|In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor. Like
Saddam's attack on Kuwait, the occupation was declared by the UN to be
illegal. But no action ever followed. In the last 18 years a third of
the East Timorese population has been killed, while Western governments
have remained silent, or, like Britain, have sold arms worth hundreds
of millions to Indonesia...
Ghost gum trees rose out of tall grass; then without notice this
changed to a forest of dead, petrified shapes and black needles through
which skeins of fine white sand drifted like mist. Such extraordinary
landscape reminded me of parts of central Vietnam, where the Americans
dropped ladders of bombs and huge quantities of chemical defoliants,
poisoning the soil and food chain and radically altering the
environment. In East Timor this is known as the 'dead earth'.
It is an area whose former inhabitants are either dead or
'relocated'. You come upon these places on the plateaux and in the
ravines of the Matabian mountains, in the east of the island, where the
Indonesian pilots in their low-flying US and British fighter aircraft
have had a bonanza. "They made the rocks turn white," said a man who
lived here and survived. On the rim of these places, which lie like
patches of scar tissue all over the body of East Timor, are the crosses.
There are great black crosses etched against the sky and crosses on
peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides, crosses beside the roads. In
East Timor they litter the earth and crowd the eye. Walk into the scrub
and they are there, always, it seems, on the edge, a riverbank, an
The inscriptions on some are normal: those of generations departed
in proper time and sequence. But look at the dates of these normal
ones, and you see that they are prior to 1975, when proper time and
sequence ended. Then look at the dates on most of them, and they reveal
the extinction of whole families, wiped out in the space of a year, a
month, a day. 'RIP. Mendonca, Crismina, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca,
Filismina, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Adalino, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca,
Alisa, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Rosa, 7.6.77 . . . Mendonca, Anita,
7.6.77 . . .'
I had with me a hand-drawn map showing the site of a mass grave
where some of those murdered in the 1991 massacre of 250 people in
Dili, the capital, had been dumped; I had no idea that much of the
country was a mass grave, marked by paths that end abruptly, and fields
inexplicably bulldozed, and earth inexplicably covered with tarmac; and
by the legions of crosses that march all the way from Tata Mai Lau, the
highest peak, 10,000 feet above sea level, down to Lake Tacitolu where
a Calvary line of crosses looks across to where the Pope said mass in
1989 in full view of a crescent of hard salt sand beneath which lie,
say local people, countless human remains.
What has happened in East Timor is one of the world's great secrets.
"Does anyone know where East Timor is'" asked Alan Clark, the former
Defence Minister, on Channel 4 not long ago. When I repeated this to
him recently, he said, "I don't really fill my mind much with what one
set of foreigners is doing to another." It was a typically blunt Clark
riposte, which itself was instructive, for it allowed a glimpse of how
the unthinkable was normalised: how decisions taken at great remove in
distance and culture had unseen and devastating effects on whole
nations of people, albeit foreigners.
East Timor, half of an island 300 miles north of Australia, was
colonised by Portugal 450 years ago. The Portuguese partly Latinised
and insulated the territory from the upheavals of the western half of
Timor, which was part of the Dutch East Indies that became Indonesia in
1949. In 1974, the old Salazarist order in Lisbon was swept aside by
the 'Carnation Revolution' and Europe's last great empire began to
disintegrate virtually overnight. With the Portuguese preoccupied by
events at home, the Indonesian military dictatorship of General Suharto
invaded East Timor in december 1975, and have illegally and brutally
occupied it ever since. The result: some 200,000 Timorese dead, or a
third of the population.
Few places on the planet may seem more remote than East Timor. Yet
none has been as defiled and abused by murderous forces and as
abandoned by the 'international community', whose leaders are complicit
in one of the great unrecognised crimes of the 20th century. I write
that carefully: Not even Pol Pot succeeded in killing, proportionately,
as many Cambodians as the Indonesian generals have killed East Timorese.
Britain's role is also little-known. As the minister responsible for
'defence procurement' under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, Alan
Clark approved a sale of ground attack aircraft to Indonesia, valued at
more than pounds 500 million. At the time he told Parliament, "We do
not allow the export of arms and equipment likely to be used for
oppressive purposes against civilians." When I asked him how this
worked, he explained that it applied to "police-type equipment (such
as) riot guns, CS gas and anti-personnel stuff", but that "once you get
into military equipment, you're into a different category of decision".
I said, "Hawk low-flying attack aircraft are very effective at
policing people on the ground." He replied, "No, they're not . . .
aircraft are used in the context of a civil war. Now depending on which
side you support in the civil war, you tend to regard the other people
as being oppressed or repressed."
"But," I said, "East Timor isn't a civil war. This is an illegal
occupation, which the British Government acknowledges to be an illegal
"I'm not into that. I don't know anything about that."
"Well you were the minister."
"Yeah, but I'm not interested in illegal occupations or anything like that . . . I mean you call it illegal . . ."
"No, the United Nations does."
I said ministers had often talked about receiving guarantees from
the Indonesians that the Hawks would not be used in East Timor.
"Well, I never asked for a guarantee. That must have been something
that the Foreign Office did . . . a guarantee is worthless from any
government as far as I'm concerned."
When Jonathan Aitken, who today has Alan Clark's job at the Ministry
of Defence, was asked in Parliament: "How many dead or tortured East
Timorese are acceptable to the Government in exchange for a defence
contract with Indonesia?" he replied, "That is a ridiculous question."
But of course it was not.
Eyewitnesses have now described in detail Hawk aircraft attacking
civilian areas. Jose Gusmao, presently exiled in Australia, said, "I
watched a Hawk attack on a village in the mountains. It used its
machine-guns and dropped incendiary bombs. The Hawk is quite different
from the American planes; it has a particular nose. You can tell it
Other eyewitnesses, who cannot be identified, spoke about the
distinctive noise made by the Hawks, and of people being trapped in
rockfalls during bombardment.
"I first saw the Hawks in 1984," said Jose Amorin. "They were
standing at the airport at Baucau, where they are based. They are a
small aircraft, not at all like the OV-10 Bronco and the Skyhawk from
the US. They are perfect for moving in and out of the mountains. They
have a terrible sound when they are coming in to bomb, like a voice
wailing. We immediately go to the caves, into the deepest ones, because
their bombs are so powerful. They fly in low . . . and attack
civilians, because the people hiding in the mountains are civilians.
Four of my cousins were killed in Hawk attacks near Los Palos. Most
people in East Timor know about the British Hawks. Why doesn't the
British Government send a fact-finding mission and ask the people?"
The British connection with the horrors of East Timor is a scandal
arguably as great, if not greater, than any - including the Scott
Inquiry - currently appearing on the front pages. Shortly before the
massacre in the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, on November 12, 1991,
Douglas Hurd urged the EC to "cut aid to countries that violate human
rights". Shortly after the massacre the British Government increased
its aid to the Suharto regime to pounds 81 million, a rise of 250 per
cent. The Minister for Overseas Aid, Baroness Chalker, claimed in
Parliament that this was "helping the poor in Indonesia". In fact, a
large proportion of all British aid to Indonesia is made up of Aid for
Trade Provisions (ATP); and much of this is the supply of weapons:
British Aerospace, maker of Hawk aircraft, is among the British weapons
companies helping Indonesia's poor. (In January last year, the Armed
Services Minister, Archie Hamilton, claimed that the sale of Hawks was
"providing jobs". British Aerospace has since laid off 4,000 workers.)
The British war industry has provided a vital prop for the Suharto
dictatorship since 1978, when Foreign Secretary David Owen dismissed
estimates of East Timor-ese dead as "exaggerated" and sold the
Indonesian generals eight Hawk aircraft. Britain has since sold, or
agreed to sell, a further 40 Hawks. These are in addition to Wasp
helicopters, Sea Wolf and Rapier SAM missiles, Tribal Class frigates,
battlefield communications systems, seabed mine disposal equipment,
Saladin, Saracen and Fernet armoured vehicles, a fully-equipped
Institute of Technology for the Indonesian army and training for
Indonesian officers in Britain. In 1992, Margaret Thatcher received an
Indonesian award for 'helping technology'. She said, "I am proud to be
one of you."
James Dunn, the former Australian consul in East Timor and adviser
to the Australian parliament, has made a study of census statistics
since the Indonesians invaded. "Before the invasion," he told me, "East
Timor had a population of 688,000, which was growing at just on 2 per
cent per annum. Assuming it didn't grow any faster, the population
today ought to be 980,000 or more, almost a million people. If you look
at the recent Indonesian census, the Timorese population is probably
650,000. That means it's actually less than it was 18 years ago. I
don't think there is any case in post-World War Two history where such
a decline of population has occurred in these circumstances. It's
incredible; worse than Cambodia and Ethiopia."
Where are all these missing Timorese? The estimate of 200,000 dead
was first made in 1983 by the head of the Roman Catholic Church in East
Timor. A report last month by an Australian parliamentary committee
referred to 'at least' 200,000 deaths.
How they died has been Indonesia's and its allies' great secret.
Western intelligence has documented the unfolding of the genocide since
the first Indonesian paratroopers landed in the capital, Dili, on
December 7, 1975 - less than two months after two Australian television
crews were murdered by the Indonesian military, leaving just one
foreign reporter, Roger East, to witness the invasion. He became the
sixth journalist to die there, shot through the head with his hands
tied behind his back, his body thrown into the sea.
As a result, in the age of television, few images and reported words
have reached the outside world. There was just one radio voice at the
time of the invasion, picked up in Darwin, Australia, 300 miles to the
south, rising and falling in the static. "The soldiers are killing
indiscriminately," it said. "Women and children are being shot in the
streets. We are all going to be killed. I repeat, we are all going to
be killed . . . This is an appeal for international help. This is an
SOS. We appeal to the Australian people. Please help us . . ."
No help came. According to the historian John Taylor, people were
subjected to 'systematic killing, gratuitous violence and primitive
plunder'. The Bishop of Dili, Costa Lopez, said, "The soldiers who
landed started killing everyone they could find. There were many dead
bodies in the street - all we could see were the soldiers killing,
At 2pm on December 9, 59 men were brought on to the wharf at Dili
harbour and shot one by one, with the crowd ordered to count. The
victims were forced to stand on the edge of the pier facing the sea, so
that as they were shot their bodies fell into the water. Earlier in the
day, women and children had been executed in a similar way. An
eyewitness reported, "The Indonesians tore the crying children from
their mothers and passed them back to the crowd. The women were shot
one by one, with the onlookers being ordered by the Indonesians to
As in Pol Pot's Cambodia, the first to die were often minorities.
The Chinese population was singled out. An eyewitness described how he
and others were ordered to "tie the bodies (of the Chinese) to iron
poles, attach bricks and throw the bodies in the sea". On the
north-west coast, the Chinese population was decimated. The killing of
whole families appeared at first to be systematic, then arbitrary.
Soldiers were described swinging infants in the air and smashing their
heads on rocks, with an officer explaining, "When you clean the field,
don't you kill all the snakes, the small and large alike?" 'Indonesian
troops,' wrote John Taylor, 'had been given orders to crush all
opposition ruthlessly, and were told they were fighting communists in
the cause of Jihad (holy war).'
Western governments knew in advance details of virtually every move
made by Indonesia. The CIA and other US agencies intercepted
Indonesia's military and intelligence communications at a top secret
base run by the Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) near
Darwin. The information gathered was shared under treaty arrangements
with MI6. Moreover, leaked diplomatic cables from Jakarta, notably
those sent in 1975 by the Australian Ambassador Richard Woolcott,
showed the extent of Western complicity in the Suharto regime's plans
to take over the Portuguese colony.
Four months before the invasion, Ambassador Woolcott cabled his
government that General Benny Murdani, who led the invasion, had
'assured' him that when Indonesia decided to launch a full-scale
invasion, Australia would be told in advance.
In a remarkable cable sent to Canberra in August 1975, Woolcott
argued Indonesia's case and how Australian public opinion might be
'assisted'. He proposed that "(we) leave events to take their course .
. . and act in a way which would be designed to minimise the public
impact in Australia and show private understanding to Indonesia of
their problems." He added, "We do not want to become apologists for
Indonesia. I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a
principled stand but that is what national interest and foreign policy
is all about . . ."
There was not a word of concern for the interests or the fate of the East Timorese, who were, it was apparent, expendable.
Sir John Archibald Ford, the British Ambassador, recommended to the
Foreign Office that it was in Britain's interests that Indonesia should
"absorb the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible". The US
Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, having recently watched US power
and his own ambitions humiliated in the 'fall' of Saigon, indicated to
Jakarta that the US would not object to the invasion. Kissinger and
President Ford arrived in Jakarta on December 5, 1975, on a visit which
a State Department official described to reporters as 'the big wink'.
Two days later, as Air Force One climbed out of Indonesian airspace,
the bloodbath in East Timor began.
On his return to Washington, Kissinger sought to justify continuing
to supply them by making the victim the aggressor. At a meeting with
senior State Department officials, he asked, "Can't we construe (East
Timor as) a communist government in the middle of Indonesia as self
Told that this would not work, Kissinger gave orders that he wanted
arms shipments 'stopped quietly', but secretly 'started again' the
following month. In fact, as the killing increased, US arms shipments
doubled. According to the Centre for Defence Information in Washington,
had it not been for the supply of Western arms to Indonesia, the East
Timorese resistance movement, Fretilin, might have beaten off the
Five days after the invasion, the UN General Assembly passed a
resolution that 'strongly deplore(d)' Indonesia's aggression and called
on it to withdraw its troops 'without delay'. The governments of the
US, Britain, Australia, Germany and France abstained. Japan, the
biggest investor in Indonesia, voted against the resolution. Ten days
later, as Western intelligence agencies informed their governments of
the scale of the massacres, the Western powers reluctantly supported a
Security Council resolution that unanimously called on 'all States to
respect the territorial integrity of East Timor'.
The Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, dispatched an envoy to East
Timor, who was so restricted by the Indonesian military that his visit
was worthless. The Portuguese offered the UN a warship in which to take
the envoy to a Fretilin-held part of the island. 'The Indonesians,'
signalled the CIA, 'are considering whether to sink this vessel . . .'
This was enough to frighten away the UN. In striking contrast to
action taken against Iraq in 1991, neither the Secretary-General nor
the Western powers uttered a word in condemnation of Indonesia for
failing to comply with a Security Council resolution, and for violating
almost every human rights provision in the UN Charter.
On the contrary, in a secret cable to Kissinger on January 23, 1976,
the Ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, boasted about the
"considerable progress" he had made in blocking UN action on East
Timor. Later, Moynihan wrote, 'The Department of State desired that the
UN prove utterly ineffective. This task was given to me and I carried
it forward with no inconsiderable success.'
when Indonesia won its independence from the Dutch, its 'potential' as
an 'investors' paradise' has been an article of faith in the West.
"With its 100 million people, and its 300-mile arc of islands,"
declared Richard Nixon, "Indonesia contains the region's richest hoard
of natural resources (and is) the biggest prize in South East Asia."
Indeed, in the seabed off Timor lies one of the world's great oil and
In the bloody events that brought Suharto and the generals to power
in the mid-Sixties, estimates of the number killed range from 300,000
to almost a million, most of them landless peasants accused of being
members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The then US Secretary
of State, Dean Rusk, said that America was prepared to back a "major
military campaign against the PKI". This was passed on to the generals
by the US ambassador in Jakarta who told them that Washington "is
sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing". In 1990 a
former US official in Jakarta disclosed that he had spent two years
drawing up a 'hit list' for the generals. The bloodshed of Suharto's
coup almost 30 years ago was a precursor of the genocide in East Timor.
Thereafter, events proceeded with an unshakeable, terrible logic. In
1974, after Portugal decided to leave its colony, the prime minister of
Australia, Gough Whitlam, met Suharto and told him that East Timor was
"economically unviable" to be independent and should become part of
As the fate of the Timorese was being decided by others, the
Portuguese literally stepped aside, retreating to nearby Atauro Island,
the aptly named 'Isle of Goats'. The infant independence movement was
left to decolonise itself and to defend the nation against one of the
largest military powers in Asia.
Almost a year after the invasion, Gough Whitlam's successor, Malcolm
Fraser, flew to Jakarta. He said his government now "acknowledged the
merger", but "only for purely humanitarian reasons". Fraser was
accompanied by the managing director of BHP, Australia's biggest
corporation. BHP had recently acquired a controlling share in the
Woodside-Burmah company, which had been drilling for oil on and
offshore East Timor - a country recently dismissed as 'economically
Other Western governments vied with each other to 'sympathise with
Indonesia's problems' by selling Jakarta arms - which, not
surprisingly, were used in East Timor. When Foreign Secretary David
Owen signed the first deal with Indonesia for Hawk aircraft, he said
that not only were the estimates of the killings "exaggerated", but
that "the scale of fighting . . . has been greatly reduced".
The opposite was true. The genocide was then at its height.
Eyewitnesses to the onslaughts in East Timor spoke of scenes
reminiscent of Dante's Inferno. 'After September (1978),' wrote a
priest, 'the war intensified. Military aircraft were in action all day
long. Hundreds of human beings die daily, their bodies left as food for
the vultures. If bullets don't kill us, we die from epidemic disease;
villages are being completely destroyed.'
With film director David Munro, cameraman Max Stahl and aid worker
Ben Richards (the last two are pseudonyms), I filmed secretly in East
Timor shortly before Christmas. By remaining most of the time in the
mountains, David Munro and I avoided the main military routes. At
first, people seemed absent; but they were there. From the highest
crest the road plunged into a ravine that led us to a river bed, then
deserted us. The four-wheel drive forded the river and heaved out on
the other side, where a boy sat motionless and mute, his eyes following
Behind him was a village, overlooked by the now familiar rows of
whitewashed slabs and black crosses. We were probably the first
outsiders the people here had seen for a very long time. The diffident
expressions, long cultivated for the Indonesians, changed to
The village straddled the road, laid out like a military barracks
with a parade ground and a police post at the higher end. The militia
were trusted Timorese. The remoteness might have explained this; the
Indonesians remain terrified of the guerrillas of Fretilin, the
nationalist resistance still fighting on without any help, after 18
years. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, famine claimed many
thousands of lives in such camps, as people were denied adequate land
on which to grow subsistence crops. Although we saw no starvation, most
people were terribly malnourished.
After we had turned south, we saw other camps where many of the
faces were Javanese: the produce of a 'transmigration programme' aimed
at unravelling the fabric of Timorese life and culture, and reducing
the indigenous population.
A curious militarism seemed to invade all life. Traffic stopped for
marching schoolgirls, jogging teachers and anthem-singing postmen
('Tanah Airku: My Fatherland Indonesia'). Signs announced the 'correct'
way to live each day 'in the spirit of Moral Training'. In an Orwellian
affront to the Timorese, one sign told them, 'Freedom is the right of
all nations,' quoting Indonesia's own declaration of independence.
"It is the Indonesian civilisation we are bringing (to East Timor),"
said the Indonesian military commander in 1982. "And it is not easy to
civilise backward people." Timorese occupy few jobs other than as
drivers, waitresses, broom-pushers and, of course, officials in the
puppet administration. The teaching of the Timorese language is banned.
"Before the invasion we lived a typical island life, very peaceful,"
said Abel. "People were always very hospitable to foreigners. The
Portuguese mostly let us alone.
"It is difficult to describe the change since then, the darkness
over us. Of 15 in my immediate family only three are left: myself, my
mother and a brother who was shot and crippled. Up until 1985 or 1986,
most of our people were concentrated in what they called the central
control areas; we lived in concentration camps for a long, long time.
Only in the last three or four years have some of us been allowed to
return home, but we can be moved again at any time. Indonesians use
local people to spy on the others. People usually know who the spies
are and they learn to deal with it. Certain things are not to be said
widely even within the family.
"You see, we have got to pretend that everything is okay. That is
part of finding a way to survive for the next day. But a human body and
mind have limitations and can only take so much. Once it boils over,
people just come out and protest and say things which mean they will
find themselves dead the next day. I suppose you can compare us to
animals. When animals are put in a cage they always try to escape. In
human beings it's much worse. I mean, we the people in East Timor call
it the biggest prison island in the world. You must understand that.
For us who live here, it's hell."
Was it Primo Levi who said that the worst moment in the Nazi death
camps was the recurring fear that people would not believe him, when he
told them what had happened, that they would turn away, shaking their
heads' This 'radical gap' between victim and listener, as psychiatrists
call it, may well be suffered en masse by the East Timorese, especially
the exiled communities. 'Who knows about our country?' they ask
constantly. 'Who can imagine what has happened to us?'
In 1989, Bishop Carlos Belo, head of the Catholic Church in East
Timor, appealed directly to the world in a letter to the then UN
Secretary-General, Perez de Cuellar. 'We are dying as a people and as a
nation,' he wrote. He received no reply.
Today there are probably no more than 400 guerrillas under arms, yet
they ensure that four Indonesian battalions do nothing but pursue them.
Moreover, they are capable of multiplying themselves within a few days,
for they are the focus of a clandestine resistance that reaches into
every district and has actually grown in strength over the years. In
this way they of course continue to deny the fact of 'integration' with
Domingos is 40 and has been in the jungle since 1983. "My wife was
tortured and burnt with cigarettes," he said, "She was also raped many
times. In September this year (1993), the Indonesians sent the
population of her village to find us. My wife came to me and said, 'I
don't want to see your face because I have been suffering too much . .
.' At first I thought she was rejecting me, but it was the opposite;
she was asking me to fight on, to stay out of the village and not to be
captured and never to surrender. She said to me, 'You get yourself
killed and I shall grieve for you, but I don't want to see you in their
hands. I'll never accept you giving up!' I looked at her, and she was
sad. I asked her if we could live together after the war, and she said
softly, 'Yes, we can.' She then walked away."
Domingos and his wife came from a village now known by the Timorese
as the 'village of the widows'. During the summer of 1983, almost 300
people were massacred here. Their names appear on an extraordinary list
compiled in Portuguese by the church. In a meticulous script,
handwritten in Portuguese, everything is recorded: the name, age of
each of the murdered, as well as the date and place of death, and the
Indonesian battalion responsible.
Every time I pick up this list, I find it strangely compelling and
difficult to put down, as if each death is fresh on the page. Like the
ubiquitous crosses, it records the Calvary of whole families, and bears
witness to genocide . . . Feliciano Gomes, aged 50, Jacob Gomes, aged
50, Antonio Gomes, aged 37, Marcelino Gomes, aged 29, Joao Gomes, aged
33, Miguel Gomes, aged 51, Domingos Gomes, aged 30 . . . Domingos
Gomes, aged 2 . . . 'shot'.
So far I have counted 40 families, including many children: Kai and
Olo Bosi, aged 6 and 4 . . . 'shot' . . . Marito Soares, aged one year
. . . 'shot'. . . Cacildo Dos Anjos, aged 2 . . . 'shot'. There are
babies as young as three months. At the end of each page, a priest has
imprinted his name with a rubber stamp, which he asks 'not to be used
in the interests of personal security'. In handwriting and with a
typewriter whose ribbon had seen better days, he introduced the list
with an eloquent, angry appeal to the world.
'To the commercial governors,' he wrote, 'Timor's petroleum smells
better than Timorese blood and tears. So who will be the one to take
the truth to the international community' Sometimes the press and even
the international leaders give the impression that it is not human
rights, justice and truth that are paramount in international
relations, but the power behind a crime that has the privilege and the
power of decision. It is evident that the invading government would
never have committed such a crime, if it had not received favourable
guarantees from governments that should have a more mature sense of
international responsibility. Governments must now urgently consider
We drove into Dili in the early afternoon. It was too quiet: not the
quiet of a town asleep in the sun but of a place where something
cataclysmic has happened and which is not immediately evident. Fine
white colonial buildings face a waterfront lined with trees and a
promenade with ancient stone benches. The beauty of this seems
uninterrupted. From the lighthouse, past Timor's oldest church, the
Motael, to the long-arched facade of the governor's offices and the
four ancient cannon, the sea shines all the way to Atauro island, where
the Portuguese administration fled in 1975. Then, just beyond a marble
statue of the Virgin Mary, the eye collides with rusting landing craft
strewn along the beach. They have been left as a reminder of the day
Indonesian marines came ashore and killed the first people they saw:
women and children running down the beach, offering them food and
water, as frightened people do.
Moving east, we reached Baucau in darkness. Baucau is a former
Portuguese resort that once claimed a certain melancholy style and
where holiday flights used to arrive from Australia. ('Come and get a
whiff of the Mediterranean,' says an old Trans-Australia Airways
brochure.) Today, the airport is an Indonesian air force base and
Baucau a military 'company town', surrounded by barracks. On the
seafront stands the Hotel Flamboyant. We climbed the long staircase in
darkness and called out. A Timorese man emerged from the shadows
limping and coughing terribly. "What do you want?" he asked. "A room?"
I said. He turned and struggled along a deserted colonnade and flung
open two doors. There was no water, a fan that turned now and then, a
mattress coated with fungus and a window without glass. He left us with
our echoes. The Hotel Flamboyant was, until recently, a torture centre.
"My father was tortured several times," said Mario. "He refused to
join the new administration. They took him to the police headquarters,
then sent for me and my sisters and brothers to see him being tortured.
They said to us that if we followed our father's example, this is what
would happen to us. They beat him with iron bars at first, then they
did something to him that you learn in karate. They put their hands on
his stomach and manipulated his organs and intestines. Indonesian
soldiers are trained in these methods. They did this to him in four
Back in Dili, an old man approached me in the hotel courtyard,
asking me in a whisper to contact his family in exile in Australia. I
walked away at first, then turned back and drew him into a passageway.
"All my children are in Darwin," he said, "I sent them out. It cost a
lot in bribes. Now I long to see them." I asked him if he had ever
tried to leave. He shook his head and ran a finger across his throat.
"Will you take a letter for me?" he asked. "Post it anywhere but here.
They open everything. I have not had a letter for eight years." I
agreed to collect the letter that evening.
The massacre of mostly young people who marched peacefully to the
Santa Cruz cemetery on November 12, 1991, remains like a presence in
Dili. They had set out to place flowers on the grave of a student,
Sebastiao Gomes, who had been shot dead at the church two weeks
earlier. When they reached the cemetery, they themselves were shot down
by waiting troops, or they were stabbed or battered to death.
What was different about this massacre was that foreigners were
present, including the very brave British cameraman, Max Stahl, who hid
his videotape among the gravestones and has been back to East Timor to
film with us. In our documentary, Death Of A Nation, we will show that
a second, unreported massacre took place, that day and the following
The Australian foreign affairs minister, Gareth Evans, described the
1991 massacre as "an aberration". There is remarkable film of Evans and
his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, toasting each other in
champagne flying over the Timor Gap oil fields, having just signed a
treaty to exploit East Timor's oil and gas. When asked about the moral
basis of the treaty, he replied, "What I can say is simply that the
world is a pretty unfair place." Within two months of the Dili
massacre, 11 contracts were issued under the Timor Gap Treaty.
According to Professor Roger Clark, a world authority on
international law at Rutgers University in the US, the Timor Gap Treaty
also has a simple analogy in law. "It is acquiring stuff from a thief,"
he said. "If you acquire stolen property from someone who stole it,
you're a receiver. The fact is that (the Indonesians) have neither
historical, nor legal, nor moral claim to East Timor and its resources."
Hours before I left East Timor, I met the old man who wanted me to
post a letter. After all the years of separation, he said, with tears
in his eyes, he had not been able to compose his thoughts and put them
on paper in time for my departure. Instead he gave me a telephone
number in Darwin for Isabella, his eldest daughter. I telephoned the
number when I got to Bangkok. A recorded voice said it had been
None of these terrible events had a place in the vision of those who
fought and died to free Indonesia from European colonial oppression.
Their struggle for independence from the Dutch produced great popular
movements for democracy and social justice. For 14 years Indonesia had
one of the freest parliamentary democracies in the world. Today many
Indonesians understand this and are silent out of necessity. But for
how long? The slaughter in East Timor is unworthy of such a nation.
As to the future, the US has, as ever,pivotal power. A proposed
Congressional action to ban arms sales represents a perceptible change
in American outlook and understanding. In 1993 the UN Human Rights
Commission called on Indonesia to allow international experts on
torture, executions and disappearances to investigate freely in East
Timor. This month, the UN Commission will summon Indonesia into its
dock. There are fragments of hope, which public opinion, directed at
Jakarta's sponsors and arms suppliers, can transform into real action.
By all accounts, the Timorese resistance should have been wiped out
years ago; but it lives on. Recent opposition has come most
vociferously from the young generation, raised during Indonesian rule.
It is the young who keep alive the nationalism minted in the early
Seventies and its union with a spiritual, traditional love of country
and kinship. It is they who bury the flags and maps and draw the subtle
graffiti of a sleeping face resembling the tranquil figure in Matisse's
The Dream, reminding the Indonesians that, whatever they do, they must
one day reckon with a Timorese reawakening.
When Amelia Gusmao, wife of the resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, was
forced into exile, young people materialised along her route to the
airport and stood in tribute to her, then slipped away. The enduring
heroism of the people of East Timor, who continue to resist the
invaders even as the crosses multiply on the hillsides, is a vivid
reminder of the fallibility of brute power and of the cynicism of