Letter: British subversion

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your report "How we destroyed Sukarno" (1 December) on the way in which British covert operations helped to destroy Indonesia's first president, Sukarno (1945-67), and established close links with the Indonesian military makes disturbing reading. It is not often that a single piece of research puts a whole era in such startling perspective.

On the basis of Paul Lashmar and James Oliver's work, we can now see the origins of Britain's pro-Suharto policy, which, by Jakarta's own admission, condemned at least 600,000 ethnic Indonesians to their deaths in 1965- 68, and facilitated the murder of at least 200,000 Timorese following Jakarta's 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese territory.

The constant lying and misinformation by successive British governments about the brutal nature of the Suharto regime, their unwillingness to act even when this brutality claimed the lives of British subjects (in East Timor in October 1975), and the involvement of leading British universities (Hull and the Royal Military Colleges at Shrivenham and Cranfield) in training the Indonesian military elite, can now all be seen as part of a pattern of sycophancy and self-interest whose prime goal was the safeguarding of Britain's privileged position as General Suharto's armourer.

With Suharto now gone and Indonesia sliding into ever-deepening cycles of violence and instability, is it too much to expect Britain to assess the costs of such a distorted relationship? Unless we do - and quickly - we may well find that not only have we condemned a new generation of Indonesians to misery, but that the very Indonesian Republic, which we helped to bring to birth in 1945-49, is no more.


Fellow and Tutor in Modern History

Trinity College,