Letter: East Timor's terror

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The Independent Culture
Sir: While the West bombs President Milosevic and wrings its hands at the tragedy in the Balkans, an equally serious situation has developed half a world away in Indonesian-occupied East Timor.

Here, Indonesian military commanders have unleashed a reign of terror by pro-integrationist militias against pro-independence East Timorese.

On 6 April, scores were killed, mostly with machetes, when militias backed by Indonesian security forces attacked a crowd of 2,000 sheltering on church premises in the north coast town of Liquica.

More recently, in the territory's capital, Dili, an attack on the house of an East Timorese politician claimed at least thirty lives.

This attack occurred even as Irish Foreign Minister, David Andrews, was meeting the Indonesian district commander, who refused to order his forces to intervene.

Reports are now coming in of fresh massacres (at least 150 dead) around Suai on the south coast, where bodies are being left to rot in the open because the inhabitants do not even dare to take the risk of retrieving them.

Since Indonesia invaded in 1975, between a quarter and a third of East Timor's population of 700,000 have died as a result of Jakarta's occupation, a record greatly exceeding anything Milosevic has yet perpetrated in Kosovo. Yet Jakarta has never been threatened with an air war. Instead, all efforts have been focused on achieving a settlement via the United Nations.

The January 27 announcement by the Habibie government that it might consider allowing East Timor its independence should a proposed 8 August "consultation" with the East Timorese people result in a rejection of the UN-sponsored autonomy package seemed to hold out new hope of a resolution (Britain has even been asked to help police the voting). That has now been shattered by the current army-backed killings.

A clear message must be sent to Jakarta: rein in the militias or face an immediate embargo on further loans. With Indonesia's economy in ruins, this is the only language that Jakarta's errant military commanders might still understand.


Tutor in Modern History

Trinity College, Oxford