fervent hope” that “our nearest Asian neighbour and a nation of 220 people remains united under [Sukarnoputri's] leadership”.

Politicians' reference to the large size of Indonesia's population gives a clue as to the main factor dictating the Coalition's and Labor's policy on Indonesia: business ties.

About 400 Australian companies do business in Indonesia, with investments totalling around $6 billion. According to government figures, this could increase by $1.3 billion if proposed investments in mining, agribusiness and services take off.

Indonesia is Australia's 10th largest market for merchandise exports and the 12th largest source for Australian goods and services. While Australia is only Indonesia's 10th largest foreign investor, behind Japan and the US, it's clear that Canberra's foreign policy is aimed at shoring up greater access to the Indonesian market. Even if only 10% of Indonesians ever purchase Australian goods, this still represents a significant, and profitable, market.

Australian mining companies also have a sizeable stake in Indonesia. It's better for business if the resource-rich provinces of Aceh and West Papua are prevented from holding referendums, given the popular sentiment for independence in both places.

Canberra, like Washington, knows this and is willing to turn a blind eye to atrocities carried out by the TNI and their hired militia thugs.

The Howard government is also determined that neighbouring countries adopt the same position towards Indonesia. According to the West Papuan government-in-exile, Canberra has pressured the Nauru government — the hosts of this month's annual Pacific Island Forum — into barring the attendance of West Papuans. Indonesia, meanwhile, has been invited for the first time.

At last year's forum in Kiribati, West Papuan leaders successfully managed to include a statement in the final communique denouncing human rights violations in West Papua.

Franzalbert Joku, the council's spokesperson, described the decision to ban the West Papuans this time as being “in direct contravention of the consensus view of [last year's] forum.”

“West Papua has become the ignored East Timor”, he said, warning that the struggle for self-determination “will not go away unless it is resolved conclusively”.

Howard and Beazley see the Sukarnoputri government as providing them with the opportunity to return to “business as usual”, after the old special relationship policy was so severely discredited in East Timor.

We have to make sure that they don't succeed. One of the important ways we can assist the peoples of Aceh, West Papua and those fighting for democracy in all parts of Indonesia is to force Canberra to end all military ties with Indonesia. As former Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans now admits, Australian military aid to Indonesia only “helped produce more professional human rights abusers”. It must end.

[Pip Hinman is the national secretary of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor. Visit the ASIET website]

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