Referendum in East Timor - Massive vote against Indonesian occupation challenged by militias and military

The overwhelming majority of the Timorese population voted in a UN sponsored referendum to end the 25 year long Indonesian military occupation. They rejected the proposal of " autonomy ". This occupation, backed by US imperialism, which started just after the Portuguese revolution was probably one of the most brutal in recent history.

The overwhelming majority of the Timorese population voted in a UN sponsored referendum to end the 25 year long Indonesian military occupation. They rejected the proposal of " autonomy " (similar to that of the capital Jakarta or Aceh, where since 1980 more than 1000 people lost their lives at the hands of the military who dominate the area). This occupation, backed by US imperialism, which started just after the Portuguese revolution was probably one of the most brutal in recent history. At that time imperialism feared the formation of a new little Cuba in the Pacific, when, after the Portuguese left the island a "Marxist" liberation front (Fretilin) was ready to take over power. One third of the local population, 200,000 men and women, have been exterminated by repression and famine. Life expectancy has been reduced to 46.6 years for men and 48.4 years for women. In Indonesia those same figures are respectively 63.3 for men and 67 for women. The island has probably one of the highest infant mortality rates: 235 babies die out of every 1000 new born children.

However, the joy and the jubilation after the referendum result was very short-lived as pro-integration militias, composed of gangsters, lumpen elements and members of the Indonesian military special forces are now running amok all over the island. Those anti-independence forces set up rapidly after the agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations earlier this year to hold a vote on a new autonomous status or independence. The paramilitary groups are tools in the hands of the Indonesian Army, the local civilian bureaucracy and the Jakarta oligarchy (including the Suharto family and cronies).

The strategic importance of East-Timor

Indeed there are big economic interests at stake in East Timor. The surrounding sea bed of 35,000 square kilometres is believed to be potentially rich in oil and gas. An agreement, that came into force in 1991, divides the area between Indonesia and Australia. The contracts awarded so far, involve Mobil, BHP, Woodside, Shell, Phillips, Boral Energy, Marathon and Enterprise. The pearl-diving industry and the rich forests are also very lucrative. More than 500,000 acres of land are property of the Suharto family. The military are part of this business.

The secession of Indonesia's 27th province would incite other restive provinces to also break away. This is the case with Aceh in North Sumatra and Irian Jaya (West Papua). In both hotspots the local population is treated as second class citizens. In West Papua tribal lands are invaded by developers and transmigrants. The natural resources are plundered by Jakarta. The central island, Java, which has no natural resources is getting its income from the richer outer islands. That explains why the forces of internal political fragmentation are also coming to the surface in other areas of the 13,000 island archipelago with its 300 different ethnic groups and 365 languages. The loosening of the central grip as a result of the end of the Suharto dictatorship is undermining the centralised state built on the basis of the long independence struggle against Dutch colonialism and Japanese occupation.

It is clear that the militias are not a spontaneous expression of a "divided public opinion". Those forces, had the aim to create a climate of fear to "convince" Timorese people of the benefits of so-called autonomy and systematically kill independence activists. By doing this they hoped to undermine the holding of the promised referendum. But they failed to terrorise the population away from the ballot box.

New genocide and partition are under way

The actual outburst of militia violence is not just the result of frustration or a payback action against those who voted to leave Indonesia but it is part of a well-established plan to make the implementation of the independence of East Timor impossible. Their objective is to provoke a massive stream of refugees, to empty the pro-independence neighbourhoods, to force deportation of big parts of the population and impose itself as a "political force" in future negotiations. Eurico Gutiver, leader of the Aitarak militia puts it this way: "there is still the problem of the 21%. The number of people who voted for autonomy under Indonesian rule". A new de facto partition of the island is under way. A territorial division of East Timor corresponding to "oil rich" and "oil poor" areas .is being prepared. (see Georges Atidjondro, 'The Economic interests behind the pro-integration militias')

Habibie, the Indonesian President, who signed the agreement for this referendum, hoped to restore the image of the Indonesian regime and get easy access to highly needed international funds. His move was also motivated by the move to the right of the Independence movement leaders like Xanana Gusmao who traded Marxist rhetoric for market economics. There was no longer the threat of a socialist beacon on its eastern flank. The imperialist (Australia, United States) interests would no be under threat if some sort of " independence " was agreed upon. Indeed a capitalist East Timor will be just a puppet in the hands of Indonesian, US and Australian imperialism.

It is clear however that Jakarta has a double agenda for East Timor. In any event it does not want to set a precedent leading to the disintegration of Indonesia and abandon its interests. The United Nations' role in East Timor is that of apprentice sorcerer. Having roused the hopes of the Timorese to gain independence now they abandon them to the axes, the knives, the arrows and the guns of the combined reaction of the Indonesian Army and the militias. The BBC correspondent in Dili, the capital, commented that after the referendum and the beginning of the rampage "the last signs of Western involvement in the territory are diminishing".

Unites Nations betray hopes of masses

The moderate pro-independence leader Jose Ramos Horta made a painful comment on the role of so-called international community: "too many promises have been made and they have all been broken". The calls for the Indonesian military to re-establish order and disarm the militias made by the United Nations are ridiculous. A shepherd who would ask the fox to guard the sheep would be declared to be mad. The military are the mentors of the militias. The militias are just the extension of the military arm and its policy. The calls for an international military intervention are having no echo. Jakarta refuses this option as long as the parliament, due to convene in November (!!!), does not ratify the result of the referendum. Meanwhile everything will be put in place to sabotage the independence of East Timor. Megawati who is the possible new president and who has the support of a big part of the army has declared she is "very sad" at the result of the referendum. But she promised to respect the outcome. She will respect the result in the same way as the Gommander-in-Chief Wiranto and Habibie respect it.

The illusions which existed in the Timor independence movement in a negotiated settlement under the umbrella of the UN are under severe pressure. Some left groups in the movement are accusing the UN of betrayal. A more meticulous analysis of the nature, role and history of the United Nations will reveal that it is only the fatal illusions of the Independence leaders that have been betrayed. The UN is weak inter-imperialist alliance only capable of solving secondary questions amongst its members. The internal divisions between its main national members reflects different strategic agendas for the area. Australia which has made an about turn in its Foreign policy towards East Timor (it recognised the occupation of the island in the '70s) will only move troops with the authorisation of Indonesia. The US will not go too far in putting pressure on Indonesia. Meanwhile as a result of the political disorientation the independence activists are left with no instructions other than to go on hiding in the mountains and the churches. A few months ago Xanana Gusmao criticised young independence fighters for organising the fightback against the militias. He advised them to stay away and rely on the international community. Against the savagery of the militiamen and the army they can only rely on their own forces and set up self defence units. Leftward moving youth will have to learn from this very hard school of defeat and betrayal.

The way to freedom from military oppression in East Timor and real self- determination (social, political and economic) lies in the combined struggle with the Indonesian workers and peasants on the other islands against the Jakarta oligarchy and military apparatus. We must not forget that the May uprising last year was followed by the biggest demonstrations in years in the cities of East-Timor. Only this joint power can defeat the national and social oppression in the whole of the archipelago. The Indonesian left, the PRD, the student, workers' and peasants' movement has the duty to defend the right of self determination of East Timor and the result of the vote of the 30th August. But it must also understand that the national oppression in Indonesia is rooted in the capitalist structure of the economic relations. There cannot be national oppression without capitalism. And vice versa. The South East Asian prison-house of peoples of "united Indonesia" must be replaced by a voluntary Democratic and Socialist federation of Indonesia. In that context alone the right of self determination can be realised. It is on the basis of changed property and social relations (this means the abolition of private property of the means of production and imperialist relations- the setting up of a nationalised democratically controlled economy and a plan of production) that harmonious and equal national relations can be built . In this way the very rich natural resources of the region can be used to the benefit, development and cultural advancement of the downtrodden. National emancipation can only go hand in hand with social emancipation . They can not be separated.

Jean Duval
6th September 1999

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