Subject: SMH: Why Australia kept Timor secrets from the US
Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999 09:40:05 -0400

Sydney Morning Herald Friday, August 13, 1999

Why we kept Timor secrets from the US

By MARIAN WILKINSON, Herald Correspondent in Washington

Australia refused a direct request to hand over sensitive intelligence material to the United States State Department detailing links between the Indonesian armed forces and pro-Jakarta militias involved in violence and intimidation in East Timor.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, Mr Stanley Roth, made the request earlier this year on several occasions to Australia's Ambassador in Jakarta, Mr John McCarthy, including in a face-to-face meeting.

He pressed the same request in Washington with Australia's Ambassador to the US, Mr Andrew Peacock. Both envoys refused to make the information available after consulting officials.

The first request from Mr Roth came about March this year at a time of increased assaults and killings by the militias and after media reports indicating that the Indonesian military was working directly with some of the militias.

Australia's refusal to supply the information to Mr Roth, the Clinton Administration's senior specialist on the region, appears highly unusual, but one official explained the rebuff as a need to protect sensitive Australian intelligence sources on the ground in Indonesia.

The detail sought by Mr Roth included the chain of command between units of the Indonesian Army and the militias.

Mr Roth was told by Mr McCarthy that the top-secret intelligence he was requesting was classified AUSTEO - for Australian Eyes Only. Mr Peacock apparently repeated that explanation to him.

Australia provides a significant amount of intelligence on Indonesia and East Timor to the US as part of its treaty obligations. But the particular detail being sought by Mr Roth was"outside the system", as one official put it.

While Mr Roth apparently accepted Australia's explanation for withholding the critical intelligence, his request indicates that Washington was extremely concerned over the role of the Indonesian armed forces in the violence in East Timor leading up to this month's vote on independence.

US and Australian officials this week sought to play down strains over the East Timor policy but it is clear that a key difference between the two countries has been whether the Indonesian armed forces can be relied on to maintain order and prevent worsening violence after the August 30 vote - especially if the Timorese choose independence.

The intelligence information requested by Mr Roth could have helped the US assess whether the Indonesian military and police will live up to the expectations raised in the United Nations-Indonesia-Portugal agreement giving them responsibility for security, with advice from unarmed international police and military officers.

Early this year, shortly before Mr Roth's request for this intelligence information, he and the head of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr Ashton Calvert, met in Washington where a dispute emerged over the role of the Indonesian military during the transition period after the vote.

According to a record of the meeting, at the time Mr Roth favoured a multinational peacekeeping force on the ground in East Timor after the vote because without it "East Timor was likely to collapse".

Australia was being "defeatist" for rejecting the idea, Mr Roth argued, and he urged attempts to persuade the US Congress and the UN on a peacekeeping force.

Australia, on the other hand, favoured avoiding "a military option by the use of adept diplomacy".

As recently as June 21, senior officers of the US Pacific Command in Hawaii were also raising the possible need for a large-scale peace "enforcement" operation in East Timor after the vote, according to documents leaked in Canberra this week.

Back to August Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu