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The debacle that is East Timor

By Jim Morris - posted Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Since the five journalists were killed in Balibo more than 25 years ago it has been almost impossible to read a fair or balanced report on East Timor in an Australian newspaper. Journalists perceive it to be a betrayal of their dead colleagues.

That misguided loyalty, and the refusal to admit the journalists were largely responsible for their own deaths, played right into the hands of people such as Ramos Horta who have been manipulating the Australian public via the media ever since.

Very few Australians are familiar with the hasty creation of Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor, with Horta as Information Minister, and the subsequent civil war with UDT (Timor Democratic Union) that killed more than 2,000 East Timorese and triggered the intervention of Indonesian military forces.


Indonesia has always been presented as the boogie-man that invaded East Timor for its own nefarious reasons despite the fact Ali Alatas stated he considered it the business of the East Timorese.

Media propaganda

People in Australia have been fed very selective and even untrue information about East Timor. Human rights activists, and others, swallowed any information as long as it supported their pre-conceived ideas that Indonesia was bad.

To human rights activists Xanana Gusmoa, the Fretilin leader, was a 1960’s Marxist-style “Che Guevara” figure, who fulfilled their revolution-that-never-happened fantasies and made them feel as though they were doing something “to make a difference”.

Leftist academics and intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and John Pilger gave speeches and published books that told only the side of the story that suited their political perspective, and they consistently omitted any facts that they found to be inconvenient.

Free East Timor groups flourished in many countries, particularly in Australia because of its geographical proximity. Japan had more than 40. There were many East Timorese living in Australia who had fled the conflict.

There was never any information about the amount of money the Indonesian Government was pouring into East Timor for development of roads, hospitals, schools, and civil servants wages. The Australian public’s knowledge of East Timor was limited to propaganda.


The Santa Cruz massacre

The Santa Cruz massacre, also known as the Dili massacre, took place in 1991. Protesters, mainly students, launched a demonstration against Indonesian rule at the funeral of a fellow student, Sebastião Gomes, who had been shot dead by Indonesian troops the month before.

A survey of books written about East Timor and the Santa Cruz massacre will reveal most use the words “totally unprovoked” to describe the incident. This is despite the fact two Indonesian soldiers, one of them a major, were stabbed to death just as the procession arrived at the cemetery.

This action sent Indonesian soldiers into a frenzy of killing - which it was intended to do. The massacre was set up in order to be videoed and sent to TV stations around the world to re-ignite the issue. And it worked. Those 245 young people died as martyrs for the media, as they were meant to.

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About the Author

Jim Morris is an Australian journalist who has worked in East Timor and Indonesia during the last ten years, most recently as editor of Indonesia Daily in Jakarta.

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