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It's Three Days to East Timor's Independence: We Travel Back in Time to the Historic Vote for Independence with Allan Nairn's On the Ground Reports

May 17, 2002


It’s three days until East Timor’s historic independence. Yesterday we took a look at the history of East Timor: from Indonesia’s invasion in 1975; to its quarter century of US supported occupation; to the military’s killing of 200,000 Timorese, a third of the population; and the November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz cemetery massacre, where Indonesian soldiers gunned down hundreds of Timorese. Today we move ahead to August and September 1999 when the people of East Timor voted in a historic UN sponsored referendum for their independence. After the vote, the Indonesian military burned East Timor to the ground.

We now know that the UN and the US knew from the start that the Indonesian military and the militias it created planned to sabotage East Timor’s referendum through terror and intimidation.

In 1999 Democracy Now! devoted extensive coverage to East Timor’s historic referendum process and Indonesia’s campaign of terror against the Timorese. We began on May 5, when I questioned UN secretary General Kofi Annan at the press conference announcing the UN agreement that gave Indonesia’s military killers responsibility for the security of the vote.

On August 30, 1999, the people of East Timor turned out in overwhelming numbers to vote for their independence, defying a systematic campaign of Indonesian terror. Journalist Allan Nairn was in the capitol of Dili through the August 30 vote and Indonesia’s destruction of East Timor in the days that followed. The Clinton Administration maintained its support for Indonesia’s armed forces until the very end, when the world’s attention and universal horror at Indonesia’s killing spree forced it to cut military ties. The following is a collection of some of Allan Nairn’s historic broadcasts.


  • Amy Goodman questioning Kofi Annan on May 5, 1999, the day he announced that an independence vote would be held in East Timor. She asks why the UN would allow the Indonesian military to provide security during the vote.
  • Selections from journalist Allan Nairn’s on the ground reporting in East Timor, from the historic vote, to the Indonesian military’s rampage through the country, to his arrest and imprisonment in an Indonesian jail.

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