Letter: Oxford dons call for peace in East Timor

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Sir: East Timor is one half of an island in the easternmost part of the Indonesian archipelago. Originally a Portuguese colony, it was invaded by Indonesia on 7 December 1975 to prevent its independence under the left-leaning East Timorese Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), and has since witnessed one of the worst genocides in post-war history with an estimated 200,000 of its original 700,000 population being wiped out by war, famine and disease, equivalent to the United Kingdom losing the entire population of Greater London and the home counties following a nuclear attack.

Two decades of military occupation, "transmigration", and the imposition of Indonesian language and culture have resulted in what the East Timorese Council of Priests has termed a form of "ethnocide". In their words: "What we are witnessing in East Timor is an upheaval of gigantic and tragic proportions ... To kill the culture is to kill the people."

Thanks to massive Western support, Indonesia has been able to act with impunity: torture, arbitrary arrests, imprisonment without trial, "disappearances" and massacres have been common, one of the most notorious being that at the Santa Cruz cemetery just outside Dili on 12 November 1991, when Indonesian troops fired on mourners protesting at the death of an East Timorese youth, killing over 250. In November 1992, the chief resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao, East Timor's Nelson Mandela, was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The recent award of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize to the Bishop of East Timor, Mgr Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, and the principal foreign affairs spokesman of the resistance, Jose Ramos-Horta, has drawn renewed international attention to East Timor.

At a time when the 30-year-old Suharto regime in Jakarta is confronting the problem of succession, the East Timor issue is coming back to haunt the Indonesian generals. No longer a mere "pebble in one's shoe" as the Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas once described it, East Timor has become a veritable boulder, threatening to split Indonesia itself apart.

Cognisant of the United Kingdom's long-standing ties with Indonesia, ties which go back to the very inception of the Republic in August 1945, we call on the British government to assist the search for peace in East Timor and the process of regime change in Indonesia itself by embarking on an urgent review of HMG's sales of sophisticated weaponry to the Indonesian Government.

High on this list of weapons are the next batch of 16 British Aerospace (BAe) Hawk ground attack/trainer aircraft, which have recently been licensed for export to Indonesia and for which no reliable guarantees have yet been received regarding the prohibition of their use against civilian targets in East Timor.

At such a crucial moment in the modern history of Indonesia, when every effort is being made, under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, to find a solution to the long-running issue of East Timor, we believe that the cause of peace can be best served by imposing a moratorium on further arms sales to Jakarta, in line with the policy agreed by the European Parliament in September 1995.

ANTHONY ATKINSON; Dr GHAITH AL-OMARI; Professor JJ BINNEY; Professor B BLEANEY, CBE; PETER BROWN; Dr MICHAEL BYERS; Dr PETER CAREY; DAWN CHATTY; Professor G A COHEN; Dr C S L DAVIES; Dr RICHARD DRAYTON; Professor MICHAEL DUMMETT; Professor ROY FOSTER; Dr JOSHUA GETZLER; Dr DAVID GOLDEY; Professor RICHARD F GOMBRICH; Dr NANDINI GOOPTU; Dr ROGER GOODMAN; Dr BARBARA HARRELL-BOND; Professor ROY HARRIS; Dr BARBARA HARRISS-WHITE; Dr WARREN HATCH; Dr STEPHEN HEADLEY; Dr NICHOLAS VAN HEAR; Dr ANTHONY LEMON; SEAN LOUGHNA; PATRICK McGUINNESS; Dr ANAND MENON; JEREMY MONTAGU; MIKE MORRIS; Professor RODNEY NEEDHAM; Dr ANTHONY PILKINGTON;Dr ROGER PENSOM; Professor PETER PULZER; Professor TERENCE RANGER; TIMOTHY ROGERS; Dr ALISON SALVESEN; ANTHONY SMITH, CBE; Dr STEVE TSANG; BRYAN WARD-PERKINS; Dr DAVID WASHBROOK; DEREK WOOD, CBE, QC

Oxford University

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