Indonesian Invasion of East Timor

East Timor is half of an island in Indonesia, about 300 miles north of Australia. In the 1500s, Portugal colonized the island of Timor, and its inhabitants today are primarily Catholic.

The Dutch colonized much of the area, eventually including the western half of Timor as part of the Dutch East Indies, which became Indonesia in 1945. Portugal's 1974 "Carnation Revolution" ended Europe's last large empire, and in 1975 Indonesia invaded and annexed the now defenseless East Timor.

Between 1975 and 1999, Indonesia's military dictatorship conducted a brutal campaign of genocide against the East Timorese, killing 200,000 people, or one third of the population.

Western nations knew of Indonesia's plans in advance, and tacitly supported them. The U.S. and others wanted Indonesia's support in the United Nations and feared East Timor might vote neutral or leftist if it gained U.N. membership. As reported by John Pilger in The Nation:

Four months before the invasion [Austrialian] Ambassador [Richard] Woolcott cabled his government that Gen. 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. Woolcott reported that the British ambassador to Indonesia had advised London that it was in Britain's interests that Indonesia "absorb the territory as soon as and as unobtrusively as possible"; and that the U.S. ambassador had expressed the hope that the Indonesians would be "effective, quick and not use our equipment."

On December 5, 1975, Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford arrived in Jakarta on a visit 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.

The United States did not merely ignore the Indonesians' aggression, but supplied it with the military weaponry that made it possible. Indonesia devastated East Timor's mountain rebels with American OV-10 Bronco and Skyhawk aircraft, supplied and financed by the U.S. government. Cannon, bombs and napalm were also used against the East Timorese resistance, known as the Fretilin.

The result was death on a large scale. Pilger reports of the mass graves common in East Timor:

There are great black crosses etched against the sky -- 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 edges of riverbanks and escarpments, commanding all before them. 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. "R.I.P. Mendonca, Crissmina, 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 ..."

Source: "Journey to East Timor: Land of the Dead," by John Pilger, in the April 25, 1994, issue of [WWWThe Nation.