East Timor Independence Referendum:
Hopes for UN control sinking
On May 5 Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations agreed on a UN- supervised "ballot consultation" process to determine whether the people of East Timor wanted independence. Indonesia agreed that if continued rule by Indonesia was rejected, they would quit the former Portugese colony. However, despite initial optimism after the arrival of UN personnel, events unfolding in East Timor have dimmed hopes of a free and fair referendum on independence for East Timor. The Indonesian military and militia groups have deliberately intensified moves to foster an atmosphere of terror and intimidation in the run-up to the referendum. Over the last two months paramilitary militias backed by the Indonesian armed forces have killed more than 150 people, and many more are missing. The Catholic Church last week reported that militia groups in the Suai region had openly boasted that they had killed between 400 and 500 independence supporters and dumped their bodies in lakes, to be eaten by crocodiles. In the East Timorese capital of Dili, militia groups with overt support from Indonesian soldiers have attacked many pro-independence supporters and driven thousands of people from their homes into makeshift reservations, described by human rights groups as similar to concentration camps. The recent provincial elections on East Timor, in which the UN did not play a role, were all but ignored by the East Timorese. The elections were a repeat performance of former elections stage-managed by the Indonesian Government. The Golkar Party candidates included paramilitary leaders who figured prominently in recent massacres of civilians. One of the most notorious, Eurico Guterres, stated just before the massacre of 17 civilians on April 17 that: "As of today I order all the militia to conduct a cleansing of the traitors, capture and kill them." "Traitors", as defined by Guterres, includes all who oppose Indonesian military rule. In a move of supreme cynicism Guterres was recently appointed by the lndonesian military as leader of the Aitarak militia group, and head of the new civilian defence force, with specific responsibility for the security of the referendum process. The agreement for the referendum process clearly calls for "a secure environment devoid of violence or other forms of intimidation". Guterres, on the other hand, has been a leading figure in the violent suppression of the East Timorese independence movement, including the bloodbath which followed the April 17 Aitarak independence rally in Dili. Hopes that a change of leadership would lead to a fair referendum process in East Timor have also dimmed following the statement by Indonesian opposition figure Megawati Sukarnoputri that independence for East Timor might not be feasible. There have even been suggestions that if elected President, Sukarnoputri would renege on the referendum itself. In Adelaide, a rally organised by the trade union movement and supported by churches and other community groups called for an adequate UN peace-making force to control the Indonesian military and militia before and during the election, and throughout the withdrawal of Indonesian forces. This followed earlier calls for the UN to refuse to conduct the independence referendum unless the militia and military could be physically separated from the voters. The application of former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans for the position of UNESCO Director-General has been supported by the Australian Liberal Party and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, but criticised by the Information Officer for the organisation Campaign for an Independent East Timor (SA), Andrew Alcock. Mr Evans, a long-time defender of the Indonesian regime, once described the execution of some 270 people during the 1991 Dili massacre as an "aberration". Evans also negotiated the Timor Gap Treaty between Australia and Indonesia, a treaty which neatly excluded the East Timorese from any share in the exploitation of the oil resources which lie beneath the sea bed around East Timor. He was noted for his attacks on supporters of human rights for the East Timorese as being unrealistic and ignorant of Indonesian "realpolitik". In the United States the State Department and Pentagon have reported projected arms sales for 1999 to Indonesian military of $106 million, as well as plans to train the Indonesian police. The Pentagon is also trying to reinstate training programs for the Indonesian military which were prohibited under recent legislation from Congress. Human rights groups have called on US legislators to implement resolutions from the Congress and Senate, which call for an end to US support for the Indonesian military until it in turn withdraws support for the militia in East Timor. Much is riding on the East Timorese referendum. East Timor is not the only Indonesian territory struggling for independence. The quest for independence by the people of West Papua (Irian Jaya) and Aceh would be boosted by a vote for East Timorese independence and would be likely to lead to similar struggles by other national groups. Some have suggested that the independence struggles of these territories, an inevitable outcome of imperial Indonesian colonisation over the last 34 years, could foreshadow the alienation of much of the current Indonesian federation.