|Campaign of Terror Threatens to Derail August East Timor Vote
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 10, 1999
Media Contacts: John Miller, 718-596-7668, Jason Mark, 415-2551296 or Lynn Fredriksson, 202-544-6911
Killings, Torture and Brutal Intimidation Continue in East Timor Campaign of Terror Threatens to Derail Plans for August Independence Vote
More than 40,000 people have been driven from their homes by military-backed death squads
As returns come in from the Indonesian parliamentary election, response from the archipelago have drawn the picture of a budding democracy. But troubles persist in Indonesia, and in Indonesia-occupied East Timor, where since 1975 more than 200,000 East Timorese have been killed. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no chance of a fair and free fair vote in East Timor's upcoming referendum on independence if the ongoing dirty war against the Timorese continues.
On May 5, Indonesia, the United Nations and Portugal agreed that the UN would organize a "ballot consultation" on Indonesia's "autonomy" plan to be held on August 3, Indonesia committed to ending its forced rule over the former Portuguese territory if the autonomy offer is rejected. But the Indonesian military is desperate to ensure that East Timor does not become independent. In the last two months Indonesian-backed paramilitary units have killed more than 150 people, and many more are missing. Many prominent Timorese have been forced into hiding after receiving death threats, In Dill, East Timor's capital, attacks against pro-independence leaders and human rights workers have been common, Militiamen have driven thousands of people out of their homes and into makeshift refugee camps, described by human rights groups as similar to "concentration camps."
Though Indonesian military spokesmen have denied any links to the militias, UN personnel have seen Indonesian military officials training militiamen and even participating in attacks against unarmed civilians. Many observers see the escalating violence as an attempt by the Indonesian military to prevent East Timor's independence, which many in Indonesia's military believe could lead to further separatist movements in the multi-ethnic island nation. It's clear that given the chance for a peaceful vote, most East Timorese would vote for self-determination after suffering 23 years of torture, rape and mass murder.
"Most East Timorese ignored the Indonesian government's stage-managed provincial election on the island," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for the East Timor Action Network. "The vote that matters in East Timor is the August 8 UN-organized vote on its political status, The Indonesian military is afraid that in a free and fair vote the East Timorese will reject continued Indonesian rule paving the way for East Timor's independence. But it is the East Timorese people's choice to make. The tragedy is that a fair vote is impossible in this atmosphere of terror and intimidation."
The Indonesian military's support for certain candidates during the recent election further highlighted its ties to the paramilitaries. Included on the ruling Golkar party ballot in East Timor's June 7 provincial election were paramilitary leaders that have overseen recent brutal attacks on East Timorese civilians. According to widely published reports, one of these Indonesian military proxies, Eurico Guterres said just before an April 17 massacre of at least 17 civilians in Dili, East Timor's capital, "As of today I order all the militia to conduct a cleansing of the traitors, capture and kill them."
The situation has been complicated by suggestions from Megawati Sukarnoputi--the leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and arguably the most popular Indonesian politician-- that independence for East Timor may not be feasible. Observers fear that Megawati's statements regarding East Timor may mean that a possible Megawati government might try to renege on the UN agreement,
"The US also needs to make clear to any incoming Indonesian leader that Indonesia has signed a binding international agreement to allow independence should East Timorese reject remaining part of Indonesia," said Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange.
ETAN and Global Exchange are urging the lawmakers in Washington to help stop the Indonesian- backed campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in East Timor. The State Department and Pentagon report $106 million in projected arms sales to the Indonesian military for 1999, along with plans to train the Indonesian police. The Pentagon is also working to restore training programs for the Indonesian military which the U.S. congress has passed legislation to end Among the troops the U.S. has trained for years are the notorious Kopassus elite forces, which have in turn trained death squads in East Timor and are implicated in recent massacres there, ETAN, Global Exchange and other human rights organizations are calling on US lawmakers to support House Resolution 97, which call for an end to U.S. support for the Indonesian military until it "is no longer mining, financing, or supporting paramilitary units in East Timor," and its companion bill in the Senate, S. Res 96. Human rights groups are also working to build support for HR 1063, which would close loopholes that have allowed the Pentagon to train Indonesian troops. The legislation is sponsored Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Lane Evans (D-IL),
"The US, merely by ending all support for the Indonesian armed forces, can send the clearest of signals that the violence in East Timor must end," Benjamin said.
"Unfortunately, the Department of Defense is doing its best to circumvent congressional intent by pressing for new military training programs and weapons shipments to the Indonesian military," said Miller.
Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group, has lead two observation delegations to Indonesia and produced the award-winning documentary about Indonesia and East Timor, "One Struggle, One Change." The East Timor Action Network has been working since 1991 for East Timorese self-determination and changes in U.S. foreign policy toward Indonesia and East Timor.