Since the 1975 invasion by Indonesia, the East Timorese people have waged a courageous struggle for their right to self- determination. Over these 24 years more than 200,000 people have died from ongoing military brutality.
Despite United Nations recognition of the right of the East Timorese to self-determination, the plight of the East Timorese has until recently been ignored by much of the world. East Timor was considered remote and little known and was without any strategic or economic importance to the superpowers. No government was prepared to bring pressure to bear on Indonesia.
Australia was one of the first countries to recognise Indonesia’s integration of East Timor. On that basis, successive Australian governments have cultivated close relationships with Indonesia: providing military training, military hardware, and military training to the Indonesian government, and signing the Timor Gap Treaty.
Successive Australian and other Governments have also downplayed the seriousness of human rights abuses in East Timor. While the Indonesian military must bear responsibility for the appalling human rights abuses in East Timor, no less disturbing is the shameful record of the governments of the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia, who continued to accommodate the Suharto regime and shield it from international criticism.
This year - in a remarkable series of events - the East Timorese were finally granted their act of self determination. A popular consultation on August 30, 1999, held under the auspices of the UN, resulted in 78.5 per cent of East Timorese people voting in favour of independence from Indonesia.
Jubilation was soon followed by terror as the militia - armed and supported by the Indonesian military - unleashed a campaign of violence; killing indiscriminately, looting and destroying property. Tens of thousands of East Timorese people were displaced into the mountains and more than 200 000 were forced over the border into West Timor. Tragically, the arrival of InterFET, the International Force in East Timor - is too late to save the lives of many people. And it is more than a little ironic that governments now involved InterFET are now in direct conflict with the very Indonesian forces they have previously armed and trained.
Oxfam continues to campaign for the disarmament of militias, to ensure security of those displaced in West Timor, and access for humanitarian agencies.
The international community can no longer afford to ignore human rights violations by the Indonesian military. Arms sales and training must be suspended until the military is brought under civilian control. Multinational corporations active in Indonesia should ensure that they are not engaging military personnel. The World Bank and the IMF must ensure that their loans to Indonesia are not diverted for military purposes. An international tribunal must also be established to investigate war crimes committed by the Indonesian military in East Timor.
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