East Timor – Australia’s Shame

East Timor, Asia’s poorest nation that recently celebrated its second anniversary of independence is still desperate and unable to feed itself. Almost half of its population is unemployed and at least half is illiterate.

Potential profits from this reserve are so high that, if fairly divided, they could easily guarantee East Timor’s full economic self-sufficiency and tackle most of its urgent social problems.

The Economist, British weekly newsmagazine, summarized the situation by saying: ‘Some of the disputed resources lie in a zone known as the Timor Gap that Australia and Indonesia excluded when they delineated their seabed boundary in 1972. Seventeen years later the two countries signed a deal to divide government revenues from this zone evenly between them. Mr. Gusmao now describes that deal as ‘illegal and illegitimate’ because of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor at the time.

President of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, offered several solutions, one of them being potential arbitration by the third party. However, Australia refused to negotiate. Arbitration by the International Court of Justice is now also impossible, because Australia withdrew from its jurisdiction on maritime boundary questions right before East Timor gained independence.

In the meantime, the Australian government is using insulting language towards its East Timorese counterpart. Alexander Downer recently declared on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News: ‘East Timor poverty is no reason for Australia to give ground in a maritime border dispute involving energy reserves’ With the greatest of respect, grow up. We are enormously rich compared to Papua New Guinea. We would be six or seven times richer than New Zealand. That doesn’t mean that solution to that problem is to cede a lot of our territory to those countries. You address that issue of economic disparity through your aid program.’

After the fruitless April meeting between two governments (East Timor is insisting on monthly meetings, but Australia agreed on only two meetings a year, therefore the next one will not take place before September), Alexander Downer threatened: ‘East Timor made a very big mistake trying to shame Australia, accusing us of being bullying and rich and so on, considering all we’ve done for East Timor’.

In February 1942 the Japanese Imperial Army landed an army of 20 thousand men in Dili (the capital of East Timor) and occupied the then Portuguese colony. The Japanese were ready to launch an attack on Australia from there. East Timorese, alongside a small Australian force, fought fiercely against Japanese invaders, inflicting tremendous losses. This resistance is often described as an act that saved Australia from a terrible war on its own territory.

After gaining short-lived independence from Portugal, East Timor was occupied by Indonesian troops on December 7, 1975. During the occupation, the country lost more than one third of its population in one of the most brutal genocides known to the 20th century. The US and Australia gave an unmistakable green light to Suharto and his military clique. Until now, East Timor received no substantial compensation from Indonesia or from those countries which encouraged invasion.

760 thousand people of East Timor, descendents of those who survived colonial neglect and terrible invasions and occupations, form the poorest nation in Asia. The country is too far from the main focus of cameras belonging to the large broadcasting corporations. Few journalists bother to venture to the far corner of the earth where it is located. It has no navy and no air-force to defend its interests.

‘We are not shaming Australia. We are only telling the truth’, said Mr. Gusmao, recently. The question is whether anyone is willing to listen and above all, to take action in defense of the penniless but proud nation that suffered tremendously due to our geo-political interests.

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