Subject: FEER: Books: East Timor: How Rule Of Terror Failed

Far Eastern Economic Review Issue cover dated 11, 2002

Books: East Timor: How Rule Of Terror Failed



by Don Greenlees and Robert Garran

Allen & Unwin. A$35 ($19.80)

ONLY A WEEK before the August 30, 1999, referendum that would decide East Timor's future, a former Indonesian Special Forces officer -- a veteran of the 1975 Indonesian invasion -- asked a Western journalist which way he thought the vote would go. The retired general looked incredulous when told the vote would probably be for independence. "Do you really think so?" he asked, as if the thought had never occurred to him.

In many ways, the reaction of many Indonesians to the outcome of the referendum remains a puzzle. Why did Indonesian officials believe that the East Timorese, after suffering more than two decades of hardship and abuse, would elect to remain in Indonesia under an expanded form of local autonomy?

For some so-called intelligence officers, it was simply a case of faulty arithmetic: Multiply the number of (mainly pro-Indonesian) civil servants and militiamen by the average size of an East Timor family. But for many others, it was clearly a belief that the intimidation and harassment that had worked over the years would work again.

Deliverance, written by journalists Don Greenlees and Robert Garran, will serve as a benchmark for future books on the end to Indonesia's 25-year rule of terror in East Timor. Greenlees, Jakarta correspondent for The Australian newspaper, and Garran, the paper's Canberra-based political editor, provide new insights into how Indonesia's then-President B.J. Habibie finally decided on the referendum, and the events that preceded and followed the vote.

The book is both a policy record and detailed account of what happened on the ground, and it provides convincing evidence that Indonesian officials set out to corrupt the referendum. Not surprisingly, however, it falls just short of establishing who was responsible for ordering the subsequent killings and destruction in East Timor.

The authors debunk widespread reports that a letter sent to Habibie by Australian Prime Minister John Howard -- proposing that Habibie review East Timor's status -- was the main motivation for the president's decision to offer the East Timorese a free choice. They point out that two years before, Habibie and his advisers had been contemplating such a step. The day before the original Howard letter arrived, Habibie, who felt trapped by a problem that couldn't be solved, asked foreign policy adviser Dewi Fortuna Anwar: "Why should we remain a captive of East Timor? Why don't we just let them go if they no longer want to stay with us?"

Greenlees and Garran examine the culpability of former armed forces chief Gen. Wiranto, Coordinating Minister Feisal Tanjung and military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim. N0ne of them have been charged with any war crimes. Wiranto argues that if he were guilty, then the same would haveto apply to Gen. William Westmoreland for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

The massacres in East Timor, however, were planned and systematic. Greenlees and Garran focus on a 13-page document -- stamped "Secret" and signed by Wiranto -- outlining a contingency plan to be put into effect in the event of an unfavourable outcome of the vote for Indonesia , which foresaw "with considerable accuracy" the level of destruction and chaos to be unleashed on East Timor. Other intelligence suggests Feisal Tanjung may have played a greater role in directing the violence than anyone outside the Indonesian military suspected at the time.

To this day, many Indonesians blame Habibie and the international community -- and Australia in particular -- for the great harm done to their country's image by the Timor catastrophe. Few accept that the loss of East Timor and the shame brought on Indonesia rests almost solely with the Indonesian military and the brutal 25-year rule it imposed on the former Portuguese territory.

Most Indonesians have little knowledge of what transpired during those 25 years. East Timor wasn't a topic Indonesians discussed. Many believed Jakarta was doing the East Timorese an enormous favour by pouring money into the impoverished territory, neglected for so long by the Portuguese.

The Indonesians' disbelief and resentment over the loss of East Timor stemmed from nationalist sentiments. The majority continue to believe the story put out by their generals that the United Nations rigged the vote and should be held responsible for the horror that followed.

The only senior Indonesian officer to openly acknowledge the truth of what happened has been the newly-retired deputy army chief, Lt.-Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, a former East Timor commander who had the unenviable job of handing over control of East Timor to the UN. "Winning hearts and minds of the people is key in a guerrilla war, and we strayed from this philosophy," he said in a recent interview. "That's why we lost East Timor."

--- John McBeth writes for the REVIEW from Jakarta

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