Letter: Our role in Timor

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Sir: Your report that the referendum on the future of East Timor has been delayed for a second time ("Violence fears halt Timor poll", 29 July) failed to mention the recent deployment of British Hawk jets in the former Portuguese colony.

According to the Indonesian Commander-in-Chief, General Wiranto, these planes recently took part "in exercises connected with national reconnaissance". General Wiranto said that "since East Timor is [Indonesian] territory [sic], [such] flights are only natural".

Local reports spoke of Hawks "buzzing" the territory's capital, Dili, and overflying the mountainous interior in a show of force designed to intimidate the East Timorese further into desisting from voting against Jakarta's autonomy offer on 30 August.

Many East Timorese recall the murderous aerial bombardments of the late 1970s when counter-insurgency aircraft claimed the lives of thousands. At least 200,000 out of a population of 700,000 have perished since Indonesia invaded in 1975.

Since 1978, British governments have peddled the lie that no British military equipment would be used to support Indonesia's illegal occupation. But the most recent batch of 16 Hawks are being flown to Indonesia under a licence granted in 1996 by the previous Conservative government.

Is it not time to tell Jakarta plainly that all further arms supplies will be stopped until they live up to their international obligations over East Timor? With more than 900 UN personnel now deployed in East Timor under a senior British official, why is Britain still supporting the military hardliners in Jakarta?


Trinity College, Oxford