Subject: AGE: Indonesia Snubs A Loyal Friend
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 12:17:14 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Indonesia Snubs A Loyal Friend

07/23/1999 The Age Page 14

AS the vote on the future of East Timor nears, Indonesia has turned on the one country that gave formal support to its annexation of the former Portuguese colony. It is a sorry endnote to a quarter-century of compliance on Australia's part.

Indonesia invaded East Timor , which lies a mere 200 kilometres off the north coast of Australia, in December 1975. The Indonesian rationale in the declining years of the Cold War was the threat posed by a potential communist enclave developing in its midst as turmoil in the colony spiralled towards civil war. The following year, Indonesia announced the incorporation of East Timor as its 27th province. A protracted guerrilla war ensued that cost countless lives. The Indonesian Government, for all the development money it poured into a colony the Portuguese had abandoned in poverty, never won the hearts and minds of the people. Such was the sway held by the military, the unforgivingly brutal and forceful nature of their rule, that this was never to be. Many East Timorese, of course, prospered under Indonesian rule. One of the great tragedies of the territory's past - and an immense challenge for the future - is that the people of East Timor remain anything but united.

Australia alone, under both coalition and Labor governments, accepted as lawful the integration of East Timor into Indonesia. The United Nations recognised Portuguese sovereignty. As Australia takes a key role in implementing the UN-sponsored vote on East Timor 's future, Indonesia has warned the Federal Government to butt out, accusing it of attempting to take a lead role in these affairs. In a newspaper interview, Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a senior policy adviser to Indonesian President Dr B.J.Habibie, said: ``Australia cannot act as a godfather ... we reject Australia's intervention in Indonesia's internal affairs.''

The ``internal affairs'' dictum has long been the sanctuary of authoritarian governments. After years of pragmatism, spurred on by the importance of the relationship between our two countries, both sides of politics in Australia have adopted a different stance on East Timor . It is a position that recognises the paramount human rights of the East Timorese people. It is an approach that highlights the need to protect the interests of a neighboring people at a time when those who claim a mandate as their custodians have failed to stop the violence against them. It is a stance that reflects our own democratic traditions.

Australians, in the main, have supported the East Timorese struggle for self-determination, even when Australian governments have not. Those policies have often been out of step with the opinion of ordinary Australians who passionately believe in democracy and respect for human rights. And in a free and independent media. This is one aspect of Australian life that Indonesia's ruling elite has never understood.

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