Thursday, May 25, 2006

The tragedy of East Timor continues

It's alright, it's alright
Just as long as we can vote
We live in a democracy
And that's what we promote
Isn't it, isn't it ...

If we forget about them, don't worry
If they forget about us, then hurry

How about a people who don't matter anymore
East Timor Timor Timor

             - Shakira Mebarak, "Timor"

Shakira's song refers to a real tragedy, which just burst into the American headlines again - momentarily - with Australia's sending of troops to that small and very troubled country.

Der Spiegel reports Australia Sends Troops Amid Fears of Civil War 05/25/06:

An advance force of 150 Australian commandos landed in East Timor on Thursday ahead of a promised 1,300-strong peacekeeping force meant to keep order in the capital after three days of violence left at least three people dead.

Firefights erupted near President Xanana Gusmao's office, near the United Nations compound and in several other areas around the capital city of Dili. Homes and businesses were torched and smoke rose over near-deserted streets as a rebellion by disgruntled ex-soldiers threatened to plunge the world's youngest nation into civil war. ...

In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan requested quick approval by the UN Security Council of more international offers of assistance. But Russia said the council needed more information before it could vote -- effectively delaying action for several days. "The failure to support the request of the government at this time is a pity," British Ambassador Emyr Jones Perry told Reuters. "We should have been stronger in our support for a country that is now in crisis."

Street fights engulfed East Timor in 1999 after its people voted for independence from Indonesia. Australia led a UN-backed force to quell those riots, which are blamed on pro-Indonesian militias and wound up killing over 1,000 people. The intervention ended 24 years of brutal occupation by Indonesia, which had claimed the island as a province a year after Portugal wrapped up four centuries of colonial rule in 1974.

Sonny Inbaraj provided some historical background on the situation last year in East Timor Invasion Leaves Haunting Legacy Inter Press Service 12/10/05.  He wrote:

Some 210,000 East Timorese, mostly civilians, women and children, lost their lives in the bombardments and ‘cleaning' manoeuvres of the Indonesian army during the months following the Dec. 7, 1975 ‘D-Day'. ...

The brutal occupation by Indonesia lasted for 24 years, and Jakarta only had a change of heart over East Timor after Gen. Suharto stepped down as president in May 1998. In late August 1999, the East Timorese in a United Nations-sponsored referendum opted for independence. But when the ballot results were announced in September 1999, Indonesian military-sponsored militias went on an orgy of terror and razed Dili to the ground.

East Timor gained independence in May 2002 after a two-year interim administration lead by the United Nations. But three years after independence, the country is one of the poorest nations in the world and still depends heavily on international donor assistance.

Inbaraj also comments on American policy at the time the Indonesian repression began in 1975:

'The U.S. was the most important supporter of Indonesia's illegal attack and occupation,'' said John Miller, National Coordinator of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN). ‘'If President (Gerald) Ford and Secretary of State (Henry) Kissinger had not given the go-ahead for Indonesia's 1975 invasion, tremendous suffering would have been avoided,'' he added.

The U.S. had a bad year in 1975. The world's greatest economic and military power suffered its first ever defeat by a Third World peasant army in Vietnam. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were ‘lost' to the communists.

It was in the midst of these international changes, which seemed to prove Lyndon Johnson's ‘domino theory', that Ford and Kissinger visited Jakarta and conferred with Suharto on the Timor problem. The Indonesian propaganda machine fabricated stories of Chinese and Vietnamese generals arriving in East Timor to train rebel forces.

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