Subject: AP: Ex-Diplomat: Australia Shares Blame For E Timor Occupation

Associated Press March 16, 2004

Ex-Diplomat: Australia Shares Blame For E Timor Occupation

DILI, East Timor (AP)--A former Australian diplomat said his country's "policy of failure" was partly to blame for Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor and its subsequent 24-year occupation that resulted in more than 150,000 deaths.

Kenneth Chan, who was testifying before Timor's reconciliation commission, said Tuesday the Australian government had decided in 1975 that relations with Indonesia took precedence over any independence bid by East Timor.

Negotiations over sea boundaries with Indonesia and access to lucrative oil and natural gas in the Timor Sea muffled any support for Timorese self-determination by successive administrations until 1999, he said.

"I thought it was a policy of failure because it didn't acknowledge a basic principle of international law that there should be a free and fair act of self-determination for the people of East Timor," Chan said.

"Maintaining an effective relationship with Indonesia was driving policy above all else," he said.

Chan is among a group of United Nations officials, Western diplomats and human rights activists appearing at the three-day hearing sponsored by East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. He worked for Australia's foreign affairs department from 1972 to 1997.

Recently declassified U.S. government documents show Indonesia's former dictator Suharto ordered the invasion of East Timor after receiving tacit approval for the attack from U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who visited Jakarta on the day before the assault.

In his testimony, Chan said the Australian government also told Suharto in 1974 that the former Portuguese colony should become part of Indonesia - thus clearing the way for the invasion a year later.

"It can be seen, from this discussion, that Australia had already made a substantial concession to Indonesia," Chan told the commission. "It was also delivering a message that Suharto wanted to hear."

Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, in December 1975, a few weeks after the territory declared itself independent.

About 150,000 Timorese were killed in the ensuing guerrilla war or died from mistreatment during the occupation.

The bloodshed climaxed in 1999, when Indonesian troops and their proxy militias slaughtered nearly 2,000 people and destroyed much of the region's infrastructure in an orgy of violence before and after voters opted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum on self-determination.

The violence ended when U.N. peacekeepers forced Indonesian troops to withdraw from the region. East Timor remained under U.N. transitional administration until it gained full independence in May 2002.

The panel's hearings are part of a series of debates on issues ranging from massacres during the Indonesian occupation to forced displacements. The proceedings will end later this month and the commission is scheduled to issue a report with its findings.

-Edited by Shishir Mudgil

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