violence and crisis in East Timor has raised pointed questions about U.S.
foreign policy and what we stand for in the world. It was only months ago that
we bombed Serbia for 78 days, killing hundreds and perhaps thousands of innocent
civilians, supposedly to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.
we are witnessing a terrible ethnic cleansing in East Timor: an estimated
200,000 people have been driven from their homes in just the last week and a
half. Militias organized by the Indonesian military and police have murdered
their opponents, even hacking them to death with machetes in full view of
television cameras. The militias have gone on a rampage of arson and looting,
attacked refugees and killed UN workers, and deliberately driven out the media
and foreign observers.
know that tens of thousands of people have been forcibly removed from East Timor
and we don’t know what their fate is at all," said David Wimhurst, a United
people want to know: does the Clinton administration really intend to do
anything about their plight?
legal, moral, and political grounds, the case for helping the East Timorese is
much stronger than that of the Kosovar Albanians. East Timor has never been part
of the same country as Indonesia. The Indonesian military, with the tacit
approval of the Ford administration, invaded East Timor in 1975 and has been
illegally occupying it ever since. This brutal occupation took the lives of some
200,000 people, or a quarter of the population– a crime that can only
accurately be described as genocide.
the past twenty-four years of occupation, the United States has armed, trained,
and supplied the Indonesian military. And therein lies the real explanation for
the difference between East Timor and Kosovo. The ethnic cleansers in the
Indonesian military and government are Washington’s friends. Very close friends.
close friends are these that we continued to train the Indonesian military units
responsible for the torture and "disappearance" of Suharto’s political
opponents, right up to the eve of the dictator’s departure last year. And this
was in spite of a Congressional mandate to end such assistance.
more recently, award-winning journalist Allan Nairn reports that Admiral Dennis
Blair, the head of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, met with General Wiranto,
Indonesia’s top military officer, on April 8 and promised him new assistance.
Contrary to official US policy, Admiral Blair did not ask Wiranto to shut down
the militias that have terrorized East Timor.
one should be fooled by the statements that the White House, under increasing
pressure, has issued in the last few days. It is amazing that it took so long
for the Administration to even cut Pentagon assistance to the Indonesian
military, but this is not going to help the situation now. The militias are not
going to run out of guns and ammunition, or even the gasoline they have used to
burn large parts of Dili to the ground. And incredibly, President Clinton has
refused to halt US arms sales to Indonesia, estimated at $16 million over the
and until the Clinton administration is willing to withdraw economic aid to
Indonesia, its rulers know that they can kill and destroy with impunity. All
other words and gestures are meaningless– in fact, they are a way of letting
the Indonesian government and military know that their friendship is so
important to Washington that no crimes against humanity will ever get in the
the other hand, an unambiguous statement from the US government that IMF, World
Bank, and other economic assistance will immediately be cut off until the
violence is ended could very well stop it, and force Indonesia to accept a UN
peacekeeping force that could protect the population of East Timor.
because the Indonesian government really wants the tens of billions of dollars
that they have been promised, and fears the capital flight that might accompany
a cut-off. Since Washington exercises a literal veto power in the IMF, and is
the dominant voice in the World Bank, it is very likely that the Indonesian
government would cooperate rather than risk paying such an enormous economic
price for continued intransigence.
less than an unequivocal decision to cut economic aid will be correctly
interpreted by the Indonesian government as not serious. But the Clinton
administration refuses to make any such commitment.
there were ever a time to let Congress and the White House know that you object
to their dalliance in the face of a terrible atrocity, this is it. The lives of
tens of thousands of people may be at stake.
Weisbrot is Research Director at the Preamble Center, in Washington, D.C.
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