The Future of East Timor: Major Current Issues

Research Paper 21 1998-99

Dr Frank Frost and Dr Adam Cobb
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group
24 May 1999


List of Maps

Indonesia Administrative Divisions
East Timor (pre 1975)

Major Terms/Acronyms

Major Issues Summary


Indonesia and East Timor in 1999


President Habibie's Policy Change on East Timor

The Armed Forces and East Timor

Indonesia and East Timor: Contending Pressures

Conflict within East Timor

Pro-Independence Groups

Pro-integration Groups

Conflict and Violence in 1999

Economic Conditions and Prospects

The Timor Gap Treaty

The 5 May 1999 Agreements on East Timor

The United Nations in East Timor: Issues and Prospects

I: Before the 8 August Ballot

II: After the 8 August Ballot

Australian Policy and Debate on East Timor

The Australia-Indonesia Talks, 27 April 1999



Major Terms/Acronyms


Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia-Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia


Timorese Popular Democratic Association


National Council of the Timorese Resistance


Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor


Forum Persatuan, Demokrasi dan Keadilan-Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice


Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor


Partai Amanat Nasional-National Mandate Party


Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan-Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle


Special Autonomous Region of East Timor


Timorese Democratic Union


United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor

Map of Indonesia

Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency Map no. (R02495) 5-98

Map of East Timor (pre 1975)

Source: James Dunn, Timor: A People Betrayed,Milton, 1983

Major Issues Summary

East Timor has been an important issue for both Indonesia and for Australia-Indonesia relations since 1975, when the collapse of Portugal's willingness to continue colonial rule (after the fall of the authoritarian Caetano regime in April 1974) was followed by an attempted declaration of independence in East Timor and then by invasion by Indonesia. Australia's interest in East Timor has reflected the legacy of contacts during World War Two (when Australian commandos operated against the Japanese with assistance from many East Timorese), and controversy over the manner of Indonesia's invasion, the deaths of five journalists working for Australian media in October 1975, and ongoing allegations of human rights and other abuses while East Timor has been incorporated as a part of Indonesia.

After 23 years of incorporation into Indonesia, the people of East Timor now have an opportunity to review the status of their territory. Agreements signed on 5 May 1999 between Indonesia, Portugal (the former colonial power) and the United Nations provide for a ballot on 8 August on a proposal for autonomy. If the autonomy proposal is rejected, the UN will assume authority in the territory and independence could soon follow. However a series of issues and problems in Indonesia and in East Timor itself could endanger the prospects for a peaceful ballot and a stable process of transition to either autonomy or independence.

The paper begins by providing some brief background to East Timor's current status and recent problems. The 'Dili massacre' in November 1991 brought renewed international attention to East Timor and the widespread unpopularity of Indonesian rule. The profound impact of the Asian financial crisis on Indonesia from late 1997 and the end of the Soeharto regime in May 1998 opened up new prospects for a review of East Timor's status.

On 27 January 1999, the Indonesian government led by President Habibie announced a revised official approach which would now accept the possibility of independence if the East Timorese people chose this path and their decision was endorsed by the Indonesian parliament. However, this announcement has not received full support either within civil or military circles. Several prominent opposition figures have reservations about the prospect of an independent East Timor and elements of the armed forces oppose it.

Indonesian policy-makers face some complex cross-pressures on the issue. For Indonesia, accepting the potential for independence could improve the country's international standing and save the considerable economic costs which incorporation has entailed. However, there are also major concerns that independence for East Timor could exacerbate regional dissension in other parts of Indonesia. In addition, some powerful individuals have some significant economic interests in the territory which they fear they might have to forfeit. Pursuing a clear policy approach will be difficult, especially during the period of transition to a more democratic political system this year.

Within East Timor, prospects for a review of the territory's status have been clouded by an upsurge of violence. The pro-independence groups have been challenged increasingly since late 1998 by pro-integration militia groups, many evidently fostered and supported by elements of the Indonesian armed forces. An upsurge of violence in April and early May has caused major concern. Economic conditions are also uncertain although if stability can be regained medium term prospects may be more favourable.

The paper provides a concise summary of the 5 May agreements and the proposal for autonomy for East Timor within Indonesia which is due be offered for decision on 8 August. Given the climate of uncertainty and violence, international support and assistance will be most important both in the period before the scheduled ballot and after the ballot takes place. The paper discusses the preparation being made for deployment of a UN mission and concerns which have been expressed about its likely size and capacities.

The final section of the paper then reviews recent Australian policies and debate. The Government has sought to provide advice and assistance to facilitate a decision-making process in East Timor. The Opposition has argued for a more assertive attempt to encourage an early deployment of a UN mission. with peacekeeping capacities. The talks between Australia and Indonesia in Bali on 27 April saw Australia commit itself to providing financial support for the planned ballot (Australia has agreed to fund about half the overall costs) and announce its support for Australian police officers to participate in the UN mission now being prepared.

The paper observes in conclusion that East Timor's prospects for a free and fair ballot to review its status depend on several inter-related issues and problems. They are, the potential for containment of violence within the territory, the capacity of Indonesia to pursue coherent policies at a time of profound political transition and the dilemma that the timing for the proposed ballot in East Timor places it right in the middle of this transition, after the 7 June parliamentary elections but before the selection of a new President (in November 1999).

If a stable environment cannot be fostered in the lead up to the ballot, there is clearly a real possibility that the opportunity which has now been created for a reassessment of East Timor's status could be compromised if not lost entirely. This would cause great damage both to East Timor and to Indonesia itself. While East Timor is only one of a number of major challenges with which Indonesia's leaders must attempt to deal, Indonesia's handling of East Timor is likely to be highly important to Indonesia's international image, credibility and capacity at a time when international support is an essential requirement for prospects for economic recovery and reform.


The profound impact of the Asian financial crisis, along with the end of the Soeharto era in May 1998, have opened up the possibility for change in East Timor. Indonesia's government led by President Habibie announced in January 1999 that Indonesia would be prepared to agree to the departure of East Timor from Indonesia if its people so desired. On 5 May 1999, agreements were reached between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations to provide for a ballot on 8 August on a proposal for 'special autonomy status' for East Timor. If this proposal is rejected, authority in the territory would revert to the United Nations and the way would be opened for possible independence.

For 23 years after its invasion in late 1975, the Indonesian government adhered firmly to the position that the territory was an integral part of Indonesia, as the country's 27th province. During this period, Indonesia's presence in East Timor was accompanied by continuing conflict and controversy, including allegations and evidence of human rights abuses by Indonesian forces (including the 'Dili massacre' in November 1991), both non-violent and armed resistance from many East Timorese, and extensive international criticism of Indonesia's policies. President Habibie's dramatic change in position has opened up new possibilities for alleviating the conflict in the territory, with the potential for major benefits for the people of East Timor and for Indonesia, if a peaceful and mutually-satisfactory process of transition can be pursued. Indonesia's period of rule, however, has left legacies of ongoing socio-economic and political divisions within East Timor which now threaten the potential for peaceful change.

The prospects for peaceful and productive change in East Timor depend on several major factors. Firstly there is the issue of whether a stable environment can be established among the parties on the ground in East Timor (both East Timorese and Indonesian) which will enable an orderly process of consultation of the people about the future of the territory to take place, in accordance with the 5 May agreements. Secondly, there is the question of whether the Indonesian government and the armed forces of Indonesia-at a time of economic crisis and profound political change as Indonesia moves towards its first open elections since 1955-can pursue and implement a constructive and consistent policy towards East Timor. Thirdly, there is the issue of whether international assistance, led by the United Nations, can be implemented effectively to facilitate a process of transition in East Timor.

Australia has a long term interest in the security and stability of Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country and Australia's neighbour. During the current regional economic crisis, Australia's interest in Indonesia has been underscored by its commitment of over $A1 billion to support the International Monetary Fund's assistance packages aimed at supporting revival and reform of the economy. Australia also has a major interest in seeing a process of peaceful transition occur in East Timor. Australia has expressed its willingness to assist in a process of transition and this assistance could potentially involve Australian support for, and participation in, peace keeping activities. While Australia's relations with Indonesia have been a central part of its foreign policy for more than forty years, Australia's policies towards both Indonesia and East Timor in the current circumstances must be seen as of its most important priorities in foreign relations overall.

This paper will review recent development and discuss some major issues facing Australia in its policies towards East Timor. The paper begins by reviewing the current internal situation in East Timor, the problems of conflict and violence and economic conditions and prospects. The 5 May agreements between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations are summarised and their implications assessed. The paper then reviews the challenges facing the United Nations in seeking to implement the 5 May agreements in East Timor, both in the period before the 8 August ballot and in the period after this ballot. Finally, the paper discusses the implications of recent developments for Australian policies towards East Timor and Indonesia.

Indonesia and East Timor in 1999


East Timor's recent history has been dominated by the problems the territory experienced when a long period of Portuguese colonial rule (since the 17th century) was followed by a period of instability when Portuguese rule ended after the ousting of the Caetano regime in Portugal in April 1974. West Timor had been a part of the territories ruled by the Dutch and had been brought to independence as a part of the Republic of Indonesia. In the context of the uncertain regional environment in the wake of the end of the war in Vietnam in April 1975, Indonesia's government and armed forces feared that an independent East Timor might be an unstable state possibly open to external influence. Indonesia invaded (in late 1975) and incorporated the territory (in July 1976).(1) Indonesia's incorporation was followed by internal conflict with the resistance movement Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor): the conflict and its impact overall is thought to have resulted in the loss of between 100 000 and 200 000 East Timorese lives.(2)

Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor was not recognised by the United Nations, which continued to consider Portugal as the legitimate authority in the territory. The majority of the international community also refused to recognise the incorporation, but about thirty countries extended recognition either directly or indirectly. Australia gave de facto recognition to Indonesia's rule in January 1978 and de jure recognition in February 1979.

The 'Dili massacre' in which over one hundred people were killed by Indonesian security forces on 12 November 1991 focussed heightened international attention to the situation in East Timor and the continuance of widespread opposition to Indonesia's presence. The Dili massacre proved to be a turning point in the conflict in three ways. Firstly, East Timor became more of a problem for Indonesia internationally and diplomatically and the international arm of the East Timorese resistance movement gained added international attention. Secondly, within East Timor while the guerilla-based resistance had become less important, a new generation of East Timorese participated in civil resistance. Thirdly, the internal security climate within the territory deteriorated and clashes occurred between East Timorese and recent immigrants from other parts of Indonesia. Indonesian attempts to deal with the internal unrest continued to attract international attention and criticism, for example when the resistance leader Jose 'Xanana' Gusmao was captured in 1992.

The impact on Indonesia of the Asian financial crisis from late 1997 and the resignation of President Soeharto in May 1998 ushered in a new period of change and uncertainty in Indonesia generally and also in East Timor.(3) In the new climate of Indonesian politics from May 1998 movement towards change in relation to East Timor increased-both within and outside Indonesia. In late June, three European ambassadors (from the United Kingdom, Austria and the Netherlands) visited East Timor and issued a report stating that there would be no lasting solution 'without a firm commitment to direct consultation' of the wishes of the East Timorese. In July, a resolution adopted by the United States Senate called for an internationally supervised referendum on East Timor and in October Congress voted to support a ban on the use of US-supplied weapons in the territory.(4) In December Prime Minister Howard wrote to President Habibie and advocated a revision in Indonesia's approach. While Australia maintained its recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty the Australian government now supported the concept of a substantial period of autonomy for East Timor which could be followed by an act of self determination. (5)

These external pressures for change were accompanied by developments within Indonesia. In June 1998, President Habibie announced that Indonesia would be willing to grant 'genuine autonomy' to East Timor and shortly afterwards thirty Timorese political prisoners were released. In July and August, the government announced some troop withdrawals from East Timor. On 4-5 August, preliminary agreement was reached between Indonesia and Portugal in New York on East Timor's proposed 'special autonomy' status in UN-sponsored tripartite talks involving UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.(6)

While the end of the Soeharto era has opened up the potential for change in Indonesia's policies towards East Timor, the issue of the territory's future has continued to be highly contentious for several related reasons. In January 1999 President Habibie declared his willingness to see East Timor attain independence if its people chose to reject an offer of autonomy. However it has become clear that there has been substantial resistance to this change in policy, both within the ranks of the Indonesian government and armed forces and among some principal opposition figures. Within East Timor the prospect of possible change in the territory's status has heightened tensions between pro-independence supporters and pro-integration groups, including a series of armed militias. A series of violent clashes, many of which have been perpetrated by the pro-integrationist groups, have fostered a climate of fear and instability. Progress has been made in the talks between Portugal and Indonesia and an agreement on an autonomy proposal was reached on 5 May, but the prospects for a successful testing of opinion in East Timor have been placed in jeopardy by the ongoing violence. A United Nations monitoring and assistance group is now being deployed to East Timor, but uncertainties continue about its prospects for effective operations. Meanwhile socio-economic conditions in East Timor continue to be poor even if the medium term prospects, given a climate of stability, may be comparatively favourable.

President Habibie's Policy Change on East Timor

The most important catalyst for change in East Timor in 1999 was the policy change announced after a Cabinet meeting in late January. On 27 January the government announced that Indonesia would be prepared to consider granting independence to East Timor if its people rejected the planned offer of autonomy/special status within Indonesia. However, such a move would not take place until the People's Consultative Assembly convened after the 7 June elections.(7) The government at the same time offered to transfer the pro-independence leader Jose 'Xanana' Gusmao from Cipinang prison (in Jakarta) to a government compound in Jakarta. These developments were supported by the head of the armed forces and Defence Minister General Wiranto, who said on 28 January that the armed forces would respect a decision to allow East Timor to separate in a dignified manner if that was how matters progressed.(8)

This announced policy change was complicated by the process of political change underway in Indonesia and the accompanying limitations in the political authority of President Habibie. While the announcement on 27 January represented the views of President Habibie and his principal advisers it appears that his Cabinet was not united behind the policy change. In particular, Foreign Minister Ali Alatas has been reported to have been opposed to the granting of independence for East Timor.(9)

Other civilian leaders have also been uncertain and divided on the Timor issue. Among the major leadership contenders Amien Rais (leader of the National Mandate Party-Partai Amanat Nasional-PAN) has clearly supported the concept of independence for East Timor. However other prominent figures such as Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Sukarnoputri (leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle-Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan-PDI-P), while possibly prepared to accept a decision of the East Timorese to depart from Indonesia, have been critical of the Habibie government for pursuing the option of possible independence when they consider that government to be a transitional one. In early May, for example, the PDI-P vice chairman, Dimyati Hartono, said that the party would not accept the proposed ballot on East Timor's future planned for 8 August. He said that Dr Habibie, whom he regarded as a transitional leader, should not have tried to overturn the decision made by the parliament in 1976 which had incorporated East Timor into Indonesia.(10) On 14 May, Megawati reaffirmed her critical attitude towards the proposed ballot in East Timor, saying that, 'The problem of East Timor cannot be decided by Mr Habibie's Government because it does not have the legitimacy to do so'.(11) Megawati Sukarnoputri's views are significant because her party is considered likely to be a major presence in the new parliament after the 7 June elections. A critical attitude by the PDI-P towards the 8 August ballot could add further complexity to efforts to resolve the future status of East Timor.

The Armed Forces and East Timor

The attitudes to the East Timor issue within the armed forces (ABRI) are both highly important and complex. Indonesia's armed forces have played a central role in politics since their successful struggle to obtain independence from the Dutch. Under President Soeharto's 'New Order' regime the armed forces, as well as being responsible for national security, also had a major role in civil administration and in sectors of the economy. The impact of the financial crisis on Indonesian politics and the fall of the longstanding Soeharto regime have placed Indonesia's armed forces under great strain as Indonesia faces the uncertain prospect of a more open and democratic political environment and as the economic recession has affected adversely the armed forces' own business interests. In this situation it has been difficult to maintain the morale and internal cohesion of ABRI.(12) The military have also been disquieted by the outbreaks of conflict and violence in several areas of Indonesia, including Ambon and Aceh.

In March 1999, President Habibie's foreign policy adviser, Dr Dewi Fortuna Anwar, commented frankly about the military's problems. She warned that ABRI may have significant problems in maintaining effective internal lines of authority. Expressing concern that ABRI was at its 'weakest point', 'disorientated' and 'spread thin' around the country, she commented on recent riots in Ambon and elsewhere that:

if the armed forces and Indonesia's people as a whole fail to check these inter religious and inter ethnic conflicts, they may trigger more devastating social unrest in Indonesia. Hence there is an urgent need for the armed forces to put the situation under control effectively, for failing to do so would drive Indonesia to enter a stage of State failure, the cost of which would not only be unbearable for the country but for the region as a whole.(13)

In this difficult environment there have been differences among observers as to how best to interpret and explain ABRI's position and approach to the issue. Some observers have argued that there appear to be some divergent views within ABRI on East Timor. While some senior leaders may have been willing to accept the change in policy announced by President Habibie, other elements are thought to have opposed any policy change. As the Australian correspondent Mark Baker argued in late April '...powerful elements in ABRI...[are] trenchantly opposed to any move towards independence-elements who will not countenance a policy that repudiates the 1975 invasion and the lives of the 1500 soldiers lost securing and enforcing that control'.(14) Some ABRI elements have also gained economic benefits from business activities in East Timor, for example trade in timber, marble, and coffee as well as interests in tourism and hotels, which would be likely to be lost if East Timor gains independence. Some elements are therefore likely to strongly oppose independence and to have an interest in attempting to help block movement towards it.(15)

Other observers, however, have suggested that ABRI does have a coherent command structure and that the activities of the military in East Timor should be seen as being in line with the wishes of senior commanders. Peter Hartcher (Australian Financial Review) drawing on the arguments of Bob Lowry (an Australian specialist on Indonesia's armed forces) wrote that the army's objective is in fact clear. 'The army took East Timor in 1975, has held it by force and is not interested in relinquishing it... While President B. J. Habibie has decided to allow East Timor the option of independence, the army... has decided to subvert his Government's policies...'(16)

However their approach may be precisely interpreted, the attitudes of the armed forces are a central element in the challenges and dilemmas confronting Indonesia's leaders over East Timor.

Indonesia and East Timor: Contending Pressures

The issue of the status of East Timor obviously poses difficult issues for Indonesia's leaders. Given the complex process of political change in progress and the diversity of opinion within Indonesia's government, there is no concerted 'Indonesian position' on East Timor. There are in fact several complex issues and questions about East Timor running in parallel and which, it can be argued, may be seen as contending pressures.

Ever since incorporation in 1976, East Timor has been a major ongoing source of difficulty for Indonesian foreign policy. Promoting a process of political consultation and being willing to accept a rejection of the autonomy proposal can be seen as an opportunity for Indonesia to dispense with a substantial political and foreign policy 'problem' that had never been resolved.

However, the East Timor issue is now being considered in the midst of an economic crisis and a period of intense political strain in the form of a process of democratisation of the political system and substantial unrest and demands for devolution in several regions of Indonesia, including Irian Jaya, Ambon and Aceh.(17) The Indonesian government is attempting to ameliorate some of these issues by pursuing a process of administrative and financial devolution to the provinces, but this is necessarily a difficult process. There have clearly been substantial concerns among both civilian and military leaders in Indonesia that an acceptance of the legitimacy of a demand by East Timor for independence could have a 'demonstration effect' in other parts of Indonesia and thus make the maintenance of national unity more difficult. For some Indonesian leaders these issues may act as a pressure to oppose independence for East Timor.(18)

In relation to economic issues, contending pressures can also be seen. Indonesia has had to direct substantial economic resources to East Timor. It is estimated that the overall cost since 1975 of supporting the Indonesian government structures in East Timor have been at least $US750 million and the ongoing military conflict against Falintil (Armed Forces for the National Liberation of East Timor) has cost an estimated $US1 million per day.(19) An independent East Timor could obtain international assistance and thus the demands on Indonesian resources could be ended.

However while there could be substantial overall benefits to Indonesia from an acceptance of independence for East Timor, particular individuals and groups might stand to lose specific economic interests and benefits gained from continued integration with Indonesia. Dr George Aditjondro (University of Newcastle, Australia) has argued that a number of powerful civilian and military figures, including members of the family of former President Soeharto, have extensive economic interests in East Timor. These interests, he argues, include over 500 000 hectares of land including timber and sugar plantations, marble deposits, textiles, tourism and oil. Dr Aditjondro has written that 'They are holdings that CNRT, the umbrella organisation of the East Timorese resistance movement, has made it clear it would seize if Timor becomes an independent state.'(20)

Handling and endeavouring to resolve these contending pressures will pose major challenges for the current Habibie administration, the new parliament to be elected on 7 June and the new President due to be selected in November. Furthermore, these problems of developing a coherent policy at the national level have been accompanied by major problems of division and violence within East Timor itself.

Conflict within East Timor

Indonesia's invasion and incorporation of East Timor have produced legacies of conflict and division which now threaten prospects for a peaceful process of decision-making on the territory's future. The forces committed to independence have been increasingly challenged by parties and armed militias committed to continued integration, whose numbers and activities have expanded since late 1998 with, it is widely alleged, assistance from ABRI elements.

While historically there were at least three major contending political organisations (Fretilin, UDT and Apodeti), the political spectrum has recently essentially focussed on two major orientations, those in favour of and those against independence from Indonesia. The two main spokesman groups for and against independence respectively are the National Council of the Timorese Resistance (CNRT) and the Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice (Forum Persatuan, Demokrasi dan Keadilan-FPDK). Both are umbrella groups, representing a wide variety of actors and viewpoints, although the CNRT is clearly the most substantial grouping of the two. While the CNRT has gained prominence in the international media and is generally perceived to be representative of its diverse support base, it is currently unclear whether the Forum is representative, and whether there is a coherent policy position.

Pro-Independence Groups

Created in April 1998, the National Council of the Timorese Resistance (CNRT) combines several elements of the pro-independence movement-principally Fretilin which has been the leading movement in support of independence since the 1970s-with Jose 'Xanana' Gusmao as its President. Until his arrest in 1992, Xanana Gusmao led the East Timor guerilla resistance movement. Released from prison in January 1999 and transferred to house arrest in Jakarta by President Habibie, Xanana Gusmao has become the unofficial pro-independence leader. He is supported by Nobel prize-winner Jose Ramos Horta who acts in the role of 'unofficial foreign minister in exile' from his base in Portugal. In East Timor itself, the pro-independence movement is strongly associated with the Bishop of the very influential Catholic Church, Carlos Belo, who shared the Nobel Peace prize with Mr Horta in 1996.

The links between these three major figures are strong but informal as occasional contradictions that have appeared in comments by Mr Gusmao and Mr Horta on the issue of a UN presence in the territory demonstrate.(21) While Jose Ramos Horta has represented the East Timorese resistance movement to the world outside the territory for the past twenty five years, Xanana Gusmao was leading the armed resistance on the ground until his capture by ABRI in 1992. Since Mr Gusmao was allowed by the Indonesian government to meet with representatives of world governments, he has become the un-official leader of the pro-independence movement and is considered by many as a likely Presidential candidate in the event that East Timor becomes self-governing.

Fretilin suffered very severe losses in the 23 years of conflict with Indonesian forces. Many leaders were killed in this period, and Xanana Gusmao is one of the few senior figures to have survived. Fretilin's armed forces (organised as Falintul) have recently been estimated to have a strength of between 500-1200.(22) While support for independence in the territory has commonly been estimated at well over 50 per cent-a senior officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade indicated in early May that DFAT assumed such support at around 70 per cent(23)-Falintil is not in a strong position to protect its civilian supporters since it remains heavily outnumbered both by the Indonesian military (recently estimated at around 15 700)(24) and the large numbers of pro-integration militia.

Pro-integration Groups

The cause of integration with Indonesia had some limited support in the mid 1970s and the period of Indonesian control has produced the potential for a base of support for this policy, for example among government officials and elements associated with the Indonesian economic presence, who have included some prominent East Timorese. From the mid 1990s another basis for support for the Indonesian presence was encouraged with the fostering by elements of the armed forces of armed militia groups.

The pro-integration militias grew out of attempts by ABRI, and in particular the Special Forces (Kopassus), to create from the mid 1990s a civilian-based resistance force. The purpose of the forces was to counter civilian support for Falintil (the military arm of Fretlin). Drawing members from the Apodeti party, whose members have benefited through the years from close political and economic relations with Jakarta, the first militia established was the Garda Paksi. Following several tours of duty in East Timor, General Prabowo Subianto, a son-in-law of former President Soeharto and former commander of Kopassus, was responsible for raising the militia (General Prabowo was subsequently dismissed from his senior position by the current Defence Minister General Wiranto). The militia he sponsored, however, have continued to grow largely due to ongoing ABRI encouragement.(25)

The main known pro-integration Militia groups



Estimated Strength

Aitarak ('The Thorn')



Gadapaksi ('Youth guard for upholding integration')



Darah Merah ('Red blood right wing militia')



Besi Merah Putih ('Red and White Iron')



Naga Merah









AHI ('I will uphold integration')



Halilintar ('Thunderbolt')



ABLAI ('I will fight to Preserve the Mandate for Integration')






Tim Alfa






Source: Bruce Woodley 'Red and White Terror', The Weekend Australian, 1-2 May 1999

From October 1998, with major political change in prospect in both Indonesia and East Timor with the passing of the Soeharto regime and the likelihood that any consultation of the local population in a free and fair ballot would see a vote in support of independence, it is understood that military intelligence gave added support for the establishment of additional militia groups. By early April 1999 it is thought that there were about 15 000 members of these units. Many were coerced into joining the militias while others were attracted by the provision of a daily payment of 20 000 rupiah ($US 2.3) by the army.(26)

A report in early May 1999 identified a total of eleven militia groups with estimated strengths ranging from 100 to 5000 and by late May UN Secretary General Kofi Annan estimated that there were 24 such groups operating in the territory.(27) Several major leaders have been prominent. For example, Mark Davis of ABC TV's Four Corners reported from East Timor in March that Joao Tavares, 'major landlord and patron in this region and head of the militia group, Halilintar' (or 'Thunderbolt' based in Bobonaro), has had a long association with Indonesia. 'He was the leader of the militia group which joined with the Indonesians in killing the five journalists here, at Balibo, in 1975'.(28) As perhaps the most senior militia commander, he represented pro-integration interests together with the chairman of the Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice, Domingos Soares, in a meeting with Xanana Gusmao that was held to attempt to start a process of reconciliation between the FPDK and CNRT. In addition to Tavares' militia, Halilintar, the leaders of other regional militia such as Eriqo Gueteres who now leads the Aitarak militia and Cancio Cavallio leader of the Mahidi (an acronym for 'Live or Die for Integration') in Ainaro are also noted pro-integration leaders, but as the Four Corners program made clear, they answer to Tavares. On 8 April, a number of militia groups held a rally in Maliana, in support of continued integration with Indonesia.(29)

At the time of writing the pro-Indonesian militias would be best described as an array of organisations, rather than a coherent political and military force. This description is not to discount the possibility that the size, cohesion or composition of the militia might change in the near future. The militia have had particular strength near the border with West Timor but by May 1999 were active in nearly every district of the territory.(30) A common feature of reporting on the actions of the militia suggest that they undertake their activities in very close proximity to ABRI units, suggesting that their popularity or support in the event of an ABRI withdrawal could suffer. There have also been suggestions that the various militia could operate to form the basis of an armed resistance to the government in the event of the creation of an independent East Timor and conduct operations from across the border in Indonesian West Timor. However the cohesiveness of the militias is also uncertain and it has been suggested that some groups could conceivably come into conflict with others.(31)

Conflict and Violence in 1999

1999 has seen an increased pattern of conflict and intimidation in East Timor. After President Habibie's announcement in late January, the Falintil forces observed a de-facto ceasefire at the direction of Xanana Gusmao from Jakarta, and all pro-independence demonstrations were called off. This left the pro-integrationist forces with an essentially free hand. Beginning in Suai and Viqueque in the south coast, a pattern of intimidation spread throughout the four western districts of Covalima, Bobonaro, Ermera, and Liquica before spreading to the eastern districts of Lautem and Baucau (see map 2).

The situation deteriorated in April and a rising pattern of violence ensued. On 4 and 5 April, a Besi Merah Putih (Red and White Iron) militia unit entered the hamlet of Mauboke near Liquica and on the second day killed four people. On 6 April members of the same militia group attacked a group of 2000 people in Liquica as they fled from a church where they had sought refuge; up to 57 people were reported to have been killed. (32)The Liquica massacre raised the level of tensions in East Timor substantially. On the same day, Xanana Gusmao announced an end to the Falintil ceasefire and called for a general uprising of the people of East Timor against the militias. Gusmao later softened this call but conditions have remained tense. On 17 April a large rally of militia groups was held in Dili in front of their overall commander Joao Tavares. After the rally the militia groups took over the streets of Dili and launched attacks against several areas including a market, a bus depot, the office of the local newspaper and the house of Manuel Carascalao, a senior leader of the CNRT. Twelve people were killed at Carascalao's house including his teenage son and a total of at least 25 people were killed in the attacks overall.(33)

With conditions of violence attracting increasing attention and concern in Indonesia and internationally, President Habibie directed the Defence Minister and armed forces commander General Wiranto to visit East Timor. On 21 April in Dili he produced a peace agreement which was signed in Jakarta by Xanana Gusmao and in Dili by representatives of both the pro-independence and pro-integrationist movements. General Wiranto urged the military not 'to take sides' in the conflict. However the 21 April agreement did not provide for the disarming of the militias and it made no mention of the role of the Indonesian military in providing assistance to the militias.(34)

Recent reports suggest that the 21 April agreement has not been effective in ending the climate of intimidation and violence. On 7 May it was reported that militia groups had been rounding up thousands of East Timorese villagers and forcing them into refugee camps. Aid workers were reported to have seen film of a large camp on the outskirts of Liquica where people were guarded by members of the military as well as by militias. The villagers in the camp had been gathered there in operations since the Liquica massacre in early April, allegedly for political indoctrination. It was reported at the same time that Indonesian authorities have prevented foreigners from travelling outside Dili and aid representatives from groups including the International Committee of the Red Cross have not been able to gain access to the camps. The Dili secretary of the Catholic relief organisation Caritas, Estanislas Martins, said in early May that 'They (the militias) are sweeping the outlying villages and bringing the people to centres so they can make sure they vote the right way'.(35)

Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia John McCarthy, during a visit to East Timor, also commented on the issue of possible intimidation of East Timorese. Lindsay Murdoch (Southeast Asia correspondent for The Age) wrote in a report published on 10 May:

Asked whether he believed Indonesia's military intended to corrupt the vote and pressure people to vote to remain part of Indonesia, Mr McCarthy said; 'I have seen evidence that could lead one along the lines of that sort of conclusion'.(36)

Amid some continuing conflict and violence, which on 9 May included further attacks in Dili by pro-integrationist militias which resulted in one death, additional concerns were expressed about the prospects for an orderly ballot in August. Florentino Sarmento, East Timor's representative on Indonesia's human rights commission, expressed concern that holding the ballot in such a short time will provoke widespread bloodshed from all the warring groups. Mr Sarmento said that:

Already there is a vicious cycle of violence that is becoming greater and greater. I hope I am wrong. But one side will lose the ballot and will not accept the result. I am afraid that whoever loses will provoke violence against the winners.(37)

Economic Conditions and Prospects

Another significant issue for East Timor in 1999 is economic conditions for the immediate and medium term future. The recent uncertainty and conflicts have exacerbated economic problems in the territory and economic assistance will need to be an important element in international support for a process of transition.

Socio-economic conditions have been affected adversely by recent instability and conflict. An Australian government assessment in March 1999 reported that the health system in the territory was near collapse as a consequence of the departure of many doctors, leaving (at that point) only one surgeon who was located at a military hospital in Dili that few people are prepared to use.(38) A very large number of engineers, technicians, retailers, medical workers, and government employees have left the territory. Port Authority data showed 13 000 embarking passengers in the first 2.5 months of 1999 'equivalent to the total number of embarking passengers for 1998.'(39) While basic medical and food stocks appeared to be holding, their distribution had been affected adversely by the departure of transport drivers and retail shopkeepers.

Recent violence and instability has also affected agriculture adversely, particularly the major cash-crop, coffee, which is the primary economic support for nearly half the indigenous population. The annual harvest for the $A40 million crop requires a labour force of 40 000 and it is estimated that 45 000 families are involved in coffee production. However recent displacements of people, for example in the area around Liquica, are reported to be disrupting the 1999 harvest.(40)

The possible aid requirements of East Timor in the context of either autonomy or independence are difficult to estimate precisely. East Timor has a population estimated at 850 000, there are few serviceable roads and energy distribution has been further hampered by the departure of technicians. Non-East Timorese have dominated the business community and civil service. A recent Australian official assessment (reported in The Age in February) of the possible consequences of an Indonesian withdrawal from East Timor stated that eight of 13 district leaders are non-indigenous, as are up to 70 per cent of teachers. The assessment estimated that 75 per cent of the formal economy, as well as the majority of the civil service and technicians are all non-East Timorese. There appears to be only one indigenous doctor.(41) The Australian report estimated that with a gross annual domestic product of about US$100 million (about US$115 per capita), 90 per cent of East Timor's revenue comes directly from Jakarta, including between 50-70 per cent of its GDP being derived from the Indonesian government sector.(42) The Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, has estimated that between US$50-80 million or between 50-80 per cent of the GDP of East Timor would be lost if Indonesian was to withdraw.(43)

Portugal, the internationally-recognised governing authority for East Timor, stated in February 1999 that it is prepared to fund the entire annual budget of East Timor 'during a transition period to self-determination, with agreed help from its European Union partners'.(44) While the period of the funding offer was not specified the Portuguese government did state that it was prepared to pay the full US$100 million annual budget currently being paid by Indonesia. At the same time Portugal appealed to others for assistance.

The medium term economic prospects for East Timor would clearly depend on a variety of factors, not least the outcome of the process of political decision-making provided for by the 5 May agreement, the potential to maintain a stable internal environment after the ballot and the maintenance of cooperative relations with Indonesia under either autonomy or independence. Given a stable process of transition, it has been argued that East Timor's economic prospects and potential may be comparatively favourable.(45)

In addition to its various natural resources, such as gold, manganese, copper, coffee, very high quality marble, and sandalwood in abundance, it has been argued that East Timor could take advantage of tourism by becoming a gambling enclave, in much the same way as another Portuguese colony Macau has done. Like another small island state-Tonga-East Timor could also reserve rights in the International Telecommunications Union for geostationary satellite spots and gain major financial benefits from the proceeds. It could fully follow the Tonga example and acquire a satellite and exploit its location near the both the equator and large satellite audiences by selling transponders to commercial operators, something that could prove very popular with Australian media companies. Finally, the East Timorese diaspore and the Chinese East Timorese could become strong sources of investment, along with initial input from Portugal and others.

None of these developments can happen without a successful and peaceful process of political transition in line with the 5 May agreements. Nor could they happen without assistance, especially in the early stages of a transition. But East Timor, if managed well, could prove the economic sceptics wrong in the long run.

The Timor Gap Treaty

The potential petroleum resources in the area of ocean known as the Timor Gap are considered by many Timorese as one of the territory's most important economic assets. While the possible resources cannot be precisely estimated some industry analysts have placed a potential value of $A11 billion on the reserves.(46) In 1989, after eleven years of negotiations, Australia and Indonesia concluded the Timor Gap Zone of Cooperation Treaty. The Treaty divided the 'gap' into three areas: Zone C to the north is controlled by Indonesia but has a provision of a 10 per cent royalty payment to Australia on any oil or gas produced, Zone B is in the south with the same arrangement in reverse (with a 10 per cent payment to go to Indonesia), and Zone A lies between them with a 50-50 percent split in royalties. The main oil and gas reserves are thought to be in Zone A and in July 1998, a consortium led by BHP began to pump some crude oil from the Elang Kakatua field.(47)

Some concerns have been raised that the Timor Gap treaty and the associated ongoing agreements between Indonesia and Australia could be disrupted by either autonomy or independence for East Timor. However in July 1998 the CNRT, while asserting the rights of East Timor to benefit from the resources of the Timor Gap, sought to reassure the Australian government and Timor Gap contractors. A CNRT statement said that:

The National Council of Timorese Resistance will endeavour to show the Australian Government and the Timor Gap contractors that their commercial interests will not be adversely affected by East Timorese self-determination. The CNRT supports the rights of the existing Timor Gap contractors and those of the Australian Government to jointly develop East Timor's offshore oil resources in cooperation with the people of East Timor.(48)

In late February 1999, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer held discussions with Indonesian Ministers and Xanana Gusmao in Jakarta, after which Mr Downer said that, 'Mr Gusmao told me that they would honour the Timor gap treaty and that they were happy to share on an equitable basis with Australia resources that were between East Timor and Australia'.(49) During his visit to Indonesia at that time, Mr Downer also said that:

If East Timor chooses independence then according to the principle of successor states the treaty would remain in place. But at this point the Timor Gap Authority has an equal number of Indonesians and Australians, so it would have to have equal numbers of East Timorese and Australians. Obviously, if the new East Timorese state wants to pursue further amendments or adjustments, that would be a matter for negotiation.(50)

Indonesia's Minister for Resources, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, stated during Mr Downer's visit that in the event of a change of status for East Timor, Indonesia would be willing to relinquish its claim: the Minister said, 'We have no quarrel with that-so long as the new borders are drawn up, that area will belong to the new country'.(51)

While the resources of the Timor Gap could assist East Timor greatly, the returns so far have been modest, with Indonesia and Australia each earning only $US1.1 million in 1998 and an expected $US2.2 million in 1999. Extensive development of the area's resources still faces major obstacles including the high cost of start up investments and the currently unfavourable world market conditions. The potential benefits from the Timor Gap therefore cannot be taken for granted.(52)

The 5 May 1999 Agreements on East Timor

While East Timor has been experiencing an increasing pattern of internal conflict, attempts were being made to develop an agreement under the auspices of the United Nations which would enable the people of the territory to decide on its future status. The negotiations have revolved around proposals for East Timor to attain autonomy within Indonesia. It has been envisaged that East Timor would remain part of Indonesia but be given control over internal affairs, including security and the administration of justice. Foreign and defence policy would remain with Jakarta. Autonomy, it has been argued, would provide the time and the opportunity to marshal financial support to enable East Timor to establish and develop a series of vitally important public and private services and infrastructure.

The principal recent obstacle to the current round of the UN-hosted talks had been the terms for surveying popular opinion in East Timor. The Portuguese had recommended a referendum but that option was consistently resisted by Indonesia. However on 5 May 1999 the parties did conclude agreements which provided for a popular ballot on a detailed proposal for autonomy for the territory.(53)

The major elements of the 5 May agreements are:

  • Ballot Question: East Timorese voters at home and abroad will be asked two questions on the ballot: 'Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia?' Or 'Do you reject the proposed special autonomy for East Timor leading to East Timor's separation from Indonesia?'
  • Voter eligibility: Voters must be 17 years or older. Those eligible are 'persons born in East Timor, persons born outside East Timor but with at least one parent having been born in East Timor, and persons whose spouses fall under either of the two categories above'.
  • Security: The Indonesian authorities will 'ensure a secure environment' for a free and fair vote. A number of UN security guards will be deployed to protect UN personnel and a number of international civilian police will advise Indonesian police before and during the ballot.
  • Education: The United Nations will make available the main text of the autonomy agreement. UN officials will also conduct an information campaign.
  • Campaign period: The UN will propose a campaign code of conduct for supporters and opponents of the autonomy proposal. The governments of Indonesia and Portugal may not participate in the campaign, which will run from 20 July to 5 August.
  • Observers: Indonesia and Portugal can send an equal number of representatives to observe the ballot. Other international observers will also be present.
  • Registration: Eligible voters will be registered between 13 June and 17 July in 200 centres in East Timor and in places around the world with large Timorese populations (including Sydney, Darwin, Perth and Melbourne).

The autonomy proposal which is being presented for decision on 8 August would establish the Special Autonomous Region of East Timor (SARET). Major provisions of the agreed constitutional framework for the SARET include:

  • The central government would retain control over defence and, for that purpose, elements of the Indonesian Armed Forces would remain in East Timor.
  • East Timor would remain part of the Indonesian monetary and customs unit and the central government would retain control over taxation.
  • Natural resources would be under the control of the SARET 'except those considered to be strategic or vital under national laws'.
  • The SARET may adopt its own coat of arms but the Indonesian flag and anthem would be retained.
  • The SARET would have control of all areas not specifically mentioned in Chapter 1 of the agreement (that is foreign affairs, defence and fiscal policies). Specifically, SARET powers would include the establishment of political, economic and social policies in SARET, cultural and educational matters, designation of a second language, rules of family law, and the establishment of an East Timorese police force 'responsible for enforcement of all laws and regulations in the SARET, in accordance with the law and regulations of the Republic of Indonesia'.
  • The Government of SARET would have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the SARET 'with the exception of those related to treason and terrorism, narcotics and other international crimes, over which Indonesian laws and jurisdiction shall prevail'.
  • Legislative power will be vested in a Regional Council of People's Representatives and an independent judiciary is to be established to have jurisdiction over all civil, criminal, administrative and other matters under SARET control.

While the autonomy proposal would devolve some substantial powers to East Timor, the extensive ongoing control by Indonesia especially over foreign affairs, defence and major economic policy areas would mean that the proposal is likely to be fully acceptable to most of the pro-integration advocates.

In a memorandum issued at the time of the signing of the agreement, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that it was crucial that violence be ended and he noted that President Habibie had given his word that he would do his utmost to uphold law and order. Annan stated that all armed groups must disarm before the vote, and Indonesian military forces must also be redeployed. There must also be an immediate ban on rallies by armed groups as well as freedom for both sides to conduct peaceful political activities and have access to the media.(54)

There were cautious immediate reactions to the agreement in East Timor and among other observers. A central issue is clearly whether a peaceful and secure environment can be maintained for the period leading up to 8 August. From the pro-integrationist side, Basilio dias Araujo from the Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice said in Jakarta that his group would accept 'any outcome' from the ballot. However he was not able to give a guarantee that the East Timor population would be free from intimidation during the period leading up to the vote. He indicated that although his group no longer opposed the ballot it was a reluctant supporter and said that the ballot period 'might not go smoothly'. Araujo added that 'From our point of view we see that once we have a ballot, then we will have losers and winners and then the conflict remains'.(55)

Other comments emphasised the difficulty of achieving a peaceful and free ballot. Indonesia's Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said that disarmament of the parties in East Timor required the cooperation of all groups including independence fighters hiding in the mountains, 'And that requires some doing' he said. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that the presence of UN officials in East Timor in the pre-ballot period would help build confidence but that further violence was inevitable. 'This is a very tough task. For the ballot to be free and fair will be an incredible achievement'.(56) The reactions to the 5 May agreement highlighted the challenges facing the officials and police who will enter East Timor under UN auspices.

The United Nations in East Timor: Issues and Prospects

The signing of the 5 May agreements has introduced a new phase both in the history of East Timor and in its relationships with Indonesia and the international community. In particular, the agreement provides the basis for explicit assistance from external sources to help in the process of political transition in East Timor. There are likely to be two major phases in relation to this process of transition: the period of preparation for the 8 August ballot and also the period after that ballot, especially if the proposal for special autonomy is rejected. There are many uncertainties in relation to developments in East Timor and the outcome for either phase clearly cannot be predicted. Nonetheless, it is useful to discuss in a preliminary way some of the issues that may arise in relation to efforts to provide United Nations-sponsored and supported assistance to the transition process in each of the two possible phases.

I: Before the 8 August Ballot

The 5 May agreements have made some provisions for the preservation of security in East Timor in the lead up to the proposed ballot. As set out in Section G of the 'Agreement Regarding the Modalities for the Popular Consultation of the East Timorese Through a Direct Ballot', responsibility for security rests with Indonesia. A supplementary 'Agreement Regarding Security' provides additional detail on what is envisaged in the pre-ballot phase. This agreement states:

A secure environment devoid of violence or other forms of intimidation is a prerequisite for the holding of a free and fair ballot in East Timor. Responsibility to ensure such an environment as well as for the general maintenance of law and order rests with the appropriate security authorities. The absolute neutrality of the TNI (Indonesian Armed Forces) and the Indonesian Police is essential in this regard.

The agreement states that the Commission on Peace and Stability (established on 21 April in Dili) should come into operation without delay and should establish a code of conduct for all parties '... for the period prior to and following the consultation, ensure the laying down of arms and take the necessary steps to achieve disarmament'. Prior to the registration period (scheduled to start on 13 June) the UN Secretary General will ascertain that the necessary security situation exists for the peaceful implementation of the consultation process. Indonesian police will be solely responsible for the maintenance of law and order but:

The Secretary General, after obtaining the necessary mandate, will make available a number of civilian police officers to act as advisers to the Indonesian Police in the discharge of their duties and, at the time of the consultation, to supervise the escort of ballot papers and boxes to and from the polling sites.

At the time of writing the UN is preparing for the commitment of its personnel, in a group to be called the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET). It has been announced that the mission will include 241 international staff members, 420 United Nations Volunteers, a police contingent of up to 280 and about 4000 local staff.(57) The chief UN adviser on police issues, Om Rathor, arrived in Dili on 8 May to assess requirements. He was reported as stating that the UN was moving rapidly and should be able to organise the group of advisers quickly but he was not able to say whether the police would carry side arms: 'These details are yet to be worked out'' he said.(58)

Much clearly depends on the effectiveness of arrangements by the Indonesian authorities for security and of the capacities of the police advisers to operate effectively and safely. It will clearly be a difficult task for the comparatively small number of UNAMET police advisers to ascertain and monitor the character and fairness of security arrangements in East Timor. Indonesia's Defence Minister General Wiranto stated on 19 May that 'They (the UN police) will only give suggestions to the Indonesian Police, while the responsibility for peace and order during the vote will still be in the hands of Indonesian security personnel'.(59) It is understood that the Indonesian authorities plan to assign a local police 'buddy' to each of the UNAMET police and one experienced observer has argued that such an arrangement would provide many opportunities for the advisers' activities to be monitored and impeded.(60)

The UN group's own security will obviously require careful attention, given the large number of armed groups in the territory and recent patterns of violence. Prime Minister Howard in a comment on the 5 May agreements, said that they put Indonesia under heavy international pressure to ensure that the ballot went ahead, but added that he could not guarantee the safety of UN advisers: Mr Howard stated that 'I am not going to pretend to the police that might go and their families that there isn't some element of danger'.(61) On a visit to East Timor from 6 May, Australia's Ambassador to Indonesia John McCarthy was reported to be seeking assurances, particularly from the pro-integrationist groups, that Australian personnel deployed as part of the UN mission would be safe.(62)

The Immediate Outlook

As the UN has been developing plans for the planned deployment of personnel authorised by the 5 May agreements, concerns have continued about internal conditions in East Timor. On 17 May in the wake of further reported attacks, this time in the village of Atara (near Atsabe), the UN expressed its concern to Indonesia over the activities of militia groups. The UN's spokesman in East Timor, David Wimhurst, said that:

The security situation in East Timor has not improved. Our concern is that the Indonesian authorities take swift action to curtail these violent attacks. There is little evidence they have so far. These attacks are designed to create a climate of fear and terror to undermine the consultation process which is why we are here.(63)

Several days later, additional concerns were aroused when UN observers came across what appeared to be a training camp for militias where 33 militia members were being advised by an instructor wearing military-style fatigues. In response Mr Wimhurst said that the training was in clear violation of the recently signed 5 May accords. He said: 'Under the accord all militia activity has to cease. There has to be a secure and safe environment for everybody to campaign. The active training of militia is in breach of the accord.' Mr Wimhurst said the incident would be reported to the UN in New York.(64)

The comments by the UN's representatives in East Timor drew a critical reaction from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, which was reported to have argued that the UN had no right to investigate the activities of the military in East Timor or make unannounced visits to villages and that the UN was ignoring attacks by Falintil guerillas against the Indonesian military. UN officials in response, defended their right to make unannounced visits to villages which they argued are necessary to enable the UN to assess the state of security in East Timor. Senior UN officials were reported as saying that they were attempting to deal with a 'delicate teething period' following the signing of the 5 May agreements.(65)

At the same time, further concerns about the prospects for the August ballot were expressed in a report by the Dili-based non-governmental organisation, the Foundation for Human Rights (Yayasan-Hak). The Foundation said that attacks by militias and their political allies had brought an atmosphere of fear not seen since the period from 1975 to 1989, when East Timor was a province closed to foreigners. The Foundation's report said that:

Every day has been marked by violence, kidnapping, torture, killings, looting and arson directed towards East Timorese throughout the territory... Intimidation and terror directed towards civil servants has included forced signings of statements of allegiance, threats of dismissal and confiscation of vehicles and pay by military force. This has contributed to a condition of ingrained fear towards the time of the UN-sponsored ballot, tipping the balance towards a pro-integration vote.

The role of Indonesian security forces was singled out for special criticism:

The security apparatus which should guarantee security and enforce the law seems to side (with) and tolerate these violent acts. It is a fact that the perpetrators, which clearly violate Indonesian law, have not received any sanction or due process of law. Statements by the military and police claiming that perpetrators have been disarmed and detained are merely for political impact.(66)

These expressions of concern by observers and officials in East Timor were joined on 22 May by comments by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in a report to the Security Council.(67) Noting that he had sent an assessment team to East Timor from 4 to 15 May, Mr Annan said:

Despite repeated assurances that measures would be taken by the Indonesian authorities to ensure security in East Timor and curtail the illegal activities of the armed militias, I regret to inform the Security Council that credible reports continue to be received of political violence,, including intimidation and killings, by armed militias against unarmed pro-independence civilians. I am deeply concerned to learn from the assessment team that, as a result, the situation in East Timor remains extremely tense and volatile... Furthermore, there are indications that the militias, believed by many observers to be operating with the acquiescence of elements of the army, have not only in recen6t weeks begun to attack pro-independence groups, but are beginning to threaten moderate pro-integration supporters as well. Truckloads of pro-integration militia are able to roam about freely in the towns and set up checkpoints along the roads without any intervention from the army or police... Most of the pro-independence leaders have fled from Dili or gone into hiding.

Mr Annan reaffirmed the measures which need to be taken by the Indonesian authorities to ensure a free environment for the consultation:

These include the bringing of armed civilian groups under strict control and the prompt arrest and prosecution of those who incite or threaten to use violence, a ban on rallies by armed groups while ensuring the freedom of association and expression of all political forces and tendencies, the redeployment of Indonesian military forces and the immediate institution of a process of laying down of arms by all armed groups well in advance of the holding of the ballot.

Secretary General Annan also reaffirmed his responsibilities under the 5 May agreements:

I would like to recall that, as stipulated in the Agreement regarding security, I am called upon to ascertain, prior to the start of the registration and based on the objective evaluation of UNAMET, that the necessary security situation exists for the peaceful implementation of the operative phases of the consultation process. I wish to assure the Security Council that I intend to carry out that responsibility with the utmost care.

These comments make it clear that the Secretary General's assessment of the security environment in East Timor in the lead up to the registration period (an assessment which should therefore be delivered in mid June) will be the next crucial stage in the implementation of the 5 May agreements.

A UN 'Peacekeeping' Role Before the Ballot?

In the period both before and since the conclusion of the 5 May agreements, the issue of the appropriate size and capacity of a UN mission to East Timor has been discussed and debated. A number of calls have been made for a commitment greater than that envisaged under the arrangements announced at the time of the agreements. In particular it has been suggested that a larger 'peacekeeping force' should be deployed. Arguments for deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission have been advanced by representatives of the pro-independence groups, and non governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch(68), as well as the Australian Shadow Foreign Minister, Laurie Brereton.(69) In a commentary on this issue in late March 1999, the Australian analysts Alan Dupont and Anthony Bergin have argued that 'the inability of the East Timorese to resolve their differences does not augur well for the vote on independence... or for the prospect of a peaceful transfer of power should the East Timorese opt for full independence as expected'.(70) They argued that the UN should act immediately by sending a peace enforcing military force to East Timor to prevent the crisis from turning into a civil war and that Australia should take a leading role in such a force.

Debate on the possibility of a more extensive UN involvement before the planned ballot is likely to continue but in the wake of the 5 May agreements, pursuit of this concept seems unlikely. Even before the signing of the agreements, Indonesian officials had made it clear that they did not approve of the presence of an external force which would attempt to assume direct responsibility for security in East Timor. In addition, with the attention of the United States and members of the European Union currently preoccupied by the conflict over Kosovo, it seems unlikely that support could be marshalled for a large scale involvement in East Timor. At the time of writing, it appears that the prospects for the successful pursuit of the 8 August ballot will need to depend on the fulfilment by Indonesia of the security provisions of the 5 May agreements, with assistance from UN officers on the scale proposed so far.

II: After the 8 August Ballot

The period after the completion of the 8 August ballot raises another set of issues about security and possible peacekeeping in East Timor. The political and security environment in East Timor after the ballot clearly can not be predicted. However some comments can be made about the potential for external assistance.

If the vote were to be cast as a majority in favour of the autonomy proposal then East Timor would remain a part of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. A majority vote in favour of autonomy would enable Indonesia to claim international legitimacy for the status of East Timor. Were this to be achieved, it would seem likely that Indonesia would wish to retain full responsibility for stability in the territory and would therefore be most unlikely to request assistance for any purpose directly related to security from the United Nations.

If the 8 August ballot were to result in a majority rejecting the autonomy proposal then a different set of issues is raised. The 5 May 'Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and the Portuguese Republic on the Question of East Timor' states in Article 6 that:

If the Secretary-General determines, on the basis of the result of the popular consultation and in accordance with this Agreement, that the proposed constitutional framework for special autonomy is not acceptable to the East Timorese people, the Government of Indonesia shall take the constitutional steps necessary to terminate its links with East Timor thus restoring under Indonesian law the status East Timor held prior to 17 July 1976, and the Governments of Indonesia and Portugal and the Secretary-General shall agree on arrangements on a peaceful and orderly transfer of authority in East Timor to the United Nations. The Secretary-General shall, subject to the appropriate legislative mandate, initiate the procedure enabling East Timor to begin a process of transition towards independence.

Article 7 then states:

During the interim period between the conclusion of the popular consultation and the start of the implementation of either option, the parties direct the Secretary-General to maintain an adequate United Nations presence in East Timor.

In line with Article 6, if the ballot results in rejection of the autonomy option and authority is to be transferred to the UN then there could be seen to be a requirement for a UN involvement in a peacekeeping role. The prospects for such a role being undertaken by the UN are difficult to assess and would depend on several major factors including the security conditions in the territory, the prospects for dialogue and accommodation between the contending political movements and the willingness of the international community to pursue an ongoing commitment to East Timor. (The issues which might arise in relation to a possible peacekeeping role in the post August ballot period will be considered in a separate Information and Research Services paper.(71))

Australian Policy and Debate on East Timor

Since the end of the Soeharto regime, both on the ground and as a policy issue in Jarkarta, Lisbon, Canberra, and New York, the East Timor issue has become highly charged and has been changing with great rapidity. The Australian Government's public strategy has focused on encouraging all parties to the dispute to resolve their differences and on liaising with other states, international organisations and NGOs that are interested in the future of the territory. Prime Minister Howard's visit to Bali for discussions with President Habibie and other senior Indonesian leaders on 27 April was a notable illustration of the priority now being assigned to the East Timor issue by Australia.

Australia in February 1979 had recognised Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor, both in fact and in law. On 12 January 1999, the Foreign Minister Mr Downer announced what he described as an historic shift in Australia's East Timor policy that centred on support for 'an act of self-determination at some future time, following a substantial period of autonomy'.(72) Both the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister stressed that the Australian government preferred a prolonged period of autonomy for East Timor.

At the same time Mr Downer noted that Australia was following the UN negotiations closely and that he had engaged in extensive consultations with UN Secretary-General Annan as well as US, EU, Portuguese and Indonesian representatives over the future of the territory.(73) Mr Downer, has also met with most parties to the East Timor dispute, as well as seeking to garner support for an international coalition to assist in both the physical and financial aspects of a United Nations mission to help secure a free and fair ballot for the people of East Timor to determine the territory's future status.

In early March, the UN Secretary General confirmed that a number of countries had been approached to assist in a UN mission, but said that the exact nature and scale of a UN presence had not yet been decided. Speaking on SBS Television on 13 March Mr Annan said that 'we would want [an] Australian contribution' to a UN mission to East Timor that he said at that time could be sent as early as late April. (74)

The Australian government's declared position subsequently shifted to publicly discuss a possible UN mission to East Timor. While Mr Downer initially rejected the possibility of an Australian Defence Force component in such a mission, he later publicly accepted that the Australian Defence Forces could have a role in assisting in a possible peacekeeping operation.(75) Likewise the government has publicly accepted that if the people of the territory are given the opportunity to decide, they will almost certainly choose independence.(76)

The East Timor issue has also been the focus of substantial inter-party debate. For the first time in a number of years a significant division has arisen between the two major parties over a foreign policy issue. A significant development was a speech made by the Shadow Foreign Minister, Laurie Brereton, to the Queensland branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) on 4 February 1999 when he presented a revisionist interpretation of recent Australian policies towards East Timor.(77) Critical of all past Australia governments, Labor and Liberal-National Coalition, he asserted that 'the story of Australia's policy towards East Timor is a sorry tale that reflects little credit on either side of politics'(78) and called for 'both sides of politics... [to] accept our collective responsibility for what is widely seen as a profound foreign policy failure'.(79) Advocating a shift in Australian policy toward 'wholehearted' political, diplomatic and economic support for an 'independent and sovereign East Timor'(80), Mr Brereton repeated his earlier calls for international intervention (first initiated in October 1998) and urged the Howard government to actively press the Indonesian government to accept an international peacekeeping presence in the territory without delay and strongly supported Australian participation in such a force. Reaction to this speech was swift and intense, especially from within the ALP. Former Prime Minister EG Whitlam and Mr Brereton publicly engaged in a dispute over criticisms of the Whitlam Administration in Mr Brereton's speech.(81)

The Government has argued that its influence over the situation in East Timor is limited, but that what influence it does have is enhanced by its close relations with the Indonesian government. It argues that the most that it can do is to advise and attempt to persuade the Indonesian government on the future of the territory.(82) Following the Prime Minister's 19 December 1998 letter to President Habibie urging a change in Indonesian policy toward East Timor, there have been over fifteen meetings at Ministerial and senior official level. Nevertheless, the ALP and the Democrats have continued to criticise the Howard government's approach to the question of East Timor, arguing that more pressure should be put on the Indonesian government to accept an international presence in the territory and to disarm the opposing forces. Likewise, the opposition parties have argued that Australia should make representations to the UN Security Council to intervene in the territory as soon as possible.

The Australia-Indonesia Talks, 27 April 1999

Australian policy concerns about East Timor heightened in April in reaction to the increasing instances of violence, particularly those apparently perpetrated by the pro-integrationist militias. Reports about the killings in Liquica (6 April) and Dili (17 April) gained extensive attention. On 18 April, Prime Minister Howard said that Australia would convey its 'huge and immediate concern' about the latest violence and he said that 'You would have to wonder whether these pro-integrationist militias are not getting some permissive response from the Indonesian army'.(83) On 20 April, Mr Howard telephoned President Habibie and proposed a meeting of senior leaders: this took place in Bali on 27 April.

The talks in Bali included participation by Australia's Foreign Minister Mr Downer and the Defence Minister Mr Moore while the Indonesian side included Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and the Defence Minister General Wiranto: the discussions included a 90 minute session between Prime Minister Howard and President Habibie. In a press conference after the talks, President Habibie said that he had approved the draft agreements with Portugal and the UN and he said that if the autonomy option was rejected, then Indonesia and East Timor 'could separate in peace, as friends, and with honour'. Mr Howard said he had made clear his concern about the violence in East Timor 'in recent weeks in particular' and had told the President that it was essential that 'a greater measure of stability' be restored. He also warned that it was important that there be no perception that the Indonesian security forces were turning 'blind eyes' to the violence. At the press conference after the official talks, Mr Howard said that Australia wanted the East Timorese to be free to decide their own status, but rejected the assertion that Australia supported independence for the province. Mr Howard said it would be 'better for them [the East Timorese], for the republic [of Indonesia] and for the region' if the province remained part of Indonesia under the autonomy package.(84)

The talks resulted in several specific Australian commitments. Australia would contribute $A20 million to assist in funding the ballot on 8 August (about half the total cost), Australian police would participate in a UN mission to be sent to East Timor, and with Indonesian agreement Australia would re-establish a consulate in East Timor. The Opposition spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Mr Brereton, said in a comment on the Bali talks that Mr Howard had failed to secure agreement on the necessary measurers to ensure that the people of East Timor would be able to decide their own future free from fear and intimidation. Given the Indonesian armed forces complicity in the violence in East Timor, he said, no one could rely on them to guarantee security for a free and fair ballot. Mr Brereton said, 'a small number of UN civilian police acting as advisers to Indonesian police will provide the East Timorese with no confidence that the planned ballot will be conducted in an environment free of violence and intimidation'.(85)

Policy debate on East Timor has continued in the period following the signing of the 5 May agreements. Some further controversy over the issue was raised when it was announced that Indonesia had refused to issue a visa to enable Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesman Laurie Brereton to visit East Timor, an announcement which was followed by criticism by the government of Mr Brereton.(86) Mr Brereton for his part continued to express concern about the security situation in East Timor. In the aftermath of the killings reported at Atara on 16 May, Mr Brereton said:

News of this latest atrocity committed by pro-integrationist militia can only reinforce how little reliance can be placed on the Indonesian military and police to ensure the planned ballot on East Timor's future will be conducted in an atmosphere free of violence and fear. Just how many more killings will it take for the Howard government to stop turning a blind eye and press Jakarta to accept an effective UN peacekeeping force and allow the East Timorese to decide their future, free from violence and intimidation?(87)

In a statement in Parliament on 11 May, the Foreign Minister Mr Downer said that preparations were continuing for Australia's support for the 8 August ballot. Australia expected to provide about 50 police officers to the UN mission. Two Australian Electoral Commission officers were also being assigned to UN headquarters to assist in election planning. Mr Downer added that:

... we have no illusions about how tough the road ahead is going to be. It will be an extremely difficult thing to work through the tension that exist in East Timor-the rivalries, the jealousies, the history of conflict-to a successful ballot which we very much hope and expect to take place on 8 August.(88)

Australia in mid-May offered to host talks between the contending East Timorese parties although the offer was not taken up by Indonesia, which insisted such talks should take place in that country.(89) In late May, Australia also supported the critical comments made by Secretary General Kofi Annan on 22 May on the security situation in East Timor. On 25 May, Mr Downer said:

Indonesia's armed forces must act to restore security, bring those responsible for the violence and killings to account, and take action to create an environment in which the East Timorese can vote free from... intimidation.'(90)


East Timor since 1975 has suffered continued instability and conflict in the aftermath of Indonesia's invasion and incorporation. While many people in the territory appear to support strongly continued integration, it is equally clear that a large proportion of the population is dissatisfied with this status and would wish to advocate independence if given the opportunity to express their opinion. The continuing discord and conflict over the status of East Timor has been a substantial problem for Indonesia internationally and with some if its key bilateral relationships, including Australia.

The end of the Soeharto regime has opened up a new period of political change in Indonesia in which it has been possible to reconsider many issues, including the status of East Timor. The conclusion of the 5 May agreements between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations provides a framework for a decision to be made on the future of East Timor by the East Timorese people-for the first time in the history of this territory. However the realisation of this opportunity is threatened by problems both within and outside East Timor.

Three inter-related issues are especially important in relation to prospects for a peaceful and productive reassessment of East Timor's status.

Firstly the legacy of conflict and bitterness stemming from Indonesia's 23 year presence in East Timor now threaten prospects for stability and decision-making on the territory's future. The commitment of a large sector of the population to independence is challenged by the commitment of those who oppose this. The Indonesian armed forces-who have waged an intense and costly struggle against the pro-independence forces-have fostered and assisted pro-integrationist forces and this has led to an increased potential for internal conflict. There appears to be a real danger that the pro-integrationist militias, with passive or active assistance from ABRI elements, will promote a climate of instability which will make implementation of a free and fair ballot difficult, if not impossible.

Secondly, the issue of East Timor's status has been given increased attention at a time of acute strain in Indonesia's economic and political situation. An attempt to create a new democratic order is being made at the same time as the country is attempting to cope with a severe set of economic problems that saw GDP decrease by over 14 percent in 1998. The impending parliamentary elections on 7 June, and the corresponding scheduled delay of selection of a new President until November, mean that the authority of the incumbent government of President Habibie may well be open to question shortly. There have also been evident divisions of opinion over the East Timor issue both within the government and within the military. This is obviously a very difficult political environment in which Indonesia's leaders must attempt to pursue coherent policies towards East Timor.

Thirdly, the timing of the consultation process in East Timor is a further factor for complexity because it is placing a major decision on the territory's future in between decision-making processes being conducted at the national level. The Indonesian political system and national leadership must attempt to address the East Timor issue in a situation in which the 8 August ballot occurs after the national parliamentary elections on 7 June but before the election of a new President and the installation of a new government, which are not due to take place until November. Thus the people of East Timor are attempting to decide on their future in the middle of a process of political change and possible realignment at the national level. The timing of the ballot in East Timor may well add to the difficulties of securing a stable outcome which can be supported by a stable and coherent government in Indonesia.

The signing of the 5 May agreements on East Timor provides a framework for a decision on East Timor's future. The key immediate question is whether a combination of Indonesian forces, committed to a stable outcome, and international advisers and monitors can be marshalled which can provide the secure environment necessary for a credible act of consultation. It is particularly important that progress be made rapidly in containing and reducing the violence and intimidation which has been evident in 1999, especially since April. The UN mission which is now being prepared-with Australian support and participation-has an opportunity to act as a catalyst to help break the cycle of violence and encourage all the East Timorese parties and the Indonesian police and armed forces to live up to the provisions of the 5 May agreements.

If a stable environment cannot be fostered in the lead up to the ballot, there is clearly a real possibility that the opportunity which has now been created for a reassessment of East Timor's status could be compromised if not lost entirely. This would cause great damage both to East Timor and to Indonesia itself. While East Timor is only one of a number of major challenges with which Indonesia's leaders must attempt to deal, Indonesia's handling of East Timor is likely to be highly important to Indonesia's international image, credibility and capacity at a time when international support is an essential requirement for prospects for economic recovery and reform.

The successful implementation of the 5 May agreements is also highly important for Australia's relations with Indonesia. East Timor has been a divisive issue in the bilateral relationship for the past 24 years. The 8 August ballot offers an opportunity to resolve the status of East Timor and clear the way for improved prospects for stability and economic progress for its people. If this opportunity is delayed or lost, then the status of East Timor is likely to continue to be a source of strain between Australia and Indonesia at a time when the process of transition and democratisation in Indonesia should be opening up new prospects for productive and enduring relationships.



  1. For a detailed concise survey of East Timor's recent history see Stephen Sherlock, A Pebble in Indonesia's Shoe, Information and Research Services, Research Paper No. 8. 1995-96.

  2. Ibid, p. 5.

  3. Indonesia's transition process has been analysed in another recent Information and Research Services paper-see Stephen Sherlock, Indonesia's Dangerous Transition: The Politics of Recovery and Democratisation, Research Paper No 18, 1998-99, 28 April 1999.

  4. 'Indonesia: East Timor Outlook', Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, 10 September 1998.

  5. Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, 'Australian Government Historic Policy Shift on East Timor', Media Release, 12 January 1999.

  6. 'Indonesia: East Timor Outlook', Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, 10 September 1998.

  7. The decision was announced by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Ali Alatas and the Minister for Information Junus Yosfiah, see 'Timor Independence possible', The Canberra Times, 28 January 1999.

  8. 'Indonesia: Independence Offer', Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, 2 February 1999.

  9. Tim Dodd, 'East Timor's fate rests on elections', Australian Financial Review, 24 April 1999.

  10. Tim Dodd, 'Megawati to scrap Timor ballot: report', The Australian Financial Review, 3 May 1999.

  11. John Aglionby, 'Megawati puts UN ballot in jeopardy', The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 1999.

  12. Bob Lowry, Indonesia: Political Futures and Regional Security, Working Paper No. 53, Australian Defence Studies Centre, Canberra, March 1999, p. 9-13. Mr Lowry is the author of a forthcoming Information and Research Services Research Paper on the role of the Indonesian armed forces in the post Soeharto era.

  13. Don Greenlees, 'Spectre of Vietnam over riot-torn nation', The Australian, 20-21 March, 1999.

  14. Mark Baker, 'Divided Conquerors', Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1999.

  15. 'Indonesia: East Timor Violence', Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, 13 April 1999.

  16. Peter Hartcher, 'Army is lying in wait for independence voters', The Australian Financial Review, 1 May 1999; see also Nicholas Stuart, 'Military follows orders', The Canberra Times, 22 May 1999.

  17. See Stephen Sherlock 'Indonesia's Dangerous Transition: The Politics of Recovery and Democratisation', Research Paper No 18. 1998-99, Information and Research Services, 28 April 1999, pp. 24-28.

  18. See for example Mark Baker, 'Divided conquerors', The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1999.

  19. 'Indonesia: East Timor Outlook', Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, 10 September 1998.

  20. George J. Aditjondro, 'ABRI Inc' The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 1999.

  21. Mr Gusmao has consistently called for a UN presence-see for example, Peter Cole-Adams, 'Xanana asks Labor to push for UN police', The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March, 1999, However Mr Horta has repeatedly said the opposite, for example, Nicholson, B., 1999, 'No Need for troops, say Timorese', The Age, 9 March 1999.

  22. Mark Dodd, 'Militia law', Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 1999.

  23. Comments by John Dauth Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to Senate Estimates Committee, 5 May 1999.

  24. Ibid.

  25. 'Indonesia: East Timor Violence', Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, 13 April 1999.

  26. Ibid.

  27. Bruce Woodley, 'Red and white terror', The Weekend Australian, 1-2 May 1999; Question of East Timor: Report of the Secretary General, New York, 22 May 1999.

  28. Mark Davis, 'East Timor: licence to kill', in ABC TV Four Corners program, 15 March, 1999, transcript p. 4.

  29. Bruce Woodley, 'Red and white terror', The Weekend Australian, 1-2 May 1999.

  30. Lindsay Murdoch, 'Riot squad took part in massacre', The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 April, 1999; John Zubrzycki, 'Observer mission into fear', The Australian, 25 May 1999.

  31. Comments by John Dauth, Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to Senate Estimates Committee, 5 May 1999.

  32. Lindsay Murdoch, 'Riot squad took part in massacre', The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 April, 1999.

  33. 'The wild bunch', The Economist, 24 April 1999.

  34. Don Greenlees, 'Timorese rush to sign pact', The Australian, 22 April 1999.

  35. Lindsay Murdoch, 'Villagers forces to camps', The Age, 7 May 1999.

  36. Lindsay Murdoch, 'Militiamen run riot in Dili', The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 1999.

  37. Ibid.

  38. The best example being the AusAID, 1999, Report of AusAID Fact-Finding Mission to East Timor 10 to 20 March 1999, issued by the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, 23 March 1999.

  39. AusAID, 1999, Report of AusAID Fact-Finding Mission to East Timor 10 to 20 March 1999, issued by the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, 23 March 1999, p. 3.

  40. Tim Dodd, 'Trouble brewing for Timorese', The Australian Financial Review Weekend, 15-16 May 1999.

  41. Paul Daley, 'Timor chaos poses tough choices for Canberra', in The Age, 19 February 1999.

  42. Geoffrey Barker, 'Royalties can't support East Timor', in The Australian Financial Review, 18 February 1999.

  43. Figures quoted by Geoffrey Barker, 'Royalties can't support East Timor', The Australian Financial Review, 18 February 1999; Mr Downer confirmed the figures on the ABC TV's Lateline program, 18 February 1999.

  44. Jill Jolliffe, 'Old colonist Portugal throws financial lifeline to E Timor', The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 February 1999.

  45. J. R. Horta, 'Give East Timor's people their chance', The International Herald Tribune, 4 March, 1999; and Michael Backman, 'Can a Free East Timor Get Rich?', in The Asian Wall Street Journal, 11 March, 1999.

  46. Louise Williams, 'New nation to get oil and gas wealth', The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February 1999.

  47. Louise Williams, 'New state will want a slice of Gap', The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 1999.

  48. 'CNRT Statement on Timor Gap Oil', 21 July 1998.

  49. Greg Earl, 'Gusmao assures Gap treaty is safe', The Australian Financial Review, 27 February 1999.

  50. Louise Williams, 'New nation to get oil and gas wealth', The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February 1999.

  51. Ibid.

  52. Ibid, and Louise Williams, 'New state will want a slice of Gap', The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 1999.

  53. Two major agreements were signed on 5 May: the 'Agreement Regarding the Modalities for the Popular Consultation of the East Timorese Through a Direct Ballot', and the 'Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and the Portuguese Republic on the Question of East Timor'. The latter agreement includes a detailed Annex on 'A Constitutional Framework for A Special Autonomy for East Timor' which sets out the powers of the proposed 'Special Autonomous Region of East Timor'. Copies of the full text of these agreements are available to Senators and Members on request.

  54. 'Indonesia signs East Timor agreement', Associated Press, 6 May 1999.

  55. Tim Dodd, 'Timor pledges to accept ballot', Australian Financial Review, 7 May 1999.

  56. 'Next Timor hurdle to curb militia', The West Australian, 7 May 1999.

  57. Question of East Timor: Report of the Secretary General, New York, 22 May 1999.

  58. Karen Poldglaze, 'Gesture made, but Timor in a gun', The Canberra Times, 9 May 1999.

  59. 'RI still responsible for law and order in East Timor', The Jakarta Post, 20 May 1999.

  60. Hamish McDonald, 'Wiranto's military power threatens East Timor vote', The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 1999.

  61. 'Next Timor hurdle to curb militia', The West Australian, 7 May 1999.

  62. Lindsay Murdoch, 'Militia hand over guns', The Sunday Age, 9 May 1999.

  63. Mark Dodd, 'UN demands action on militia violence', The Age, 18 May 1999.

  64. Mark Dodd, 'Military caught in the act', The Age, 21 May 1999.

  65. Mark Riley, 'UN defends its victim bias', The Sydney Morning Herald 22 May 1999.

  66. Mark Dodd, 'Human rights in East Timor at new low: report', The Sunday Age, 23 May 1999.

  67. Question of East Timor: Report of the Secretary General, New York, 22 May 1999.

  68. See

  69. See for example, the Hon. Laurie Brereton, 'East Timor: Reports of Killings at Liquica', News Release, Office of Laurie Brereton MP, 7 April, 1999.

  70. Alan Dupont and Anthony Bergin, 'UN force critical to peace in Timor', The Australian Financial Review, 29 March 1999.

  71. A Current Issues Brief by Dr Adam Cobb will discuss issues and scenarios in relation to a possible UN peacekeeping role and the implications for Australia if Australian forces were to be involved.

  72. Alexander Downer, 'Australian government historic policy shift on East Timor', Media Release, Officer of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, 12 January 1999.

  73. Geoffrey Barker, 'Indonesian Ambassador rebukes Brereton', The Australian Financial Review, 6 February, 1999.

  74. Michelle Grattan, 'Australia ready to join UN election team in Timor', The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March, 1999.

  75. Paul Daley, 'Downer sets out Timor troops plan', The Age, 1 April 1999.

  76. Comments by John Dauth Deputy Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to Senate Estimates Committee, 5 May 1999.

  77. Laurie Brereton, 'Australia and East Timor', speech to the Queensland Branch of the AIIA, 4 February 1999.

  78. Ibid, p. 22.

  79. Ibid, p. 2.

  80. Ibid, p. 18.

  81. Paul Daley, 'Whitlam's Timor tragic', The Age, 5 February 1999; Paul Cleary, 'Labor's unlikely conscience', The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February 1999.

  82. 'Timor more bloodshed warning', The Canberra Times, 27 April 1999.

  83. Lindsay Murdoch and Peter Cole-Adams, 'Freedom slaughtered', The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 1999.

  84. Tim Dodd, 'Australia commits to Timor poll', Australian Financial Review, 28 April 1999.

  85. Don Greenlees, 'A full and free choice', The Australian, 28 April 1999.

  86. Gervase Greene, 'Brereton ban backed by Downer', The Age, 12 May 1999.

  87. 'Violence stifles start of campaign', The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 1999.

  88. Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 May 1999, p. 4111.

  89. Lindsay Murdoch, 'Alatas spurns bid for Australian peace talks', The Age, 21 May 1999.

  90. Mark Riley and Peter Cole-Adams, 'UN steps up Timor pressure', The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 May 1999.

Appendix A: Chronology of Major Events

Chronology of East Timor

1642 - Portuguese invade Timor in strength and set up a trading post. Use the island as a source of sandalwood, prized for its aroma and medicinal oil.

1749 - Battle of Penfui, between Dutch and Portuguese forces, results in Timor being split, with the Dutch taking the western half and the Portuguese the east.

1942 - Japanese forces invade East Timor, fighting fierce battles with Australian troops in which up to 60 000 East Timorese are killed. Low level guerrilla fighting continues but territory under Japanese administration until 1945.

25 April 1974 - Armed forces coup in Portugal ends dictatorship of Antonio Salazar, leading to a new government which begins a policy of decolonisation.

27 August 1975 - Portuguese governor and administration withdraw from East Timor capital Dili to offshore island of Atauro.

6 October 1975 - Five Australia-based journalists are killed in the East Timor border village of Balibo. Indonesia says they were killed in crossfire during a skirmish. Others allege they were deliberately killed by an army unit led by Indonesia's current information minister, Yunus Yosfiah.

28 November 1975 - After a brief civil war, left-wing Fretilin party declares East Timor independent.

29 November 1975 - Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik signs a declaration integrating the territory into Indonesia.

7 December 1975 - Indonesian troops invade East Timor. An estimated 200 000 people-a third of the population-die during the military crackdown and famine that follow.

17 July 1976 - President Soeharto signs bill formally declaring East Timor Indonesia's 27th province. United Nations does not recognise this and says Portugal remains administering power.

20 January 1978 - Australia gives de facto recognition to Indonesia's control of East Timor.

February 1979 - Australia extends de jure recognition to Indonesia's rule in East Timor.

12 November 1991 - Indonesian troops open fire on a procession on the way to Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery after a funeral for an anti-Indonesia activist. An official report says 50 people died, while human rights groups say at least 180 were killed.

20 November 1992 - Guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao captured. The following year he is convicted of subversion and sentenced to life in prison, later commuted to 20 years.

12 January 1995 - Indonesian troops kill six civilians after Fretilin attack in which one soldier was wounded.

11 October 1996 - East Timor Bishop Carlos Belo and self-exiled resistance spokesman Jose Ramos Horta awarded Nobel Peace prize.

24 December 1996 - Tens of thousands greet Belo on his return from Europe. Off-duty Indonesian soldier carrying pistol killed by crowd at Dili cathedral amid rumours of plot to kill Belo.

1 May 1998 - Indonesian President Soeharto is forced from power amid a crippling economic crisis, mass protests against his 32-year rule and savage riots in Jakarta. He is replaced by BJ Habibie.

9 June 1998 - Habibie tells Reuters in an interview he will consider offering 'special status' and wider autonomy to East Timor but insists the territory will remain part of Indonesia. Portugal rejects the idea.

10 June 1998 - Thousands of students hold a pro-independence rally in East Timor. In following weeks, several mass rallies are held by Timorese students in East Timor and Jakarta.

18 June 1998 - Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas offers new proposals to Portugal to try to settle the East Timor dispute.

27 June 1998 - Hundreds of pro-independence protesters clash with government supporters in Dili after a youth is shot by troops trying to quell an earlier clash outside the city.

29 June 1998 - Troops open fire on protesters in Baucau, killing one, during a visit of three European Union envoys.

24 July 1998 - Indonesia announces a program of troops withdrawals from the territory.

4 August 1998 - Indonesia and Portugal begin a new round of UN-sponsored talks. They agree to discuss Indonesia's proposals for autonomy for East Timor.

8 August 1998 - Indonesia says all combat troops withdrawn.

30 October 1998 - After persistent allegations over the month that Indonesia has been secretly building up troops and attacking rebel forces, leaked military documents show troop numbers in East Timor have not been cut despite the government's claims.

22 November 1998 - A former governor of East Timor says 44 people were killed in a military crackdown. The International Committee of the Red Cross says its investigations do not substantiate the report.

12 January 1999 - Australia announces a major change of policy on East Timor, saying it backs allowing the territory to vote on whether to become independent after a period of autonomy.

27 January 1999 - Indonesia announces it may let East Timor break away if East Timorese reject an offer of autonomy within Indonesia. Foreign Minister Ali Alatas says East Timor rebel leader Xanana Gusmao will be moved from jail to house arrest, still in Jakarta.

30 January 1999 - Indonesian and Portuguese diplomats arrived in Lisbon and Jakarta to establish the first diplomatic ties between the two countries since Indonesia's invasion of East Timor.

5 February 1999 - Gusmao says he has no ambitions to lead East Timor, either as an independent nation or as part of Indonesia with substantial autonomy.

10 February, 1999 - Gusmao is moved to house arrest at 47, Jalan Percetakan Negara VII, near Cipinang Prison in Jakarta. The residence of a former prison official is officially designated a branch of the prison.

17 April 1999 - 25 people reported to have been killed by militia forces in Dili

27 April 1999 - Prime Minister Howard and President Habibie and senior ministers meet in Bali for talks on East Timor

5 May 1999 - Agreements signed in New York between Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations to provide for a ballot on 8 August on a proposal for special autonomy for East Timor

Source: Based on Australian Associated Press report, 12 January 1999