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East Timor

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UN officials in East Timor pleaded with the Indonesian military today to protect them, one day after militias armed and backed by Indonesia besieged the UN compound in Dili, killing at least two people. The Indonesian military and police have so far stood by and let the militias wage a campaign of terror against the East Timorese population, particularly targeting those who support self-determination for East Timor. [includes rush transcript]

Meanwhile, thousands of East Timorese are leaving the capital to avoid being targeted by more violence. There is word on the street that there will soon be a wave of assaults by the militias against people who voted for independence from Indonesia in Monday’s historic referendum. The vote count will take place this weekend, and the results are expected to favor independence. The pro-Indonesia militias have promised a bloodbath if this happens.

Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council met in private to discuss the violence, and afterwards the president of the council talked to the media. We also go to Dili, East Timor for the latest update on the violence.


  • Peter Van Walsum, President of the United National Security Council
  • Peter Burleigh, outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Sir John Weston, British ambassador to the United Nations


  • Allan Nairn, freelance journalist.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we have been doing for the last few days now, we go first to Dili, East Timor. Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council held a private meeting to discuss the situation of the violence in East Timor. As we reported yesterday morning, militias sponsored by the Indonesian regime laid siege to the UN compound in Dili, East Timor. It looks like two people have died so far as a result of that. It was serious business at the United Nations yesterday as the Security Council met, and after a few hours the new president of the Security Council — it switches the first of every month; it was Namibia, now the president of — now the Netherland’s ambassador is the president of the Security Council — came out and made this statement.

    PETER VAN WALSUM: Council members welcomed the smooth conduct of the popular consultation on the 30th of August. They condemned, however, in the strongest terms, the violence in Dili that has taken place since. They underlined the need for the popular consultation process and its follow-up to be completed in an atmosphere of peace and security without further violence. They demanded that the local authorities in East Timor take steps to arrest those responsible for the violence and bring them to justice. They demanded also that the Indonesian government take immediate steps to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future, in compliance with its responsibility for maintaining peace and security as set out in the 5th of May agreement and that it guaranteed the security of UNAMET personnel and premises. That is the statement.

AMY GOODMAN: A reporter then asked about the possibility if a UN peacekeeping force being moved in. The UN Security Council president:

    PETER VAN WALSUM: I would be dishonest if I would say that the word wasn’t mentioned, but we decided not to go into that.

AMY GOODMAN: Just before the UN Security Council president, the ambassador from the Netherlands, read that statement, I caught up with the US ambassador to the United Nations, who will just be that for a few days more now. He is Peter Burleigh.

    AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Burleigh, would the US recommend an arms embargo against Indonesia, given the violence that they’re sponsoring in East Timor right now?

    PETER BURLEIGH: I wouldn’t have any comment on that. We’re looking for the Indonesians to live up to their responsibilities in East Timor. Under the May 5 agreement, we expect they will. We’ve had reassurances of this again.

    AMY GOODMAN: Has the US pushed for condemnation of the Indonesian-sponsored violence?

    PETER BURLEIGH: What do you mean?

    AMY GOODMAN: A resolution, a Security Council resolution, as opposed to just a press statement.


    AMY GOODMAN: Why not?

    PETER BURLEIGH: There’s a State Department announcement of our position that was just issued at 1:00. You might want to refer to that.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why not support a Security Council resolution?

    PETER BURLEIGH: Because we want to see this process continue as smoothly as possible in East Timor to its logical conclusion, and to do that, there has to be the enthusiastic cooperation of the government of Indonesia. They play a critical role in this entire process. And we’re counting on them to live up to their agreement and their responsibility. That’s all.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the US ambassador to the United Nations, Peter Burleigh. I also got a chance to ask the British ambassador to the United Nations about the situation.

    AMY GOODMAN: This didn’t even condemn the Indonesian government for the violence. It just says condemning violence in East Timor.

    SIR JOHN WESTON: Condemn the violence, correct.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why not condemn the Indonesian government for the violence?

    SIR JOHN WESTON: Because they weren’t responsible for the violence. The militia were mainly responsible for the violence. And that violence has been condemned, because be want to encourage the Indonesians to take their full responsibility for the security situation. And that means continuing the relationship with the Indonesian government.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying that it’s not believed that the Indonesian regime is behind the militia violence?

    SIR JOHN WESTON: I don’t think there was a political decision to support that violence, no.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the British ambassador to the United Nations yesterday, following Peter Burleigh, the US ambassador to the UN, after the UN Security Council met privately to discuss the issue of the violence in East Timor. We now go directly to the territory, to Dili, the capital, where journalist Allan Nairn is standing by.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Allan.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you respond to the UN Security Council yesterday just issuing a press statement, which is less than a presidential statement of the UN Security Council and certainly less than a Security Council resolution, condemning the violence in East Timor, and then the response of the US ambassador on the issue of would they ever sponsor a — push for an arms embargo against Indonesia, and the British ambassador saying that he doesn’t think that the Indonesian regime is behind the militia violence?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the Security Council is basically at the mercy of the US and Britain, which are the two principal military sponsors of the Indonesian army. Right now, Britain has completed a shipment of Hawk fighter planes into Indonesia. Those planes were used recently to buzz Dili and to buzz the Timor countryside, causing great fear among the population. The US, the number one backer of the Indonesian military, has basically supplied the rest of the air force, the F-16s, the A-4s, the OV-10 Broncos that they used to drop napalm and bomb people down from the hills during the height of the genocide. And even today, after the cutbacks imposed by the public and Congress, the US is still shipping in ammunition and weapons, even as it condemns the terror. And since the US and Britain have veto power, the rest of the Security Council in this case is pretty much at their mercy.

One of the officials made a call, or the statement made a call to arrest those responsible for the violence and bring them to justice. If they really mean that, they would be calling on the local police, the local Indonesian occupation police in Timor, to fly to Jakarta and arrest General Wiranto, who is their commander-in-chief. That’s not likely. They also call on the Indonesian government to prevent a recurrence of violence in the territory. The implication is — and the way a lot of the press covers it is — that that would mean they’d start enforcing the laws, but it gets very twisted when you think about it, because they’re the perpetrators, and what are they supposed to do? Are they supposed to arrest themselves?

The most outrageous statement was that from the British ambassador, where he said the Indonesian military was not responsible for the violence, the militias were responsible for the violence. Well, every serious observer on the ground in Timor, including all of the UN people I’ve spoken to, and this includes US and Australian and other military advisers, all state the obvious, that the Indonesian military runs the militias. What he said, what the British ambassador said, is kind of like saying, “I wasn’t responsible for the killing. It was my hand that pulled the trigger. So don’t blame me. It was my hand that did it.”

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, what do you think the UN could do most effectively right now to stop the violence?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, what the UN could do, but which is politically impossible because of the role that the US and the other Western powers hold in the UN, would be to condemn the Indonesian government for supporting the terror in Timor and to condemn the US and Britain and Australia and the others for supporting the Indonesian government militarily. That would be the most effective action, and they could threaten something like — you know, like the arms embargos that the US has occasionally imposed against governments. That would be the most logical solution to the problem. But they can’t do that politically.

Instead, what’s happening right now in Timor is that — the reports today are that thousands of new police and Indonesian military will be brought in, ostensibly to control the militia violence. As a friend here said, that’s like calling in the fire brigade to put out the fire using gasoline instead of water. They’re the perpetrators; they’re not the enforcers.

AMY GOODMAN: What has happened in the last day since we spoke twenty-four hours ago? At that time, militias had laid siege to the UN compound. You had been there and then gone to the Motael clinic, where a young man died who had been killed by the militias. What’s happened since then?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the militia attacks have continued today. They were the Aitarak militia, which is based right across the street at the old Tropical Hotel from an Indonesian military base. They were up in the hills over the neighborhood of Bacora and were firing down into the market area. And some Aitarak also reportedly went into the Turismo Hotel, where a lot of journalists stay, and they were strutting around with weapons and threatening the journalists. And that’s just what I happen to know of what happened in Dili today.

It’s quite likely that much more was going on out in the countryside. Just tonight, I got a very — extremely well-documented report of plans that were made a couple of days ago by Kopassus and a local militia in one rural area to stage an attack on some foreign observers. The attack didn’t come off, because as it happened, the observers changed their logistical plans. But that’s the way it is in the rural areas. And, of course, it’s much worse for the Timorese than the foreigners. In fact, yesterday one Australian delegation visitor said that it appears that the number of Timorese refugees, which was earlier put at 60,000 refugees from the militia violence, has probably increased in recent days.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we have news of wire reports that thousands of Timorese are trying to flee East Timor. Is that the case?

ALLAN NAIRN: That’s not clear if thousands of Timorese are really trying to flee. I actually doubt that. What is happening, though, is that the Indonesian government is flying in military planes to fly out at least many hundreds of Indonesian professionals and civil servants who’ve been manning the infrastructure for the occupation in Timor. That’s consistent with the plans that Jakarta has for ballot defeat, plans that were laid out in a confidential memo, leaked confidential memo from the office of General Fisal Tanjung. He’s the politics and security minister. He has the job of whipping the various civilian ministries in Indonesia into line with army policy. And they talked about a mass evacuation of Timor, which would involve them stripping all Indonesian assets from the territory. They had earlier talked about things like shutting down banks, removing generators, removing electric wires, things like that, and also even destroying installations on their way out of Timor. That’s what the Tanjung memo talked about. And the evacuation now of Indonesian personnel on planes could be the beginning of that kind of move.

Dr. Dan Murphy, the American doctor who was serving the Timorese here until he was thrown out by the occupation forces, had expressed great concern about that, saying that there’s already this terrible shortage of doctors and medical care in Timor, and if the few Indonesian civilian doctors who are here are now pulled out, the situation will get even worse.

There were some Timorese, as we talked about yesterday, who were prevented the day before yesterday from leaving at the airport. And in today’s Jakarta Post, there is this remarkable quote from an Indonesian police official. His name is Captain Widodo D.S. And he says — this is in the context of the discussion of the Aitarak’s blocking Timorese from leaving and other Aitarak attacks — he says, according to the Post, “The militia movement is understandable and conducted under police supervision. They just want everybody to remain in East Timor so they can share in the burden of finding a settlement to their internal matters.” And he also added, but we have to persuade them — “but we have persuaded them not to act excessively.” So, here is the police official acknowledging that the militias are acting under police supervision and that they have already brought them to a level of terror that, in the police view, is not excessive.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, speaking to us from Dili, East Timor, in this few days after the historic referendum that took place on August 30th. Ninety-nine percent of the Timorese population came out to vote on whether their country should become independent. We will continue to bring these daily updates from the island that has been occupied by Indonesia for the last twenty-four years. Under its rule, 200,000 Timorese, a third of the population, has died.

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