Chapter 1 - Introduction
The Senate referred the matter of East Timor to the Committee on 30 November 1998. As a first step, the
Committee advertised the inquiry in the national press and called for written
submissions to be lodged with the Committee. A total of 101 submissions was
received, details of which are contained in Appendix 1. The Committee began
conducting public hearings on 19 July 1999.
In view of the dynamic and dramatic events that
took place in East Timor in
September 1999 following the popular consultation, the Committee presented an
interim report to the Senate on 30 September 1999. In that report, the Committee presented its conclusions and
recommendations on matters that it believed should not be held over to the end
of the inquiry.
Subsequently, the Committee continued its
hearings, the final one being held on 10 April 2000. Details of the hearings are
contained in Appendix 2. The Hansard transcripts of evidence taken at the
hearings are available on the Internet (http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/).
The Committee had wanted to visit East Timor to see for itself the
destruction wrought after the popular consultation and to speak to Interfet and
local authorities. However, the Committee’s application to visit East Timor was rejected by the President of
the Senate. One member of the Committee and one participating member, who
contributed to the inquiry, visited East Timor on two occasions, once as an election monitor and the other time
with another parliamentary committee.
consultation, as stipulated by the 5 May 1999 tripartite agreement signed by Indonesia, Portugal and the
United Nations, took place on 30 August 1999
and, in contrast to the militia violence which had preceded it, was marked by a
remarkably peaceful atmosphere, high voter turnout and efficient organisation.
The result of that ballot was announced on 4 September, with
78.5 per cent of East Timorese voting for separation (in effect, for
independence) rather than for autonomy within Indonesia. The announcement of the ballot result was
followed by the outbreak of a campaign of violence and destruction across East Timor.
In the days after
the announcement of the result of the popular consultation, the Indonesian
military put into operation plans to transport large numbers of East Timorese
to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. This was accompanied by an
unrestrained rampage of killing, looting and burning throughout the territory
by the militias, encouraged and assisted by the regular armed forces and
police. An undetermined number of independence supporters, including their
children, were murdered. The rest of the population, estimated to be
600,000 by the Red Cross, fled to the mountains, leaving the burnt out remains
of Dili and other towns and villages deserted. By 26 September, the East Nusatenggara
refugee co-ordination centre in Kupang had registered 232,672 East Timorese in West Timor.
action by the militias and the TNI was in breach of the undertaking, given by
the Indonesian Government in the agreement of 5 May 1999 with Portugal and the
United Nations, to preserve peace and security in East Timor in the interim
phase between the conclusion of the popular consultation and the start of the
implementation of its result, regardless of the outcome, and to guarantee the
security of the personnel and premises of UNAMET (United Nations Assistance
Mission to East Timor).
The United Nations
Security Council passed resolution 1264 on 15 September 1999, with the co-operation of the
Indonesian Government. Resolution 1264 established Interfet (International
Force for East Timor) with a mandate to restore peace and
security in East Timor and to facilitate humanitarian
assistance operations. Interfet, under the command of Major General Peter Cosgrove, deployed to Dili on
20 September and progressively expanded its territorial coverage, until by
mid-October it had established a presence across all of East Timor, including the Oecusse enclave.
On 19 October 1999, the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly
(MPR - Majelis Permusyawarakatan Rakyat) voted to formally renounce Indonesian
sovereignty over East
Timor, and on 20 October
Kiai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid was elected President of Indonesia following the
resignation of President
Dr B.J. Habibie. The following day, Megawati Soekarnoputri was
On 25 October 1999, the United Nations Security Council passed
resolution 1272 establishing UNTAET (United Nations Transitional Administration
in East Timor). Interfet continued to maintain
peace and security throughout East Timor while
UNTAET began the task of establishing a civil administration and building the
institutions of government. Mr Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations Transitional Administrator
and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, took up duties in East Timor on 19 November. Responsibility for maintaining
peace and security was transferred according to schedule from Interfet to
UNTAET on 23 February
2000. Major General Cosgrove handed over responsibility for fulfilling the
United Nations military mandate to UNTAET force commander, Philippines Lieutenant General Jaime de los Santos.
its mandate in East Timor. There was very little loss of life.
Interfet itself suffered no losses in action of force members’ lives in spite
of operating in a difficult and occasionally hostile environment. Its only
casualties were a New
Zealand soldier killed
in a vehicle accident and an Australian soldier who died of illness. By the end
of October 1999, peace and security had largely been restored to all of East Timor, including the Oecusse enclave. Humanitarian
assistance agencies were able to move freely throughout the territory, and the
work of reconstruction had begun. In this respect, Interfet had fulfilled its
obligations as set out in Security Council Resolution 1264, ‘to restore peace
and security in East
Timor, to protect and
support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks and, within force capabilities, to
facilitate humanitarian assistance operations’.
This was a
significant achievement in view of the situation in early September 1999. That
this outcome was achieved with a minimum use of force was a tribute to the
professionalism and dedication of the leadership and members of Interfet. They
conducted themselves to the highest military standards and, in a short time,
achieved outstanding results.
While Australia took a pivotal role in assembling and leading
Interfet, it was a fully regional and international effort. Interfet had
defence force contingents from 20 states deployed or committed, including
key regional states such as Thailand and the Philippines, as well as others including Brazil, Kenya, Jordan, New Zealand, France, Fiji and the United Kingdom and the United States. Although Japan was not able to participate in Interfet owing to constitutional
limitations, it greatly facilitated the participation of developing countries
through its $US100 million contribution to the Interfet trust fund.
The role played by
Indonesia must be noted. The indefensible
shortcomings of Indonesia’s response to events in East Timor in the immediate post-ballot period have been
well documented. But, after agreeing to the passing of Security Council
Resolution 1264, Indonesia took some important steps to
facilitate the establishment of an independent East Timor. As Interfet established its presence in East
Timor, Indonesia withdrew its troops. The independence vote in the MPR was
taken in a dignified manner without rancour or bitterness. Initial problems
over management of the border region were resolved co-operatively, and
Indonesia’s own Human Rights Commission, Komnas-HAM, showed determination to
investigate the events surrounding the ballot.
relationship with Indonesia suffered significantly as a result of developments
in East Timor, although much working level contact of direct benefit to both
sides proceeded relatively unaffected. Mr John Dauth, Deputy Secretary of the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) told the Committee that:
We are confident that, over
time, the relationship could be rebuilt. But the Government’s view is very
clearly that this will only be done on the basis of mutual effort and mutual
benefit. In the future that relationship will be stronger, in our view, for the
fact that it will not constantly be undermined by East Timor in the way in
which it was for the past 25 years.
The situation of
the displaced East Timorese remaining in West Timor continued to be the most
pressing humanitarian problem. The Government of Indonesia indicated that those
wishing to return to East Timor should be able to do so, but there was clear
evidence that militias were still intimidating refugees. The United Nations,
Australia, the United States and many other countries have pressed Indonesia
strongly to bring the militias under control and promote secure access to all
refugee camps in West Timor.
An agreement on
the definition of the border signed on 12 January 2000 reduced the
likelihood of unintended infringements. On 11 April, General Jaime de los
Santos and the Indonesian Commanding Officer in West Timor, Major General Kiki
Syahnakri, signed a memorandum of understanding on border issues regarding
security, boundary crossing, passage of refugees, humanitarian assistance and
related matters. General de los Santos said that this agreement was ‘a
continuation, a transfer, of the excellent relationship which TNI and Interfet
enjoyed ... It will result in a far stronger understanding of each other’s
position and a much improved ability to work together in the border areas’.
significant number of East Timorese have returned to East Timor, about 120,000
remain in refugee camps in West Timor. Continued oppression, harassment,
intimidation and a campaign of disinformation by East Timorese militias have
restricted the flow of refugees back to East Timor. Despite many undertakings
by the Indonesian Government to restrain militia activity, the Indonesian
military and police in West Timor have done little to comply. In fact, militia
violence increased during the year, culminating in September 2000 with the
deaths of three United Nations humanitarian staff in Atambua, which resulted in
the withdrawal of all United Nations humanitarian staff from West Timor.
Although aid workers have not yet returned to West Timor, there is evidence of
Indonesian authorities taking a firmer line with the militias.
attitude of the East Timorese leader, Mr José Alexandre ‘Xanana’ Gusmão and the
new Indonesian Government towards reconciliation has been encouraging.
Geographic and economic realities dictate that Indonesia and the new state of
East Timor become good neighbours.
The scale of
damage to essential infrastructure in early September 1999 was massive. Between
60 and 80 per cent of public and private property throughout the country was
destroyed. It is difficult enough for any ‘less
developed’ country to begin its life as a newly independent state, let alone
one that has been denuded of many of its essential facilities, services and
housing. Therefore, capacity building has been a key challenge in East Timor.
UNTAET has been undertaking a massive task in this respect and key aid donors,
including Australia, have played their part.
of a civil administration in East Timor has been another challenge. Initially,
much of the effort was devoted to security and the restoration of peace. With
that goal largely achieved, the focus turned to developing the civilian
administration and establishing the institutions of government. Australia
welcomed Mr Vieira de Mello’s intention to consult and work closely with Xanana
Gusmão and other representatives of the East Timorese people in preparing East
Timor for full independence.
The future of East
Timor will be in East Timorese hands and, in the meantime, UNTAET, the United Nations
assistance agencies, bilateral donors and non-government organisations must
assist them to make the most effective use of humanitarian and reconstruction
assistance, and to guide them in making the best possible decisions about East
Timor’s political and economic future. The resolution of the many complicated
issues in building an East Timorese nation will take time, patience, goodwill
and expertise. Australia has been participating in the overall development
planning co-ordinated by the World Bank and the United Nations, and working
closely with UNTAET and the East Timorese people.
The burden of
restoring peace and security to East Timor, and of building an independent
state is one for the international community as a whole to share, especially
those states which have a history of involvement with East Timor and its
aspirations for independence.
As required by its
terms of reference, the Committee also examined Australian policy towards East
Timor, mainly from about 1974 onwards. The Committee noted the early release in
September 2000 of selected documents relating to East Timor from the period
1974-76 from the files of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. As mentioned at the outset of the
inquiry, the Committee did not examine the matter of the deaths of five
Australian and British journalists at Balibo, East Timor, in October 1975.
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