by HELEN SHOOTER
"THIS IS a massacre. We are entering the third millennium but after this incident we are back in the Middle Ages." Those were the angry words of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Belo. He was not describing the plight of the Kosovan Albanians. He was referring to the attack on 2,000 civilians in East Timor on Tuesday of last week by paramilitaries backed by Indonesian troops.
The civilians had been sheltering in a church after the Indonesian backed militia had killed three people the previous day. Belo reports, "Hundreds fled but those that ran out the front were chopped by the paramilitaries with swords." He says at least 25 people were "killed like animals". It is East Timor's worst massacre since 1991, when 270 people were gunned down by Indonesian troops using US supplied M-16 rifles in the capital, Dili. Indonesian president Suharto was toppled in the revolution last year but the present government is still carrying out human rights abuses against East Timorese people fighting for independence.
There has been no outcry from Blair and Clinton. These warmongers have nothing to say about the third of East Timor's population who have been killed by the occupying Indonesian army over the last 23 years. Those lives don't count beside the lucrative arms deals that the US and Britain peddle in the region. President Clinton said in 1993, "The US does have a very strong position on human rights but that has not undermined our commercial relationships with countries that we think are making an honest effort to shoot straight with us and to work with us. We have questions about the issue of East Timor but we have good contact with Indonesia."
PRO-INDEPENDENCE East Timorese wounded taking shelter after last weeks massacre. Western governments were silent because they continue to supply arms to General Wiranto (lower picture, left) and Indonesian president Habibie
THE US wants to pose as the champion of freedom and democracy with its bombing in Yugoslavia. Yet as journalist and film maker who has reported from East Timor John Pilger told Socialist Worker, "The US government was a major collaborator in Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975." East Timor makes up half of an island to the north of Australia which had been a Portuguese colony since 1702. The US was determined that East Timor should not gain independence off the back of the revolution in 1974 that brought down Portugal's fascist government.
Why was such a small island so important? East Timor was important for access to major shipping routes. But Pilger refers to the political and economic reasons that saw US companies supply 90 percent of the arms Indonesia used in the invasion. He says, "It was surrounded by extraordinarily rich natural resources. The oil and gas reserves in the East Timor sea were the seventh largest in the world. Generals in Jakarta saw East Timor as another Cuba, encouraged by the US who had just been defeated in Vietnam. The US did not want its principal client state, Indonesia, to be 'infected' by what US thought would be a left wing regime. The West encouraged Indonesia to take over East Timor."
That takeover was brutal. By mid-February 1976, 66,000 East Timorese people had been killed out of a population of 610,000. In 1978 the Indonesian government drove between 150,000 and 300,000 East Timorese people out of their homes using napalmthe chemical weapon the US used in Vietnam. The 1975 invasion by Suharto's troops took place just after US president Ford and secretary of state Henry Kissinger had an official meeting with Suharto.
After the invasion the US rewarded the Indonesian regime with a doubling of US military aid. The US's United Nations permanent delegate Daniel Moynihan admitted in 1994 that "the US wished things to turn out as they did [in East Timor] and worked to bring this about. "The department of state desired that the UN prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. That task was given to me and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success."
As Pilger says, "The US, Britain, Western Europe and Australia were accessories to a crime: the slaughter of a third of the population. All demographic studies show at least 200,000 have died under Indonesian occupation." At the height of the massacres in 1978 the US provided 16 A4 counter-insurgency bombers. The US cites UN resolutions to justify the Balkan bombings while it ignores the UN Commission on Human Rights' condemnation of human rights abuses in East Timor.
BRITAIN IS the world's second largest arms exporter after the US. It is also the single biggest seller of arms to Indonesia. The New Labour government promised an "ethical foreign policy" when it was elected, yet it has continued with gusto the arms deals set up by the Tories. As John Pilger says, "Politics with an ethical dimension was a hoax. Look at the number of arms licences approved for the sale of arms to Indonesiathey total more in the corresponding period than those approved under the Tories."
While in opposition,Robin Cook, the foreign secretary, said that British Hawk aircraft "have been observed on bombing runs in East Timor in most years since 1984. The current sale of Hawk aircraft to Indonesia is particularly disturbing as the regime is not only repressive but at war on two fronts in East Timor, where perhaps a sixth of the population have been slaughtered, and in West Papua and the province of Aceh." Yet in 1997 Cook used the Official Secrets Act to hide the supply of bombs, ammunition, rapid fire machine guns and nuclear equipment to Indonesia.
Pilger explains the reason why those like Robin Cook have performed such a somersault: "New Labour is the political wing of the City of London and strategic arm of the US in its determination to dominate the world's economic afffairs. Between them they are conducting a war against democracy."
THE US has been a major supplier of arms to Indonesia since Suharto's coup in 1965 which saw more than 500,000 opponents murdered. The CIA provided the names of Communist Party members to the death squads. That deadly trade has continued.
This makes a mockery of US secretary of state Madeleine Albright's "offer" in March to resume US military aid to Indonesia only if it stopped human rights abuses. She made this deal with Indonesia's armed forces commander, General Wiranto. It is his troops that are carrying out much of the violence in East Timor at the moment. In February armed militia thugs backed by Wiranto drove more than 6,000 East Timorese people out of their homes.