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Letter: Death in Timor

Sir: Now that President Habibie doesn't wish Indonesia to be "burdened" with East Timor's oil wealth after 1 January 2000, you need to be even more wary of Australian propaganda. It is untrue, for example, that East Timor was invaded "when the sudden departure of the Portuguese left a power vacuum" ("Timor hopes rise as rebel leader is freed", 11 February).

East Timor's Portuguese governor did not flee until 27 August 1975. By then, Indonesian troops had been in East Timor for six months. Their job was to stir up the "civil war" that began on 11 August 1975 so that the full-scale invasion - scheduled for 16 October 1975 - could be presented as a move to "restore peace".

All this was known to the Australian government, which was given extensive briefings by the Indonesians. So when, after the real civil war collapsed, Indonesian troops murdered two TV news crews at the border village of Balibo on 16 October 1975, Indonesia's then president halted the invasion. He feared public protests from the newsmen's governments. When none came, East Timor's fate was sealed.

The Australian government's "preliminary evaluation" of the deaths of the newsmen - including the Britons Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters - is due out this week.


Western Region Development Officer

United Nations Association