It's time to give up on the holidays in Bali

The West must take action against Indonesia on all fronts, says Nobel peace prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta
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The Independent Online
hat does one say of a group of individuals who murder innocent women and children? How does one describe a group that issues death threats against foreign diplomats, journalists and aid workers? Terrorists is the word I find in my vocabulary. And how should one classify the actions of an army that behaves like such a group of thugs? State terrorism would fit.

Libya was quarantined by the UN for sponsoring terrorism. Serbia was bombed back to the Stone Age for sponsoring ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Saddam Hussein's Iraq has been reduced to a pauper state following his illegal annexation of Kuwait.

In East Timor the violence that has been unleashed against a small and innocent nation has been conceived at the highest levels of the Indonesian army hierarchy, and this amounts to genocide. In 1975-79 at least 200,000 East Timorese lost their lives. In the following years, thousands more died. In the past few days alone, thousands have been summarily executed. Priests and nuns have been killed. There is a frontal assault on the Catholic Church. Churches, health clinics and schools have been torched. More than 200,000 people are internally displaced and chased by the army. More than 100,000 have been deported into Indonesia by trucks, on foot and by ship. Hundreds have been dumped into the sea. This is ethnic cleansing and the strategy is clear. The Indonesian military is determined to rid East Timor of its stubborn people. This is genocide by any definition.

The day of the recent poll on independence, 30 August, was an extraordinary day in my life and in the history of my people. Poor and illiterate villagers came down from the mountains and emerged from the forests in their thousands to cast their vote on the future of the country. Almost 100 per cent of registered voters turned out, and almost 80 per cent voted for freedom from Indonesian colonial rule. What an admirable lesson of courage. But what a terrible price they were to pay for freedom.

Allowing a vote at all constituted a dramatic turnaround by the Indonesian President, BJ Habibie. His hope was that it would rid Indonesia of a wasteful colonial war that had turned into a major diplomatic embarrassment and economic burden for his state. But the powerful Indonesian army - which in 1975 plunged the Republic into its worst foreign policy disaster ever by annexing East Timor - does not agree with its own President and is bent on continuing with the madness.

From the beginning the Indonesian army launched a rather cheap and simple strategy, and that was to terrorise the civilian population into voting for autonomy within Indonesia in the UN-sponsored ballot to determine the future of East Timor. Failing to prevent the voter registration and the actual ballot, the army launched its final assault after the ballot result was known. It has stepped up the conflict by launching the militias, a gang of ill-trained and unemployed criminals. More than half of them were recruited not in East Timor but in the Indonesian province of West Timor. Many come from as far away as Java and Sumatra.

What can the world do to stop this genocide? An armed intervention with or without Jakarta's agreement is the answer. At the same time, a total arms embargo must be declared. The UK, as the largest supplier of weapons to its Indonesian clients, bears a huge responsibility to lead the arms embargo. But this is not enough. All bilateral and multilateral economic assistance must be frozen except for humanitarian and development aid, which must be channelled not through the government but through non-governmental organisations. The World Bank and the IMF, as well as European banks, must freeze all loans and economic assistance.

Each European citizen must act on his or her conscience in the face of this crime. I appeal to all to boycott tourism in Indonesia. After all, Indonesian army generals and the army itself have controlling interests in most of the hotel chains in Bali. Indonesian-made goods should be boycotted.

A war crimes tribunal must be set up immediately. There will be no lack of credible witnesses among the hundreds of international observers, journalists and East Timorese who have escaped. We will not be able to bring back our beloved dead. But at the very least we owe them justice.

The Indonesia of the previous regime - that of the dictator Suharto - was a solid economic and political bastion seemingly immune to international influence and domestic challenge. Its patrons in the West did their best to outdo each other to court favours with the almost illiterate but cunning dictator. The people of East Timor were isolated, geographically and diplomatically.

Yet, in spite of the awesome power and resources of Suharto's Indonesia, the East Timorese fought on with resilience and bravery. Now the once tiger economy is bankrupt, the country sunk under the weight of corruption, mismanagement and arrogance - surviving only thanks to the rich arms-selling nations of the West.

The international agreement signed on 5 May in New York offered Jakarta a unique opportunity to disengage from East Timor with honour and dignity. The agreement was without precedent. Not so much for its recognition of the rights of a people but rather for the extraordinary concessions it contained to placate the occupying power. One of the unprecedented concessions was that the Indonesian army was given responsibility for security in the territory.

Xanana Gusmao, the resistance leader, had suggested that the Indonesian army, whose role in East Timor has been of an illegal occupation army, be transformed into one responsible for peace-keeping. It was a gesture of magnanimity and statesmanship. In entrusting them with the task of guaranteeing security in East Timor during the months leading to the August referendum, the UN offered a unique opportunity for the Indonesian army to redeem itself.

It could have seized on this new role given to it by the UN and acted in good faith, leaving the territory in a more orderly and honourable fashion than the Portuguese did in 1975. Ironically Indonesia has been the one vocal critic of the Portuguese for the way they "abandoned" East Timor in 1975 in the midst of a "civil war". In Jakarta's diplomatic arsenal, blaming Portugal's "irresponsible" abandonment of East Timor was a sacred theme. In the event they have themselves been a million times worse.

Can the New York agreement be saved? I can only hope that the forces of reason prevail and the storm will soon pass. But at what price for my people? Last month I travelled to Jakarta where Gusmao and several of us met Ali Alatas, the foreign minister, and General Wiranto, the defence minister. We were impressed and encouraged by our meeting with Alatas. The following day we met Wiranto and if we had any doubts about the army's leading role in instigating the violence in East Timor, that meeting dispelled them. He told us quite bluntly - almost boasting: "I can disarm the militias in two days." Why, then, hasn't he done so?

The Indonesian army must march out of East Timor now. Even after all this senseless violence, it can rest assured that when it leaves, the East Timorese will be responsible enough in showing respect to the departing soldiers. Even after we part ways, East Timor and Indonesia will always be neighbours and must bury the past and rebuild our lives.

The writer is East Timor's foreign minister in exile. In 1996 he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with his compatriot, Bishop Carlos Belo.