Spring 1998
Congress Bars Use of U.S. Weapons in East Timor

Indonesian Military Training Continues Despite Ban

Constâncio Pinto Joins ETAN Staff

APECT III Meets in Bangkok

ETAN Hosts Activist Training Conferences

José Ramos-Horta Inspires St. Louis Activists

Massachusetts East Timor Bill Update

Member News

Indonesia - On the verge of change?

Torture and Fear of Torture Actualized

Postcard from Timor

Review- Women’s Rights in East Timor

Youth Resistance in East Timor

Estafeta -
Spring 1998
Spring 1997

US Should Help East Timor
by Lynn Fredriksson, ETAN Washington representative

Over the past two decades, Indonesia has maintained one of the most brutal occupations of the 20th century. More than 200,000 Timorese have died as a result, according to Amnesty International.

Despite Indonesia’s occupation, illegal under international law, every US administration since the invasion–including that of President Clinton–has provided it with significant military, economic, and diplomatic backing.

I traveled to East Timor last November and witnessed the devastating results first hand. Many of the inhabitants are destitute and malnourished.

The military repression of the Timorese is severe. Some 40,000 Indonesian troops control a population of just 800,000. Soldiers are everywhere–marching in formation on the streets, quartered in numerous military compounds in the capital city, and standing guard in outposts along the solitary roads between towns. The territory of East Timor is like a large prison.

On Nov. 12, I watched many hundreds of courageous student protesters hold a peaceful candlelight vigil at the territory’s only university. The students were commemorating those who died in the massacre in 1991, when the Indonesian military fired on thousands of unarmed, peaceful demonstrators at Dili’s Santa Cruz cemetery, killing more than 250. Afterwards, the military hunted down and killed hundreds of the survivors.

At this year’s protest, scores of Indonesian police in heavy riot gear lined up opposite the peaceful demonstrators. Many of the police held rifles at hip level, trained on the students. The atmosphere was painfully tense.

I witnessed no shooting at the vigil. But after I left the university, Indonesian police arrested me, and interrogated me for more than ten hours. They denied me a telephone call to the US embassy and expelled me from Indonesia the following day for "illegal journalistic activities."

I was lucky; I’m an American. Indonesia depends on US largesse to maintain its occupation. If I had been East Timorese, things could have been much different. Reports issued by Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Commission, and our own State Department have documented that torture, beatings, and extrajudicial executions are commonplace in Indonesian-occupied East Timor.

I later learned that two days after the vigil I saw, Indonesian soldiers entered the university and, provoking an incident, shot at least six students and arrested many more. No one died, but the wounded were taken to an Indonesian military hospital where they faced further danger. Soldiers dragged one of the injured from a Red Cross vehicle.

Recently, six students of the University of East Timor have gone on trial on Orwellian charges of ‘torturing’ three members of the armed forces in a separate incident that day.

Ironically, while the Indonesian forces were arresting East Timorese students for their peaceful vigil and detaining me in the police station in Dili, our Congress voted to bar the use of US weapons in East Timor. This new law sets a precedent. It acknowledges the separateness of East Timor from Indonesia as well as the Indonesian military’s ongoing human rights abuses in the territory. This is important. But it’s not enough.

The East Timorese want an internationally-supervised referendum on self-determination, as called for by the United Nations, and by 1996 Nobel Peace Laureates Bishop Carlos Belo and José Ramos-Horta. No other human right will be secure until this one is realized. The Clinton administration could help to unlock the prison that is East Timor simply by actively supporting a referendum.

Given the long, shameful role the US has played in backing this brutal occupation, we owe the people of East Timor no less.

Lynn Fredriksson has worked as a human rights activist for the past decade. She is currently the representative for the East Timor Action Network’s Washington, DC office.