Global Watchman on the lookout



I was quite surprised by the fact that how few people today know about East Timorian Genocides and many have never even heard the name of East Timor. I think its a responsibility of every individual to inform others about what happened in places like East Timor, Vietnam, Cambodia, Panama, Nicaragua, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada and Dominican Republic, so that it doesn’t happen again, just as stated by George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. If we wish none of these horrible chapters of humanity to ever be repeated again then we need to inform everyone about the horrific facts about these tragedies.


East Timor is a small island about 400 miles North of Australian mainland and the city of Darwin. It is one of the islands in the Indonesian archipelago. In the mid 19th century most Asian countries were under colonial rule of European powers especially Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. At that time Indonesia was a Dutch colony and Timor was a Portugese colony. Potugese had been in control of Timor since 1703, but Dutch who had captured a number of Portugese strongholds in South Asia were contesting their claim on Timor.
A brief war between the Dutch and Portugese broke out over the claim on Timor. After some brief skirmishes between Dutch and Portugese forces, a truce was declared and negotiations began for the island of Timor. So in 1860 as an agreement between Dutch and the Potugese, Island of Timor was partitioned into two separate States. East Timor was to be under Potugese rule and West Timor was to be controlled by Dutch. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, Sukarmo a vibrant nationalist leader declared Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch and thus West Timor became a part of Indonesia.

Life of an average Timorian under Portugese rule was quite peaceful and uneventful. Unlike many other colonies of the time, Portugese colonials hardly ever interfered with the lives and culture of East Timorian people. Reason for this was not that the Portugese were humane, accommodating, considerate or anything like that. Reason was that Portugese colonials simply never considered East Timor and its people were worth, going through all that trouble for making social, cultural and economic changes in the country. So basically they allowed East Timorians to do whatever they wanted. And this created an unusually harmonious environment in East Timor even under the Portugese Colonial rule.

During Second World War, East Timor fought on the side of allies and halted Japanese advancement towards Australia. The East Timorese single handedly saved Australia from Japanese occupation but in the process they paid a hefty price for their decision to protect Australia. If they had wished so, they could have easilly allowed Japanese forces to use East Timor to launch attack on Australia. Japanese had already assured that they had no interest in occupying East Timor, their only motivation was to use East Timor to launch air and ground attacks on Australia. But East Timorese decided not to allow Japanese to use their land to wage a war on their neighbour Australia. 60,000 East Timorians died in their battle against Japanese forces but eventually they defeated Japanese and forced them to flee from the island. It was a great gesture of solidarity and sacrifices by East Timor towards Australia. But little did they knew that the same Australia was going to stab them in the back three decades later.


In 1973, Timorese people started a movement for independence of East Timor from its colonial rulers. And as the freedom movement gained momentum, several factions within East Timor rose up to claim its legitimacy as true voice of Timorese people. A small scale violent struggle between various groups ensued, at the end of which two parties were left standing. These parties were Timorese Democratic Union(UDT) and Revolutionary Front for Independent East Timor(FRETILIN). Both these parties decided to make a coalition for the cause of independence of East Timor. President Suharto of Indonesia who had seized power in a coup d’état against Sukarmo, had his eyes on East Timor for a long long time and was just waiting for departure of Portugese from the island before claiming it. 

Realising the importance of a political presence in East Timor, Indonesian Governent’s agents infiltrated into East Timor and established their own political party called Timorese Popular Democratic Associatiom (APODETI). APODETI was highly infiltrated by Indonesian sympathisers or by Indonesians themselves. The true purpose of APODETI was to facilitate the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia by purely political and non military means. Indonesian leader Suharto thought that if APODETI can successfully form the new free government in East Timor that he can legitimise the annexation of East Timor by claiming that the government of East Timor(APODETI) had asked for the annexation by Indonesia.

Soon Suharto regime deliberately created discord between the UDT and FRETILIN coalition which lead to the end of their alliance. Timorese Democratic Union or UDT was a political party mainly consisting of wealthy families of East Timor, so Suharto easilly coerced them into joining hands with APODETI. Thus a new alliance between UDT and APODETI was formed. FRETILIN had always opposed the existence of APODETI because they considered it an Indonesian allied party, which it was. In 1975, Potugese Decolonisation Commission convened a meeting in Macau to solve the issue of East Timorian independence and settle the dispute between parties. FRETILIN boycotted this meeting in protest of APODETI being also invited to the summit. In the absence of FRETILIN, both UDT and APODETI claimed that FRETILIN’s actions were deliberate attempts to slow down the decolonisation process of East Timor.

As later claimed by senior member of FRETILIN, José Ramos Horta that decision to boycott the meeting in Macau was a disastrous political mistake by the Party High Command. Soon after the talks in Macau, public perception about FRETILIN changes drastically as people started viewing it as a disruptive element that was not interested in peaceful transition of East Timor. And quite expectedly, soon tensions between UDT and FRETILIN rose to such a level that East Timorians were fearing a violent take over of the interim government by either of the parties. Soon after in mid-1975 with the support of Indonesian backed APODETI, UDT overthrew the interim Potugese government in a coup d’état. A bloody civil war broke out between UDT and FRETILIN which claimed lives of 4000 people. The violence forced the interim Portugese government to flee to the nearby island of Atauro.

After two weeks of bitter fighting between UDT and FRETILIN, FRETILIN forces defeated UDT and forced its members to flee into Indonesian controlled West Timor. People of East Timor were relieved that the hostilities and violent fighting in East Timor had ended finally. They were finally free and capable to shape their own destinies the way they wanted. But this period of happiness and content was short lived as a wave of unimaginable violence, pain, suffering and death, likes of which people of East Timor had never seen before, was speeding towars them.


Once they had gained control of East Timor, FRETILIN faced attacks from the west, by Indonesian forces known as Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia(ABRI) and by a small group of UDT troops. Indonesia captured the border city of Batugadé on 8 October 1975; nearby Balibó and Maliana were taken eight days later.

At the start of November, the foreign ministers from Indonesia and Portugal met in Rome to discuss a resolution of the conflict. Although no Timorese leaders were invited to the talks, FRETILIN sent a message expressing their desire to work with Portugal. The meeting ended with both parties agreeing that Portugal would meet with political leaders in East Timor, but the talks never took place. In mid-November, Indonesian forces began shelling the city of Atabae from the sea, and captured it by the end of the month. Frustrated by Portugal’s inaction, FRETILIN leaders believed they could ward off Indonesian advances more effectively if they declared an independent East Timor. National Political Commissioner Mari Alkatiri conducted a diplomatic tour of Africa, gathering support from governments there and elsewhere. According to FRETILIN, this effort yielded assurances from twenty five countries including the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, Mozambique, Sweden, and Cuba to recognise the new nation. 

On 28 November 1975, FRETILIN unilaterally declared independence for the Democratic Republic of East Timor. UDT and APODETI leaders in and around Balibó responded next day by making their own Declartion that region under their control was now independent from East Timor and officially part of Indonesia. But this Balibo Declaration was drafted by Indonesian intelligence and signed on Bali. Nobody in the international community other than US, UK and Australia took the second declaration seriously, cause it was obvious to everyone that it was formulated by Indonesians themselves. Portugal rejected both declarations, and the Indonesian government approved military action to begin its annexation of East Timor.

Reports of Indonesian troops landing on East Timorian beaches had been surfacing all over East Timor for quite some time. These landings were a part of Operation Komodo launched by Indonesia Secret Service. Aim of Operation Komodo was to infiltrate the cities and villages of East Timor with Indonesian operatives disguising as FRETILIN troops. Then these agents were to launch a wide scale campaign of violence and terror against East Timorese population. In Operation Komodo, Indonesian operatives attacked innocent civilians in their homes, churches and schools whilst disguising themselves as FRETILIN soldiers. 

Aim was to make Timorese people believe that FRETILIN was committing all these attrocious acts at which point Indonesian operatives in UDT and APODETI would demand Indonesian intervention to save them from communist forces of FRETILIN and this would provide a pretext for Indonesian forces to invade East Timor. Operation was a complete failiure as people easilly recognised Indonesian operatives primarily because they couldn’t even speak Timorese. But none the less, after the attacks Indonesian sponsored UDT and APODETI wept some crocodile tears and officially asked for Suharto’s help to save Timorese people from the atrocities committed by FRETILIN against them. This provided Suharto the pretext that he needed to legitimise his decision of invading East Timor in the eyes of international community.


In 1945, after the surrender of Japan at the end of Second World War, Indonesian leader Sukarno declared the independence of Indonesia from the Dutch. Initially Sukarno supported a US based democratic governance system. But soon he got disillusioned from the concept of western democracy. Soon Sukarno moved Indonesia from democracy towards authoritarianism, and maintained his power base by balancing the opposing forces of the military and the Communist Party of Indonesia(PKI). 

An attempted communist coup d’état on 30 September 1965 was countered by the army, who led a violent anti-communist purge during which the PKI was blamed for the coup and effectively destroyed.  Around 500,000 people are estimated to have been killed in this purging campaign of military.

US involvement in affairs of Indonesia began when their backed pawn General Suharto of Indonesian Military snatched power from previous President Sukarmo in 1966. Soon after US launched a global campaign for motivating big corporations to invest in Indonesia which resulted in quick rise of Indonesia’s economy and strength. In years from 1970-75, Indonesia became one of the biggest buyers of US made weaponry. At this time Indonesia was also one of the biggest recipient of US military aid in South Asia. Primarily the US equipment from South Vietnam was being given to Indonesia as military aid.

On 5th December 1975, US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrived in Jakarta and met with Indonesian President Suharto. US government had been a supporter of Suharto regime ever since he took over the reign of Indonesia in 1966. During the meeting between Ford, Kissinger and Suharto, Kissinger reportedly said to Suharto that he should annex East Timor as quickly and as silently possible. But Suharto’s main concern was that if he attacked East Timor than US might stop selling weapons to Indonesia because it had been a policy of USA in the past that they didn’t allowed their sold weapons to be used in an offensive manner, and if they were used in an offensive manner then they halted all weapons trade with that nation.

To this Ford and Kissinger replied that they promise that there will be no opposition from America on the issue of annexation of East Timor by Indonesia. Henry Kissinger even proposed a substantial increase in supply of weapons to Indonesia from US which included F16 fighter jets, naval frigates, naval destroyers and attack helicopters. But Kissinger persuaded Suharto to postpone his attack on East Timor till he and Gerald Ford depart from Jakarta.

Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford were completely informed about Suharto’s intentions of invading East Timor and furthermore they were affirmative towards all of Suharto’s plans. They even promised military assistance to Indonesia in case it was attacked by Communist forces of China or Soviet Union. They knew that Soviet Union, China and Cuba had promised support to East Timorese leaders so they relieved Suharto’s fears about getting attacked by some other communist countries. At 11:00 am, 7th December 1975, Air Force One left the Indonesian airspace and at about 12:30 pm first shells fired from Indonesian Naval destroyers hit the East Timorian capital Dilli.


On 7 December 1975, Indonesian forces invaded East Timor. Operasi Seroja (Operation Lotus) was the largest military operation ever carried out by Indonesia in its brief history. Troops from FRETILIN’s military organization FALINTIL engaged ABRI forces in the streets of Dili, and reported 400 Indonesian paratroopers were killed as they descended into the city. By the end of the year, 10,000 troops occupied Dili and another 20,000 had been deployed throughout East Timor. Massively outnumbered, FALINTIL troops fled to the mountains and continued guerilla combat operations. Indonesian soldiers in towns, particularly Dili, were reported to have indiscriminately killed civilians, including the rape and killing of women and children.

Indonesian soldiers repeatedly targeted and murdered innocent civilians of East Timor. There numerous incidents in which Indonesian troops forced all the villagers into the village church or other large building and locked them in. Then they soaked the outside of building with gasoline and lit it ablaze with hundreds of villagers consisting men, women and children still inside. Witnesses reported screams of anguish of villagers being burned alive. 



Another favourite tactic of Indonesian forces for committing mass killings of innocent civilians was by lining them up in fields and then gunning everyone down with machine guns. They lured villagers into the fields under the guise that they were merely trying to assess whether there were any FRETILIN rebels among their midst. And when villagers were all lined up for identification process they were gunned down.

Any and all East Timorese civilians suspected of being FRETILIN supporters were horrendously tortured in front of their families and then executed. Indonesian soldiers repeatedly decapitated their prisoners and then posed for pictures holding the severed heads of their victims. I think this clearly shows the level of savagery and brutality in which Indonesian soldiers operated in East Timor.

First team of Indonesian soldiers landed on the southern beaches of the East Timorian capital of Dilli. East Timorese people were totally unaware about the Indonesian invasion yet and they were all going about their chores of daily life. This is when they were indiscriminately gunned down by Indonesian soldiers in the streets of Dilli. Indonesian soldiers raped and then killed hundreds of young women and girls in their own houses.

Many other survivors of Dilli Massacre claim that they saw hundreds of severed heads lined up in the street. Most people who heard about what was happening locked themselves in their houses. When these people didn’t open their doors for Indonesian soldiers then these soldiers threw grenades into the house from windows and set the house ablaze and if anybody came out of the house trying to escape from fire, they were gunned down by the soldiers outside.

As per East Timorian national census done in July 1975, there were approximately 5000 people living in the Southern locality of Dilli which was the first place that was attacked by Indonesian soldiers. But after the December 7th attack, there were less than 500 survivors left in that area. And this was not an isolated case, this is what happened in all of the East Timor’s towns and villages. Many coastal towns and villages were deliberately bombed and shelled by artillery, naval ships and bomber airplanes despite knowing for sure that there were no combatants in these areas and all residents were civilians.

Despite knowing what was happening in East Timor, United States along with its western allies simply turned a blindeye towards these heinous crimes against humanity. But the most shocking fact was that US increased its supply of arms to Indonesia as more and more dead bodies piled up in East Timor. According to an American diplomat “a lot of ammunition was being used to kill thousands of people, that meant we needed to increase our supply of ammunitions to Indonesia and that’s what we did”.

In March 1976, UDT leader Lopez da Cruz reported that 60,000 Timorese had been killed during the invasion. A delegation of Indonesian relief workers agreed with this statistic. In an interview on 5 April 1977 with the Sydney Morning Herald. Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik said the number of dead was “50,000 people or perhaps 80,000”. But all these numbers were significantly minimised to hide the true face of Indonesian murderous policies in East Timor. 

The real number of civilians killed in the invasion was somewhere between 100,000 and 120,000. Reason for uncertainty about the exact toll of the dead is because Indonesian soldiers often disposed hundreds and thousands of dead bodies by burying them in unmarked mass graves and locations of many such mass graves was still unknown. Indonesian Officials deliberately counted only those victims whose bodies were found and knowingly ignored thousands of victims who were buried in mass graves all over East Timor.

Despite of all these indiscriminate atrocities being committed by Indonesian forces in East Timor, they were still not able to wipe out the FRETILIN resistance against the Indonesian occupation. In fact these barbaric and heinous crimes committed by Indonesian Army, ultimately strengthened the position of FRETILIN. Many hundreds and thousands of men and women decided to join the resistance as members of FRETILIN after either experiencing themselves or witnessing, the brutal acts of genocide committed by Indonesian soldiers. The FRETILIN engaged in guerilla warfare tactic of hit and hide, they usually hid in the secluded jungles of the mountainous regions of East Timor

The Indonesian government presented its annexation of East Timor to the rest of the world as a matter of anti colonial unity. A 1977 booklet from the Indonesian Department of Foreign “De-colonisation of East Timor” paid tribute to the “sacred right of self-determination” and recognised its very own created puppet party APODETI as the true representatives of the East Timorese majority. It claimed that FRETILIN’s popularity was the result of a “policy of threats, blackmail and terror”. The island’s original division into east and west, Indonesia argued after the invasion, was “the result of colonial oppression” enforced by the Portuguese and Dutch imperial powers. Thus, according to the Indonesian government, its annexation of the 27th province was merely another step in the unification of the archipelago which had begun in the 1940s.

But what the Indonesians never answered was that, were East Timorese people ever asked what they wanted? Shockingly niether the United Nations and nor any other western nation was asking this question that, were East Timorians ever even given a chance to choose what they wanted?

Not so surprisingly, the governments of United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia and France praised the policies of President Suharto and the actions of Indonesian Army for peaceful unification of East Timor with Indonesia. Yes they used the word “peaceful”. Suharto was most often praised by British PM Margaret Thatcher for his policies in East Timor and refered to him as an avid humanitarian. Gough Whitlam the former Prime Minister of Australia also hailed Suharto as a true leader for his efforts in incorporation of East Timor into Indonesia.


After the invasion of East Timor, Indonesian forces braced themselves for a long halt. They were not going anywhere because they had never intended to leave East Timor even after it became a part of Indonesia. Bloody massacres, murders, rapes, torture, unjust incarceration and unjustified use of force became a norm in East Timor. The dehumanisation of Timorese people by Indonesia was beyond comprehension. When a journalist asked Suharto about the alleged killings of children by Indonesian forces, he quite blatantly replied “when you kill the snakes in your garden, do you spare some just because they small. No you don’t and same way we don’t”. This was the true face of the man Margaret Thatcher called an avid humanitarian.

After Indonesia’s violent occupation of East Timor began, the only country in the whole world that instantly recognised East Timor as a legitimate part of Indonesia was Australia. Australia not only recognised East Timor as a part of Indonesia but even presented a resolution at the United Nations for officially declaring East Timor as a part of Indonesia. Mind you this was the same East Timor which had saved Australia from Japanese occupation in Second World War by sacrificing 60,000 of its own civilians. Had they wanted to they could have just allowed Japan to use East Timor as base of operations for carrying out invasion of Australia. But Timorese people refused to allow their land to be utilised for invading their neighbour and lost more than 60,000 lives in the process. And Australia paid them back by stabbing Timorese people in the back. Infact even before Suharto started covert operations in East Timor, Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam publicly said to Suharto to annex East Timor because he thought East Timor was so poor and backward that just wouldn’t survive on its own in the region.

In 1987 the real reason for Australia’s disdain for East Timor was revealed when Indonesia and Australia started their share negotiations about the vast petroleum and natural gas reserves in the region of Timor Sea knows as the Timor Gap. At a time when Indonesia was committing vast human right abuses in East Timor, the Finance Minister of Indonesia Ali Alatas and Australian Finance Minister Gareth Evans were seen drinking champagne while celebrating the signing of the Timor Gap Treaty. At a time when civilians of East Timor were being systematically massacred, these two individuals were celebrating the heist of East Timor’s resources with champgne.

East Timor remained under the occupation of Indonesia up untill 1999. Indonesian occupation of East Timor that lasted for 23 bloody years was filled with unspeakable acts of cruelty and brutality that caused deaths of over 2 million East Timorese people. The wave of terror, violence, brutality, cruelty, pain and suffering that Indonesia unleashed upon the people of East Timor was beyond comprehension of any civilised person and likes of which world had never seen before. Acts committed by Indonesians were one of the worst crimes against humanity ever documented. The majority of these 2 million victims were slaughtered and then buried in numerous mass graves scattered all over East Timor. This was specifically done by Indonesian authorities to leave no hard evidence for Human Rights Organisations to accurately estimate the number of people murdered by Indonesian Forces during 23 years of their occupation of East Timor. 

Throughout the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Indonesian military employed various tactics which can only he describes as means of ethnic cleansing. What Indonesian Army wanted to achieve was to wipe out or atleast reduce the population of East Timor to such a level that Timorese people just wouldn’t pose any significant resistance to the Indonesian occupation. The mass killings of millions of people in East Timor clearly point that there was certainly secret Indonesia policy of extermination of the entire population of Timorese people. Otherwise how can one explain the murder of one third of the population of East Timor by Indonesiam forces. 


When Indonesian operatives started killing innocent civilians in disguise of FRETILIN members, there was a team of journalists present in East Timor. Indonesian authorities were not aware of their presence in the region. These reporters witnessed Indonesian soldiers committing most heinous crimes against unarmed civilian population of East Timor. Indonesian soldiers were trying to demonise FRETILIN by committing these crimes in their name. As I stated before idea was to create so much anti-FRETILIN emotions among the general population that in the end Timorese people would willingly ask Indonesian forces to come to protect them from FRETILIN rebels. But the entire operation which was codenamed Operation Komodo was a complete failiure.

But somehow Indonesian Soldiers became aware of the presence of five foreign journalists in the area. Army feared that if these journalists had witnessed the covert acts of Indonesian Operation Komodo then they would tell the outer world what was Indonesian Army really upto. Hence capture and execution of these five journalists became a priority of Indonesian Army.

The group comprised two Australians, reporter Greg Shackleton aged 29, Tony Stewart aged 21(Sound Recordist from New Zealand), Gary Cunningham aged 27(cameraman for HSV-7 in Melbourne) two British nationals  Brian Peters aged 24(Cameraman TCN-9 or Nine Network Sydney) and Malcolm Rennie aged 29( Reporter for TCN-9 or Nine Network Sydney).

While the men were aware that Indonesian troops were to mount an attack on the town, they believed that, as journalists, they would not be considered military targets. Greg Shackleton was filmed painting an Australian flag and the word ‘AUSTRALIA’ on the wall of a house in the town square. 

A little after midnight while the five journalist were asleep, a team of about 30 Indonesian soldiers entered the house. They shot many journalists in legs to immobilise them. Then they hung all five journalists upside down from their feets. What followed was one of the most horrible attack on journalists in the history. Indonesian soldiers then chopped of genitals of the five men and stuffed it in their throats. Although many believe that these five unfortunate souls would have lost conciousness from the shear pain and loss of blood and eventually would have died of asphyxiation and basically would have drowned in their own blood. Indonesian soldiers later claimed that the journalists were killed by mistake but this was a total lie. How could they have mistaken, when the reporters had clearly marked their house by writing Australian and painted Australian flag on the outside walls of the house?

Villagers who saw Indonesian soldiers enter the house reported that the soldiers knew that reporters were staying in that house and in fact they had been asking around all day about the whereabouts of Greg Shackleton and his colleagues. They told that they saw upto 30 soldiers enter the house which was followed by upto 8 gun shots. Then villagers reported that they heard loud screams of anguish from the house and in about an hour everything went totally silent. Villagers totally rejected the Soldiers claim that reporters were killed by mistake. They argued how do you torture somebody for an hour by mistake. Villagers told that journalists were killed deliberately by Indonesian soldiers to coverup their disruptive actions in East Timor. The five victims of this dastardly attack later came to be known as the “The Balibó Five”.

Senior diplomats told the 2007 coroner’s inquest of their understanding that “the killing was done by the Indonesian military and that it was deliberate”.

Balibo House Trust, established in 2003 with seed funding from the Victorian government and television stations 7 and 9, now owns this house and preserves it as a community learning centre. A commemorative plaque outside the house pays tribute to those five brave souls who laid their lives in line of their duty.

Following this incident, Indonesian Army besieged the entire Island of East Timor and declared it no entry zone for reporters and journalists. They totally cordoned off the entire Island of East Timor from all foreign nationals irrespective of the fact whether they were journalists, Red Cross workers, UN human right watchers or Amnesty International workers. And this trend continued for the most part of 23 years of Indoneaian occupation of East Timor.

According to the UN charter and the Geneva Convetion Journalists active in the war zones are protected under Article 79. Any and all kinds of violence against journalists is to be considered war crimes. But to this very day not a single soldier or General who ordered the execution of five journalists have been charged for their crimes. Most shocking was the reaction of Australian government who  blamed the journalists themselves instead of the Indonesian soldiers for the incident. To this very day Australian government has not asked Indonesian government for an official explanation for the incident.

The total sealing of the island of East Timorese clearly proves that the Indonesian troops didn’t wanted the world to see what atrocities they were committing in East Timorese. This is the first case of its kind where Press had been banned from an active war zone for such a long period of time and where journalists and war correspondents were repeatedly targeted by the Indonesian Army.


It will require thousands of articles to specify the true extent of human right abuses committed by Indonesian troops in East Timor. The shear brutality, cruelty and violent nature of the crimes against committed against Timorese people were at an unimaginable magnitude the extent of which world had never seen before. Indonesian war crimes even makes Atilla the Hun look like a perfect gentleman.

Tortures, beatings, decapitations, chopping of limbs, rapes, infanticide, mass shootings, death by shooting squad, mutilation of victims while they were alive, cannibalistic acts, almost any sadistic method of execution you can think of was committed in East Timor. The shear dehumanisation of Timorese people by Indonesian soldiers is far beyond any of ours worst nightmares. 


Indonesia kept East Timor shut off from the rest of the world, except for a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, claiming that the vast majority of East Timorese supported integration. This position was followed closely by the Indonesian media such that an East Timorese acceptance of their integration with Indonesia was taken for granted by, and was a non-issue for, the majority of Indonesians. Starting in September 1977, Indonesian forces began what Catholic officials in East Timor called an “encirclement and annihilation” campaign. 35,000 ABRI troops surrounded areas of FRETILIN support and killed hundreds of men, women, and children. Air and naval bombardments were followed by ground troops, who destroyed villages and agricultural infrastructure. Thousands of people were brutally murdered during this period.

Indonesian forces moved hundreds of thousands of people into camps, where they were imprisoned and subjected to hunger. FRETILIN radio claimed Indonesian planes dropped chemical agents, and several observers including the Bishop of Dili reported seeing napalm dropped on the countryside. In 1981 the Indonesian military launched Operasi Keamanan (Operation Security), which some have named the “fence of legs” program. 50,000 East Timorese men and boys were ordered to march through the mountains, sweeping guerrillas into the central part of the region. 

The operation failed to crush the resistance, and popular resentment toward the occupation grew stronger than ever. As FRETILIN troops in the mountains continued their sporadic attacks, Indonesian forces carried out numerous operations to destroy them over the next ten years. In the cities and villages, meanwhile, a non-violent resistance movement began to take shape.

At the same time, Indonesian forces carried out a widespread campaign of killing, torture, disappearances, political imprisonment, and other abuses of human rights. Starting in 1981 Indonesian officials sent thousands of prisoners to Atauro Island Concentration Camp where Amnesty International described the conditions as “deplorable”. Massacres by the Indonesian military have been documented across East Timor. In September 1981, 400 civilians were killed in Lacluta, and in August of 1983, 200 people were burned alive in the village of Creras, with 500 others killed at a nearby river. An eyewitness who testified before the Australian Senate stated that soldiers deliberately killed small children by smashing their heads against a rock.

Those suspected of opposing integration were often arrested and tortured. In 1983 Amnesty International published an Indonesian manual it had received from East Timor instructing military personnel on how to inflict physical and mental anguish, and cautioning troops to “Avoid taking photographs showing torture (of someone being given electric shocks, stripped naked and so on)”. 

In his 1997 memoir East Timor’s Unfinished Struggle: Inside the Timorese Resistance, Constãncio Pinto describes being tortured by Indonesian soldiers: “With each question, I would get two or three punches in the face. When someone punches you so much and so hard, it feels as if your face is broken. People hit me on my back and on my sides with their hands and then kicked me…. [In another location] they psychologically tortured me; they didn’t hit me, but they made strong threats to kill me. They even put a gun on the table.

” In Michele Turner’s book Telling East Timor: Personal Testimonies 1942–1992, a woman named Fátima describes watching torture take place in a Dili prison: “They make people sit on a chair with the front of the chair on their own toes. It is mad, yes. The soldiers urinate in the food then mix it up for the person to eat. They use electric shock and they use an electric machine….”


Indonesian military abuses against women in East Timor were numerous and well-documented. In addition to suffering arbitrary detainment, torture, and extrajudicial execution, women faced rape and sexual abuse sometimes for the crime of being related to an independence activist. The scope of the problem is difficult to ascertain, owing to the intense military control imposed during the occupation, compounded by the shame felt by victims. In a 1995 report on violence against women in Indonesia and East Timor, Amnesty International USA wrote: “Women are reluctant to pass on information to non-governmental organizations about rape and sexual abuse, let alone to report violations to the military or police authorities.”

In 1999 researcher Rebecca Winters released the book Buibere: Voice of East Timorese Women, which chronicles many personal stories of violence and abuse dating to the earliest days of the occupation. One woman tells of being interrogated while stripped half-naked, tortured, molested, and threatened with death. Another describes being chained at the hands and feet, raped repeatedly, and interrogated for weeks. A woman who had prepared food for FRETILIN guerrillas was arrested, burned with cigarettes, tortured with electricity, and forced to walk naked past a row of soldiers into a tank filled with urine and feces.


In October 1991 a delegation to East Timor consisting of members from the Portugese parliament and twelve journalists was planned during a visit from UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights on Torture, Pieter Kooijmans. The Indonesian government objected to the inclusion in the delegation of Jill Jolliffr an Australian journalist who it regarded as supportive of the FRETILIN independence movement and bowing to the protests of Indonesian government Portugal canceled the delegation. 

The cancellation demoralised independence activists in East Timor, who had hoped to use the visit to raise the international profile of their cause. Tensions between Indonesian authorities and East Timorese youths rose in the days after Portugal’s cancellation. On 28 October, Indonesian troops had located a group of resistance members in Dili’s Motael Church. A confrontation ensued between pro-integration activists and those in the church; when it was over, one man on each side was dead. 

Sebastião Gomes, a supporter of independence for East Timor, was taken out of the church and shot by Indonesian troops, and integration activist Afonso Henriques was stabbed and killed during the fight.

A number of foreigners had come to East Timor to observe the Portuguese delegation, including independent US journalists Amy Goodman and Allan Nairm and British cameraman Max Stahl. They attended a memorial service for Gomes on 12 November, during which several thousand men, women, and children walked from the Motael Church to the nearby Santa Cruz cemetery. Along the way, members of the group pulled out protest banners and East Timorese flags and chanted slogans. Organizers of the protest maintained order during the protest although it was loud, the crowd was peaceful and orderly, by most accounts. It was the largest and most visible demonstration against the Indonesian occupation since 1975.

During a brief confrontation between Indonesian troops and protesters, a number of protesters and a Major in Indonesian Army Gerhan Lantara were stabbed. Stahl claimed Lantara had attacked a group of protesters including a girl carrying the flag of East Timor, and FRETILIN activist Constâncio Pinto reported eyewitness accounts of beatings from Indonesian soldiers and police. 

When the procession reached the cemetery, the leading section of the procession entered the cemetery while many continued their protests before the cemetery wall, waving flags and chanting pro-independence slogans. Indonesian troops had been standing by during this time, then a new group of 200 Indonesian soldiers appeared and began shooting. Fleeing people ran through the main entrance and deeper into the cemetery and were pursued by the soldiers.

The massacre was witnessed by Amy Goodman and Allan Nairm. Allan Nairm was himself attacked by Indonesian soldiers and attack on him was caught on videotape by Max Stahl, who was filming undercover for Yorkshire Television. As Stahl filmed the massacre, Goodman and Nairn tried to shield the Timorese protestors from the being shot down by Indonesian soldiers by standing between them and the Indonesian soldiers. Then soldiers began beating Goodman and when Nairn tried to protect her, the soldiers repeatedly struck his head with their rifles which fractured his skull.

The camera crew managed to smuggle the video footage to Australia. They gave it to Saskia Kouwenberg, a Dutch journalist, to prevent it being seized and confiscated by Australian authorities.

Australian Authorities subjected the camera crew to a strip-search when they arrived in Darwin. It was obvious that they had been tipped off by Indonesia. 



The video footage was used in the documentary In Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor which was broadcasted on ITV in UK. Stahl’s footage, combined with the testimony of Nairn and Goodman and others, blew the covers that Indonesia had tried so hard to hide the brutality of their occupation of East Timor with, from the rest of the world. The images of the Sãntã Crúz massacre caused outrage around the world. The documentary In Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor won the inaugural Amnesty International UK Media Awards in 1992.

At least 250 East Timorese were killed in the massacre. One of the dead was a New Zealander, Kamal Bamadhaj, a political science student and human rights activist based in Australia. Indonesian authorities described the incident as a spontaneous reaction to violence from the protesters or a “misunderstanding”. Human Rights Activists totally rejected the claims of Indonesian Army that it was protestors who initiated the confrontation and as evidence they cited the history of mass violence committed by Indonesian troops in places such as Quelicai, Lacluta, and Kraras. 

Their allegations were further validated by a series of statements from politicians and officers in Indonesia, justifying the military’s violence. Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian forces Try Sutrisno said two days after the massacre “The army cannot be underestimated. Finally we had to shoot them. Delinquents like these agitators must be shot, and they will be”.

In response to the massacre, activists around the world organized in solidarity with the East Timorese. Although a small network of individuals and groups had been working for human rights and self-determination in East Timor since the occupation began, their activity took on a new urgency after the 1991 massacre. TAPOL, a British organization formed in 1973 to advocate for democracy in Indonesia, increased its work around East Timor. In the United States, the East Timor Action Network was founded and soon had chapters in ten cities around the country. Other solidarity groups appeared in Portugal, Australia, Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Ireland and Brazil.

The television pictures of the massacre were shown worldwide, causing the Indonesian government considerable embarrassment. The coverage was a vivid example of how growth of new media in Indonesia was making it increasingly difficult for the Suharto’s “New Order” to control information flow in and out of Indonesia. It wasn’t like mid 70s anymore where nobody paid attention to what’s happening around the world, this was the age of mass media where everybody knew everything happening anywhere. And because of this amazing surge in media power the Indonesian government was coming under increasing international scrutiny. 

Copies of the Santa Cruz footage were distributed back into Indonesia allowing more Indonesians to see the actions of their government uncensored. A number of pro-democracy student groups and their magazines began to openly and critically discuss not just East Timor, but also the “New Order” and the broader history and future of Indonesia.The massacre prompted the Portugese Government to increase its diplomatic pressure on Indonesia to find a resolution to the problem of East Timor. Even in Australia, there was a lot of criticism about federal government’s recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty over East Timor.


The role western governments played in the East Timorian crisis by aiding and helping Indonesia and the Suharto regime was just as pivotal in this whole tragedy as the Indonesian itself. Its a fact worth mentioning that without the weapons that Indonesia bought from UK, US and France, Indonesia would never have been able to inflict as much damage to East Timor as it was able to. The shear disregard for humanitarian consequences of selling weapons to Indonesia by these western countries was a shameful and disgusting attitude and was certainly not worthy of nations who consider themselves as leaders of humanity.

US Involvement in the East Timor Crisis

Right before the Indonesian invasion of East Timor on the 7th December 1975, US President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrived in Jakarta to meet with President Suharto. As it was revealed years later, the main topic of discussion between them was the invasion of East Timor and the continued sale of weapons by America to Indonesia. Suharto was fearful that if he used the US made weapons against the East Timorians, then US might halt the sale of weapons to Indonesia. This was because of America’s policy that if weapons sold by them were utilised to attack other nation, then they would immediately seize the sale of weapons to that nation. 

To this Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford replied that US would not create any problems for Indonesia if it attacked East Timor. Furthermore Henry Kissinger promised a substantial increase in military aid as well as weapons sale to Indonesia. In 1975, US was in process of evacuating its military equipment worth billions from Vietnam after its withdrawl from Vietnam. So rather than spending millions of dollars for transporting these outdated equipments to America they decided to give outdated weapons to Indonesia as military aid. Other far newer weapons like artillery guns and jet fighters were being separately sold to Indonesia.

In the meeting of 7th December, Henry Kissinger promised to sell more than 100 aircrafts to Indonesia in coming months. But both Ford and Kissinger were worried about the public outcry in the US if it was revealed that both of them had given their affirmation to the Suharto’s plans of invading East Timor. So they persuaded Suharto to postpone the attacks untill their departure from Jakarta.

Upon reaching US, Kissinger was shocked to know that the news about his meeting with Suharto had already leaked into the US media. Henry Kissinger had witnessed first hand what public opposition could do to a politician. Massive public outcry against Vietnam war had forced President Lyndon Johnson to withdraw from presidential race in 1969 and another public scandal a year earlier had resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

So he didn’t wanted to end up the same way. So just for the matter of safeguarding his position, he halted the supply of weapons to Indonesia in January but later resumed the weapons sale in June of the same year, While Suharto’s soldiers were murdering innocent civilians in East Timor, US was supplying several tonns of ammunitions to Indonesia per month. And as the brutality of Indonesians soldiers increased so did the supply of ammunitions from America. In other words Americans were literally giving the Indonesians the bullets that they were using to kill innocent East Timorese people by the thousands.


At later stages of the invasion, Indonesians even used US supplied OV10 Broncos to bomb East Timorian towns and villages with cluster white phosphorus and napalm bombs which were also supplied by America. US adopted a policy of silence on the matter of Indonesian invasion of East Timor. A week after the invasion of East Timor the National Security Council prepared a detailed analysis of the Indonesian military units involved and the U.S. equipment they used.

The analysis revealed that virtually all of the military equipment used in the invasion was U.S. supplied. While the US Government claimed to have suspended military assistance from December 1975 to June 1976, military aid was actually increased substantially during this period. The US also made four new offers of arms, including supplies and parts for 16 OV-10 Broncos which, according to Cornell University Professor Benedict Anderson were “specially designed for counter insurgency operations. The policy continued under the Carter Administration. In total, the United States furnished over $250,000,000 of military assistance to Indonesia between 1975 and 1979.

The UN’s Commission for Reception Of Truth and Reconcilliation for East Timor (CAVR) stated in the “Responsibility” chapter of its final report that America’s political and military support to Indonesia was fundamental to the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor between 1975 and 1999. The report also stated that, US supplied weapons were crucial for Indonesia’s ability to intensify military operations after 1977.  These operations included massive napalm and white phosphorus bombing campaigns to eliminate every shred of Resistance from the remote regions of East Timor.

Australian Involvement In The East Timor Crisis

In September 2000 the Australian Department of foreign trade and affairs, released previously secret files that showed that comments by the Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government may have encouraged the Suharto regime to invade East Timor. Despite the unpopularity of the events in East Timor within some segments of the Australian public, the Fraser, Hawke and Keating governments allegedly co-operated with the Indonesian military and President Suharto to obscure details about conditions in East Timor and to preserve Indonesian control of the region. 

There was some discord towards policy with in the Australian public, because of the deaths of the Australian Journalists and arguably also because the actions of the Timorese people in supporting Australian Forces during the Battle of Timor in World War II were well-remembered. Protests took place in Australia against the occupation, and some Australian nationals even participated in the resistance movement.

As the Indonesian forces embarked for their invasion of East Timor, their movements were noticed by the CIA and Australian Naval Intellegence a Office at Darwin(400 miles South of East Timor). Despite knowing that there were a number of Australian humanitarian and Red Cross workers present in East Timor, Australian Authorities decided not to inform Australian citizens of the impending invasion by Indonesian forces. Reason for not informing Australian citizens was that informing anyone on the island about the invasion, would have nullified the element of surprise that Indonesian Forces had planned for.

 After the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and resulting occupation, Indonesian President Suharto was looking for some kind of validation for Indonesia’s decision to annex East Timor from its allies. So Australia at that moment became the first and the only country that officially recognised East Timor as a legitimate part of Indonesia. Later Australia even tried to push a resolution in UN for official recognition of East Timor as an Indonesian territory. Despite all the support that East Timorese people gave Australia in their battle against Japanese forces in the Battle of Timor Sea, some Australian politicians really despised East Timorese people.

In 1973, Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam allegedly told President Suharto of Indonesia to occupy East Timor in a quick and decisive offensive action, because he believed that East Timor was such a poor and illiterate country that its autonomous existence in the region was just not viable. And to ensure the unified progress of the region, it was better if East Timor was under Indonesian control.

But in 1989, the true motives of Australian Government were revealed when both Indonesiam and Australian commenced their first leg of negotiations over their respective shares in vast oil and natural gas reserves in the region of Timor Gap in the Timor Sea. Finally an agreement called The Timor Gap Treaty was signed by the Indonesian Finance Minister Ali Alatas and Australian Finance Minister Gareth Evans. At a time when hundreds and thousands of innocent East Timorese were being slaughtered by Indonesian soldiers, both these Finance Ministers were drinking champagne to celebrate their successful heist of East Timor’s natural resources.

There was another incident in East Timor and Australian Government’s reaction to it created a huge outcry and disgust against them. This tragic incident was the brutal killings of five journalists in East Timorian town of Balibó by the Indonesian Soldiers. Two of the five murdered journalists were Australian. Australian Reporter Greg Shackleton (aged 29) and Gary Cunningham aged 27(cameraman for HSV-7 in Melbourne). One New Zealander Tony Stewart aged 21(Sound Recordist). And two British nationals  Brian Peters aged 24(Cameraman TCN-9 or Nine Network Sydney) and Malcolm Rennie aged 29( Reporter for TCN-9 or Nine Network Sydney).

There was no official response to these brutal killings what so ever. Even though any kind of attack on journalists in War Zone is considered a war crime, no Indonesian Soldier or General was ever charged for the murders. Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s response to this incident was “I had warned them of situation over there, they went there anyway despite my warnings. They should never have gone there and now there’s nothing we can do”. Well Mr. XPM, you could have atleast asked for an official explanation from Indonesian Army.

There were witnesses there who testified that the reporters were deliberately tortured for hours before they were killed. Australian government should have filed charges in the International Criminal Court. But I guess Australian governments love for oil and desperation to appease Suharto was much more valuable then the lives of its citizens.

Australian governments saw good relations and stability in Indonesia as providing an important security buffer to Australia’s north. Nevertheless, Australia provided important sanctuary to East Timorese independence advocates like José Ramos Horta who based himself in Australia during his exile. The fall of Indonesian President Suharto caused a shift in Australian policy by the Howard Gobernment in 1998 and helped precipitate a proposal for a referendum on the question of independence for East Timor. In late 1998, the Australian government drafted a letter to Indonesia setting out a change in Australian policy, suggesting that East Timor be given a chance to vote on independence within a decade. 

The letter upset Indonesian President B.J.Habibie, who saw it as implying Indonesia was a “colonial power” and he decided to announce a snap referendum. A UN controlled referendum held in 1999 showed overwhelming approval for independence, but was followed by violent clashes and a security crisis, instigated by anti-independence militia. Australia then led a United Nations backed International Peace keeping Force to East Timor to end the violence and soon order was restored. While the intervention was ultimately successful, Australian-Indonesian relations would take several years to recover.

United Kingdom’s Involvement in the East Timor Crisis

British involvement in the East Timorian crisis was much like United States of America’s involvement. Britain primarily supplied huge amounts of military weapons to the Indonesian Armed Forces. This trade of arms with Indonesia began under the Government of James Callaghan in 1976. Under Callaghan the trade agreement was limited to Indonesian Officer’s training at British Military Bases in UK. But this weapons trade between UK and Indonesia increased exponentially after Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister in 1979.

In April 1978, Indonesia, seeking to increase its aerial capabilities, placed the first of multiple orders for the Hawk. The Indonesian Air Force received more than 40 Hawks in the 1980s and 1990s. In June 1991, BAe and Indonesian Aerospace (IPTN) signed an major agreement for collaborative production of the Hawk, and more orders of the Hawk were anticipated. Further Hawk exports were eventually blocked due to concerns over Indonesian human rights, particularly in East Timor.

During the Government of Margaret Thatcher, Britain became biggest seller of weapons and arms to Indonesia. Everything from guidance systems, radars, combat aircraft, Precision Guided Missiles, Training systems, Heavy Load Vehicles, Transport Aircrafts to trainer aircrafts were being supplied to Indonesia. In the year 1987, record number of companies sold equipments to Indonesia. Some of these companies were Ferranti Defense Systems, Marconi Systems, British Aerospace, Northrop Grumman, Pilatus Britten Norman, Racal Communications, ALVIS, Plessey Radar, Target Technologies, Rolls Royce, Lucas Aerospace, Short Brothers, Royal Ordinances, Weston Simfire, Irvin Great Britain, Land Rover, Dunlop Holdings, Solartron Simulation Systems, Dunlop GRG Division, Louis Newmark Ltd, Decca Radar and Racal Avionics.

Britain’s Minister for Trade and later Minister for Defence Procurement Alan Clark was overseeing the sale of weapons to Indonesia throughout the 1986-1992. He repeatedly faced public opposition for selling weapons to a country which was engaged in human right abuses. But these things just didn’t bother Clark, he was a cold hearted materialist and human suffering never bothered him in the least.

In 1996, Alan Clark was interviewed by renowned investigative Journalist John Pilger for his documentary “East Timor: Death of a nation“. Pilger asked Clark,

JOHN PILGER: “Did it bother you personally that you were causing such mayhem and human        suffering (by supplying arms for Indonesian war in East Timor)?”

ALAN CLARK“No, not in the slightest, it never entered my head.”

JOHN PILGER“I ask the question because I read you are a vegetarian and you are quite seriously concerned about the way animals are killed.”


JOHN PILGER“Doesn’t that concern extend to the way humans, albeit foreigners, are killed?”

ALAN CLARK“Curiously not. No.”

These were the kinds of individuals who were making important decisions and policies that affected lives of millions and millions of people all over the world. When in 1992, Margaret Thatcher was forced to resign, Alan Clark also left the politics. After Margaret Thatcher’s resignation, John Major became the new Prime Minister of Britain. With John Major came even bigger weapons trade agreement between Britain and Indonesia. In 1993, Suharto placed an order for 100 BAe Hawk multirole aircrafts. With the first delivery of 10 Hawks, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Douglas Hurd personally visited Indonesia and as a goodwill jesture gave Suharto soft loan worth £65 million. This money was loaned to Indonesia in form of Ammunitions and weaponry. 

Beginning in May 1997, Britain spent £1m on training Indonesia’s military. 24 senior members of the Indonesian armed forces were trained in UK military colleges and 29 Indonesian officers studied at non-military establishments. By the year 1999, Indonesia had entered the 25th Year of its occupation of East Timor. And throughout these 25 years, Indonesia had murdered between 2-2.5 million people. And there is no way in hell that Suharto regime could have done so much damage on their own, had Americans and Britishers not supported them wholeheartedly by supplying them with devastating weapons.


Throughout the period of Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Indonesian President Suharto maintained an ironclad grip over East Timor. No media personnel were allowed in East Timur regardless of whether they were foreign or local. By sealing off East Timor from the rest of the world, much of attrocities committed by Indonesia remained a secret. By making propaganda movies, Suharto regime had even fooled the Indonesian people. Majority of the Indonesians were told and hence they believed that East Timorians love the idea of merging with Indonesia. They honestly believed that the majority of the East Timorian population were demanding unification with Indonesia in 1975, but their corrupt leaders especially FRETILIN opposed unification with Indonesia. So they started committing atrocities on pro-unification supporters. And to stop this violence from spreading to other parts of East Timor, Suharto sent his soldiers to protect the people of East Timor.

So whenever they heard of Indonesian troops committing attrocities in East Timor, they assumed that FRETILIN guerrillas disguised as Indonesian soldiers were committing these crimes and to demonise the Indonesian soldiers. At the propaganda techniques used by Indonesian authorities on their own civilians worked so perfectly that some people even today believe that East Timorians just love Indonesia.

Eventually with the rise in crimes committed by Indonesian forces in East Timor, more and more news started to leak out. With the arrival of 90s came an technological evolution that changed the way news media worked forever. In the 70s and 80s nobody knew what was happening half way around the world, but with the emergence of global media grid, in the 90s everybody knew about everything happening anywhere. And this blew the cover off the crimes Indonesia was committing in East Timor. Especially the incident at Santa Cruz which later came to be knows as Santa Cruz massacre. The images of this gruesome massacre revealed the truth about Indonesian army’s crimes in East Timor.

Even in countries like Australia, America and Britain who had been supporters of Indonesian policy in East Timor, civilians started rising up against their respective leaders demanding a change of policy regarding East Timor issue. First Nation to backtrack because of public pressure was Australia. In 1998, new Australian PM John Howard sent an official letter to Jakarta notifying the leadership that Australia has changed its policy regarding East Timor comprehensively and will no longer consider East Timor as a part of Indonesia. Portugal had been carrying on the torch of justice for East Timor alone for last 25 years but now they got a new ally in Australia. By this time President Suharto had also been removed from power. Now the new President of Indonesia was former Defence Minister Habibie. Australian PM and Portugal’s President asked Habibie to free East Timor. This enraged Habibie because this implied that Indonesia was like an imperialist power who had made East Timor its colony. 

In a fit of rage, Habibie asked UN to conduct a referendum in East Timor to answer the question of East Timor for once and for all. Habibie like millions of Indonesians also falsely believed that East Timorians wanted unification with Indonesia. His advisors tried to persuade him to delay the referendum otherwise this referendum will become a matter of big humiliation for Indonesia, but Habibie was convinced that East Timorians would vote for unification with Indonesia because like many Indonesians he was also fooled by Suharto’s propaganda.


Several Pro-unification groups in East Timor threatened people of East Timor that if anybody went to vote on the day of referendum, then that person won’t see another day. Others warned about a river of blood flowing through streets of Dilli if people voted for independence rather than unification with Indonesia. There was reasonable fear in minds of peace activists that terrorised by the threats of militias, majority of people won’t cast their votes. But all their fears disappeared on the day of the vote, 30 August 1999, was generally calm and orderly. 98.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and on 4 September UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced that 78.5 percent of the votes had been cast for independence. Brought up on the “New Order”‘s insistence that the East Timorese supported integration, Indonesians were either shocked by, or disbelieved that the East Timorese had voted against being part of Indonesia.

Many accepted media stories blaming the supervising United Nations and Australia who had pressured Habibie for a resolution. It was beyond belief for Indonesians who had all these years believed that the stories of mass killings coming out of East Timor were mere accusations of leftist groups who didn’t wanted East Timor to unify with Indonesia. So they were ready to believe any stupid theory but not the truth.

Within hours of the results, paramilitary groups had begun attacking people and setting fires around the capital Dili. Foreign journalists and election observers fled, and tens of thousands of East Timorese took to the mountains. Islamic gangs attacked Dili’s Catholic Diocese building, killing two dozen people. On the next day, the headquarters of the ICRC was attacked and burned to the ground. Almost one hundred people were killed later in Suai, and reports of similar massacres poured in from around East Timor. The UN withdrew most of its personnel, but the Dili compound had been flooded with refugees. Four UN workers refused to evacuate unless the refugees were withdrawn as well, insisting they would rather die at the hands of the paramilitary groups. At the same time, Indonesian troops and paramilitary gangs forced over 200,000 people into West a Timor, into camps described by Human Rights Watch as “deplorable conditions”.

When a UN delegation arrived in Jakarta on 8 September, they were told by Indonesian President Habibie that reports of bloodshed in East Timor were “fantasies” and “lies”. General Wiranto of the Indonesian military insisted that his soldiers had the situation under control and that no outside help was required.


The violence was met with widespread public anger in Australia, Portugal and elsewhere and activists in Portugal, Australia, the United States and other nations pressured their governments to take action. Australian PM John Howard consulted United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and lobbied US President Bill Clinton to support an Australian led international peace keeper force to enter East Timor to end the violence. The United States offered crucial logistical and intelligence resources and an “over-horizon” deterrent presence, but did not commit forces to the operation because they feared this would strain relations between US and Indonesia.

Indonesia’s President Habibie was very fearful of UN Sanctions. Indonesia was already going through a time of economic recession and was completely dependent on the revenues from foreign trade. So already being in dire economic straits, Indonesia relented and President Habibie announced that Indonesian troops will withdraw from East Timor within a fortnight and allow Australian led UN Peacekeeping Force to enter East Timor.



On 15 September 1999, the United Nations Security Council expressed concern at the deteriorating situation in East Timor, and issued UNSC Resolution 1264, calling for a multinational force to restore peace and security to East Timor, to protect and support the United Nations mission there, and to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations until such time as a United Nations peacekeeping force could be approved and deployed in the area.

The International Force for East Timor or INTERFET, under the command of Australian Major General Peters Cosgrove, entered Dili on 20 September and by 31 October the last Indonesian troops had left East Timor. The arrival of thousands of international troops in East Timor caused the militia to flee across the border into Indonesia, from whence sporadic cross-border raids by the militia against INTERFET forces were conducted.

The United Nations Transitional Administration of East Timor (UNTAET) was established at the end of October and administered the region for two years. Control of the nation was turned over to Government of East Timor and independence was declared on 20 May 2002. On 27 September of the same year, East Timor joined the United Nations as its 191st member state. The bulk of the military forces of INTERFET were Australian—more than 5,500 troops at its peak, including an infantry brigade, with armoured and aviation support—while eventually 22 nations contributed to the force which at its height numbered over 11,000 troops.

Australian troops really helped in rebirth if East Timor as a free nation. During a terbulent time when people of East Timor were living in fear, Australian Soldiers provided them security and self confidence to step into this new era of independence and sovereignty.


Precise estimates of the death toll are difficult to determine. The 2005 report of the UN’s Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconcilliation in East Timor(CAVR) reports an estimated minimum number of conflict-related deaths of 120,000. Of these, the report says that approximately 36,000 were either killed or disappeared, and that approximately 84,000 died from hunger or illness in excess of what would have been expected due to peacetime mortality. These figures represent a minimum conservative estimate that CAVR says is its scientifically-based principal finding. The report did not provide an upper bound, however, CAVR speculated that the total number of deaths due to conflict-related hunger and illness could have been as high as 183,000. The truth commission held Indonesian forces responsible for about 70% of the violent killings

Researcher Ben Kiernan says that “a toll of 150,000 is likely close to the truth,” although one can throw out an estimate of 200,000 or higher. The Center for Defence Information also estimated a total close to 150,000. A 1974 Catholic church estimate of the population of East Timor was 688,711 people. Buy in 1982 the church reported only 425,000. This led to an estimate of 200,000 people killed during the occupation, which was widely reported around the world. Other sources such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also support an estimate of over 200,000 killed.

According to specialist Gabriel Defert on the basis of statistical data available from the Portuguese and Indonesian authorities, and from the Catholic Church, between December 1975 and December 1981, approximately 308,000 Timorese lost their lives, this constituted about 44% of the pre-invasion population. Similarly Indonesian Professor George Aditjondro, formerly of Salatiga University in Java, concluded from his study of Indonesian Army data that in fact 300,000 Timorese had been killed in the early years of the occupation.

Kiernan, starting from a base population of 700,000 Timorese in 1975 (based on the 1974 Catholic Church census) calculated an expected 1980 population of 735,000 Timorese (assuming a growth rate of only 1% per year as a result of the occupation). Kiernan concluded that as many as 180,000 may have died in the war.

Many observers have called the Indonesian military action in East Timor an example of genocide. In a study of the word’s legal meaning and applicability to the occupation of East Timor, legal scholar Ben Saul concludes that because no group recognised under international law was targeted by the Indonesian authorities, a charge of genocide cannot be applied. However, he also notes: “The conflict in East Timor most accurately qualifies as genocide against a ‘political group’, or alternatively as ‘cultural genocide’, yet neither of these concepts are explicitly recognised in international law.” The occupation has been compared to the killings of the Khmer Rouge, the Yugoslav wars and the Rwandan Genocide.

According to Amnesty International as many as 20,000 young women and girls were forcefully sterilised under threats of killing their families. 1200 Foreigners were also killed during the years between 1975-99. Majority of these 1200 foreigners were Red Cross volunteers, Australian activists and volunteers working for a number of NGOs and International journalists and reporters.

UN also created an organisation for East Timor to search for mass graves and excavate the bodies and then by DNA testing help people to bury their loved ones. As of 2012, more than 3,000 mass grave sites have been discovered containing from as few as one victim to the largest mass grave containing more than 1000 bodies.

Accurate numbers of Indonesian casualties are not known, however, some estimate up to 10,000 Indonesian troops died during the 1976–80 period. Rummel estimates that 10–15,000 Indonesians died in the war. The complete names of around 2,300 Indonesian soldiers and pro-Indonesian militias killed during the entire occupation is engraved into the Seroja Monument located in Armed Forces Headquarters in Cilangkap, south of Jakarta. But in comparison to the East Timorians killed during the occupation these numbers are minuscule.

In 2001, Former President of Indonesia Suharto stated that had US President Gerald Ford and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, not given their consent for the invasion, there is no way he would have gone ahead with the invasion. He further revealed that Indonesia in mid 70s was totally dependent on US for military weapons and financial aid, Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger were well aware of it that is why they not only gave their consent for the invasion but even enticed him to do so by offering him large caches of weapons for use in the invasion.