Chapter 3

Interim Report on East Timor

Chapter 3


Australia-Indonesia Relations

3.1 As detailed in Chapter 2, Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975 resulted in the slaughter of tens of thousands of East Timorese and began a military occupation that operated beyond the rule of law. ABRI's (Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia) [1] frustration at its inability to stop Falantil's guerilla campaign for an independent East Timor resulted in a brutal and callous regime of systematic intimidation and gross violations of human rights.

3.2 Evidence before the Committee suggested that it was widely accepted that ABRI/TNI (Tentera Nasional Indonesia) [2] established, trained, armed and largely directed the operations of the militia in East Timor. The TNI and the police did little to restrain militia violence before and during the UNAMET deployment. [3] In fact, there is considerable evidence to show that the TNI actively aided and abetted militia violence. [4] There is also anecdotal evidence that TNI troops dressed in militia clothing were in the forefront of militia intimidation, violence and destruction. [5]

3.3 Since Indonesia's independence, the military have played a dominant role in domestic politics and in the Indonesian Government. Although the Indonesian legal framework provides for the rule of law to apply throughout Indonesia, including East Timor, ABRI/TNI have often used coercion and intimidation with impunity.

3.4 The Committee is at pains, however, to distinguish between the TNI and alleged militia atrocities on the one hand and the government and people of Indonesia on the other. Clearly, ABRI/TNI acted against the declared intention of the Indonesian Government in its operations in East Timor. Undoubtedly, neither President Habibie nor the people of Indonesia sanctioned these alleged crimes against humanity.

3.5 The Australian Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all other parties represented in the Parliament have clearly stated that Australia has no dispute with the Indonesian people. Australia has supported the United Nations' action in East Timor aimed at restoring security in East Timor and to enable the East Timorese people to restore their dignity.

3.6 The Committee notes that Australia's prominent role over the last year to effect change to assist the East Timorese has consequently strained our bilateral relationship with Indonesia. Australia has been blamed for being forthright in seeking a role for the United Nations to provide security in East Timor, a responsibility which the TNI was unwilling to fulfil.

3.7 The Committee supports the leading role played by the Australian Government in securing the United Nations mandate and the organising of a United Nations force to provide security for the East Timorese population and to facilitate the distribution of essential humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the territory.

3.8 Indonesia has recently held national elections as a step towards fulfilling its own democratic aspirations. Australia's interests are best served by fostering democratic principles, and supporting the establishment of democratic institutions.

3.9 As part of this move towards democracy, the TNI is becoming less dominant than it was under President Soeharto, but nevertheless, still remains an influential player in Indonesian domestic politics. Evidence was given to the Committee that there is a growing disenchantment with the TNI in Indonesia. [6] This disenchantment was demonstrated by recent riots in Jakarta following the Indonesian Parliament's passage of a law giving the TNI more power to deal with unrest in the country. The Committee notes that President Habibie, whose approval is required to give effect to the new law, has placed it in abeyance.

3.10 The Committee was told in recent hearings that little could be achieved by way of rebuilding the bilateral relationship during this caretaker period in Indonesia. President Habibie, having been appointed by President Soeharto, has lost further public support as a result of Bank Bali scandal and the Indonesian Government's agreement to the United Nations force in East Timor. [7] Nevertheless, the Australian Government should do all it can in the meantime to limit the damage being done to the bilateral relationship.

3.11 The Committee recognises the role of President Habibie in bringing on national democratic elections in Indonesia and the popular consultations in East Timor. In late 1998, the Australian Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, had suggested to President Habibie a period of autonomy for East Timor followed by an act of self-determination. However, in January 1999, President Habibie announced popular consultations for East Timor to enable the East Timorese to choose between autonomy and independence.

3.12 When a new Indonesian President is elected later this year, the best long-term interests of both countries will be served by rebuilding the relationship based on mutual respect.

3.13 In the event East Timor gains its independence later this year, the development of good relations among Australia, Indonesia and East Timor should be a priority matter for the three nations. Mr Xanana Gusmao has indicated recently that he would like an independent East Timor to establish normal relations with Indonesia.

Future of the Militias

3.14 The Committee notes that the Commander of Interfet, Major-General Peter Cosgrove, has urged militias to lay down their weapons and co-operate with Interfet.

3.15 The Committee had noted comments by Mr Xanana Gusmao seeking reconciliation among the people of East Timor. However, the Committee notes a news report dated 29 September 1999 that:

A leading East Timorese independence official called yesterday for international war crimes investigators to probe alleged atrocities committed by Indonesian soldiers and their militia allies as further evidence came to light of the weekend murders of eight clergy and civilians.

Mr Leandro Isaac, a leader of the National Council for Timorese Resistance, said resistance leader Mr Jose Xanana Gusmao's offer of an amnesty for those guilty of atrocities had been made before this month's explosion of anti-independence violence.

`There will never be peace without justice. Peace without justice is a rotten peace. If the people of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Rwanda can claim their rights for justice, the East Timorese also claim for justice', Mr Isaac said, adding that an international court should hear the claims. [8]

3.16 Another leading East Timorese, Mr Jose Ramos Horta, supported the establishment by the United Nations Human Rights Commission of a commission of inquiry into human rights violations in East Timor. [9] The Committee notes that the commission of inquiry was appointed on 27 September 1999. The motion was opposed by Indonesia and 11 other countries and the Indonesian delegate to the Commission stated that Indonesia is not bound by the Commission's resolution. [10]

3.17 The Indonesian delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission said that the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights would be conducting a fact-finding commission and `would spare no efforts to find out the cause of the post-ballot violence'. [11]

3.18 Some militia leaders have maintained a strident dialogue against an independent East Timor, vowing to continue the armed struggle from West Timor. Numerous recent news reports have drawn attention to claims that militias have been assembling inside the West Timor border in preparation for an insurgency campaign in East Timor.

3.19 The Committee received evidence that as the militias have little popular support in East Timor, one would expect that they would be unable to conduct an effective guerilla campaign against Interfet and the United Nations administration of East Timor without the backing of the TNI. The TNI leadership has a responsibility to respect the United Nations mandate, as Indonesia agreed to do in the 5 May Agreement, by not supporting the militias in any continuing campaign against East Timor. Moreover, the TNI should secure the western side of the border between West and East Timor to prevent the militias from crossing into East Timor.

3.20 The TNI at times has shown itself to have insufficient regard for international opinion up to this point. Although it acceded to international and especially United States' pressures to allow a United Nations force into East Timor and has largely withdrawn its troops from East Timor, there is no evidence of any move to rein in the militias in West Timor. Should the TNI disregard the views of the international community and continue to support the militias in a campaign against East Timor, the Australian Government should seek international support, particularly that of the United States, to put pressure on the TNI to stop helping the militias.

East Timorese Refugees in West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia.

3.21 The Committee notes with great concern the 233,000 or more East Timorese refugees held in camps in West Timor, some camps of which are allegedly under the control of the militias. [12]

3.22 The East Timorese refugees in West Timor are a mixture of pro-integration and pro-independence supporters. Although some pro-independence supporters crossed into West Timor voluntarily to escape the killings and pillaging by the TNI and militias, many were forcibly transported there. [13]

3.23 Media and other reports [14] of the killing of some pro-independence supporters in these camps by the militias and of plans for the transmigration of refugees to other parts of Indonesia have generated considerable concern about the fate of the pro-independence refugees. As conditions in these camps are very poor, the refugees in them require urgent and substantial humanitarian aid.

3.24 The Committee notes that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata conducted an inspection of some of the camps in West Timor in September 1999. She `received assurances from top Indonesian civilian and military leaders that UNHCR would be given unimpeded access to all displaced people in West Timor'. On 25 September 1999, a four-person UNHCR emergency team, accompanied by officials from other United Nations agencies and the Indonesian Ministry of Welfare arrived in Kupang on an assessment mission. `The current mission is seen as the test of these assurances on the ground.' [15]

3.25 The Committee believes that humanitarian agencies should be granted full access to all refugee camps and shelters in West Timor and elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago to distribute food, medicine and other essential supplies to refugees and to assist them in their return to East Timor, if that is their wish.

3.26 West Timor authorities and the TNI have a responsibility to provide security, particularly from the militias, for refugees encamped in West Timor. There is no evidence yet that such security has been provided for the camps. However, on 28 September 1999, Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr Ali Alatas, has reportedly assured the Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, that militia activity in the camps has ceased. Mr Downer was promised by Mr Alatas that aid agencies would be allowed access to refugees in West Timor and that the refugees would be free to return to East Timor. [16]

3.27 The situation in the West Timor camps should be monitored closely. If reports continue to be received alleging human rights abuses by militias or other parties, or of the forced transmigration of refugees to other parts of Indonesia, the Australian Government and the international community should as a matter of urgency pressure Indonesia to stop such actions.

Co-ordination of Aid

3.28 Witnesses expressed concern during public hearings in this inquiry about co-ordination of both government and non-government aid in East Timor. Mr Scott-Murphy of Caritas Australia told the Committee:

The need for coordination is really important. We have seen in places like Cambodia, where a large aid effort has come in after this sort of devastation, that cross-purposes by aid donors, official and non-government, can be quite counterproductive. [17]

3.29 In relation to the prioritising of aid, Mr Scott-Murphy said:

That should be a joint official and non-government approach because, in order to cement that sort of coordination, it is important that each country does not send its own assessment mission. The poor old Timorese will face one assessment from the EU, one from the World Bank, one from AusAID, one from the USA and one from the Japanese. They will come one after the other and ask the same questions. Then the non-government agencies will come one after the other asking the same questions. [18]

3.30 Mr Ensor of Community Aid Abroad told the Committee that:

Coordination with other bilateral and multilateral donors is imperative in efficiently using aid dollars. That is why in our submission we highlight as key priorities for Australia's response, firstly being a major player in donor coordination so that we can at least try and maximise the efficiency of donor dollars going into East Timor from Australia and other countries; and, secondly, giving a commitment to establishing a country program for East Timor but also a needs assessment right at the outset which could then inform a prioritisation process together with the coordination meetings that Australia should participate in. The outcomes of those two processes should lead to Australia being able to prioritise what funds it does commit to East Timor. [19]

3.31 The Committee considers that aid co-ordination should be a priority for both the initial distribution of humanitarian aid and the longer-term aid required to rebuild East Timor. Co-ordination is essential to avoid duplication of effort, confused priorities and a waste of scarce resources.

3.32 The Australian Government and its aid agency, AusAID, should do everything possible to encourage multilateral, government and non-government donors to adopt a co-ordinated approach to aid priorities and distribution arrangements.

3.33 Although humanitarian aid is an immediate priority for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled into the mountains from the TNI/militia ravages after the popular consultations, planning needs to be started for the rebuilding of the country and the anticipation of the establishment of a new nation. East Timorese leaders need to be involved in the planning process to ensure that the East Timorese aspirations are fulfilled as far as possible. [20]

3.34 With regard to co-ordination of aid among Australian non-government agencies, Mr Scott-Murphy told the Committee that:

It would help if, for example, AusAID were to designate funds for coordination. At the moment for our agency to put funds into the coordination of aid is to have to use what you call your non-tax deductible funds. Because when we give tax deductibility to donors it is because those funds will go overseas. Yet in so much of the work of planning and designing of programs that takes place in Australia you cannot use those funds. You have to use the funds given to you which are non-tax deductible and which are shrinking every year because increasingly people want tax deductibility. [21]

3.35 Mr Scott-Murphy suggested that rather than changing the rules of tax deductibility to enable non-government agencies to use tax deductible funds for co-ordination purposes, it would be simpler for AusAID or another government authority to provide a grant to fund co-ordination.

3.36 The Committee agrees that the Government should give consideration to grants being made available to non-government agencies to assist the co-ordination of their aid to East Timor.

Timor Gap Treaty [22]

3.37 Since May 1971, Australia has entered into five treaties and two memorandums of understanding with Indonesia on delimitation of the maritime boundary. When the 1972 Seabed Agreement was negotiated with Indonesia, East Timor was still a Portuguese colony. This resulted in a gap in the Australia-Indonesia seabed boundary south of East Timor. The closure of the gap was addressed in the 1989 Timor Gap Treaty.

3.38 The Timor Gap Treaty also created a Zone of Cooperation, comprising Areas A, B and C. The southern area, Area B, is administered by Australia while the northern area, Area C is administered by Indonesia. Area A, the central and largest of the three areas, is administered by Australia and Indonesia jointly by a Ministerial Council and a Joint Authority. This arrangement allows for the orderly exploration and development of petroleum resources in the Zone.

3.39 It is not the intention of the Committee in this interim report to examine the future status of the Treaty should East Timor become an independent state. The Committee has yet to complete the taking of evidence on this matter. However, as a result of evidence given by Phillips Oil Company Australia, in Darwin on 8 September 1999, the Committee wishes to comment briefly on some commercial considerations, which should not be held over to the final report.

3.40 The Darwin Area Manager of Phillips Oil Company Australia, Mr Godlove, told the Committee that:

Phillips, through various subsidiary companies, have major economic interests relating to petroleum development within area A of the zone of cooperation. We have already made very significant investments. With our co-venturers we are nearing a decision to approve a $US1.4 billion budget for the construction and operation of the Bayu-Undan Liquids Recovery and Gas Recycle Project. This world-scale gas field will play a pivotal role in the economic future of East Timor and the success of future petroleum development in the zone of cooperation.

To provide a secure environment for these investments and to realise the full potential of petroleum resources in this area, it is vital that the treaty be sustained and that key transitional issues accompanying any change in the sovereign status of East Timor be managed smoothly. The fragmentation of the treaty would have very important ramifications for Australia, who shares jurisdiction over this area, in terms of regional economic and political stability. As long as all parties commit to continuing the statutory and administrative provisions of the treaty, the resolution of matters relating to the sovereignty of East Timor need not adversely affect development in the zone of cooperation. [23]

3.41 Apart from royalties and taxes accruing to the Treaty partners, the proposed investment in the Bayu-Undan project offers other potential benefits to the region, particularly employment and contract opportunities. These benefits could increase with further investment in the petroleum industry in the Zone of Cooperation.

3.42 Even under ideal conditions, it would take some years for oil or gas production to commence in the Zone. The future revenue generated from the Bayu-Undan project would be important in the development of an independent East Timor economy. East Timor has few natural resources and petroleum revenue would help lessen the dependency on foreign aid for the basic requirements of its existence as an independent state.

3.43 Mr Godlove also said that while the petroleum industry was interested in the Timor Sea oil and gas fields, the outcome of the Bayu-Undan project would be a signal to the industry whether or not to pursue investment in the area. A positive response could lead to more developments in the Zone of Cooperation. If it were decided not to proceed with the Bayu-Undan project in late October, it may set back development of petroleum resources in the Zone of Cooperation.

3.44 Mr Godlove went on to say that:

Under the current terms of the treaty and our contracts, if by the end of 2001 we do not have a declaration of commercial discovery and an approved development plan … we run the risk of losing all of the investments we made and our rights to develop this field. [24]

3.45 The recent adverse developments in East Timor, and uncertainty surrounding the future of the Timor Gap Treaty, including the terms and conditions of exploration and development of petroleum resources in the Zone of Cooperation, are not conducive to major commercial investment in the area. Undoubtedly, there are strong commercial interests in the Zone of Cooperation but these interests are tempered by the added risk associated with the uncertainty surrounding the future of East Timor.

3.46 Mr Godlove indicated that the Australian Government should do everything possible to create an investment climate in the Zone of Cooperation that would encourage his group to proceed with Bayu-Undan, which in turn, would encourage further investment in hydrocarbon resources in the area.

3.47 Mr Keith Spence, Woodside Energy Limited told the Committee that his company was concerned to preserve the stability and elimination of sovereign risk that the current Treaty regime provided. [25]

3.48 At the time Mr Godlove gave evidence to the Committee in Darwin, the TNI/militia destruction of East Timor was under way and Indonesia was refusing to countenance a United Nations mandated force for East Timor. Since then, Indonesia has agreed to a United Nations force, which is currently in the process of establishing security in the territory. The prospects are now brighter for a more secure environment for the general area, which should be a positive factor in the commercial decision-making process for investment in Bayu-Undan.

3.49 The Committee reiterates Mr Godlove's call for the Australian Government to do everything possible to encourage a positive investment environment for the Bayu-Undan project.

Radio Australia

3.50 The Committee has, earlier in this chapter, urged the Australian Government to do everything possible to limit the damage to the bilateral relationship. Broadcasting and publication by some Indonesian media outlets of false information about Australian policies and actions in relation to East Timor is one example. In the absence of accurate news reports in Indonesian, anti-Australian sentiment is likely to grow, which not only affects diplomatic ties but also trade, education, tourism and other Australian interests. There have been news reports of possible sanctions against the importation of Australian wheat.

3.51 It is clear that Australia needs to respond to false news reports broadcast by local Indonesian radio stations by providing in Indonesian and English accurate reports about the Australian role in East Timor. Radio Australia, which is part of the ABC, is Australia's short-wave broadcaster, and has an enviable reputation throughout Asia for its independence, objectivity and integrity in news reporting.

3.52 Radio Australia uses the transmitter at Shepparton, Victoria, to transmit programs to East Timor but the signal from that station is too weak to reach central or western Indonesia. The Committee understands that Radio Australia is currently broadcasting one hour a day in Indonesian through leased offshore transmission facilities to Indonesia. This compares with about eight hours a day before the closure of the Cox Peninsula transmitting station in 1997.

3.53 In view of the degree of the deterioration of the bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia, the Committee believes that Radio Australia should significantly increase its broadcasts to Indonesia in Indonesian. This could be effected either by the leasing of substantial additional transmission time from offshore transmission facilities or by the reopening of the Cox Peninsula transmission station.

3.54 The Committee therefore RECOMMENDS that:

a) Radio Australia increase significantly the number of hours transmitted in Indonesian;

b) the Australian Government either lease additional transmission time from appropriate offshore transmission facilities and/or reopen the Cox Peninsula short-wave transmitting station near Darwin; and

c) the Australian Government provide additional funds for the increased transmission.

Parliamentary Delegation

3.55 Events in East Timor have strained relations between Australia and Indonesia. The Committee believes that the Parliament as well as the Government has a responsibility to help bridge differences that have occurred in our relations with Indonesia. The most effective way for Parliament to contribute to this process would be for a parliamentary delegation to visit Indonesia in early 2000 to discuss issues of importance to both sides. Each side listening to the other should achieve a better understanding of each other's points of view and help to avoid misunderstandings.

3.56 In the recent parliamentary debate on East Timor, it was clear that the Parliament desires good relations with the Indonesian Parliament and that the Australian community wants a friendly relationship with the Indonesian people.

3.57 The Committee therefore RECOMMENDS that the Parliament liaise with the Indonesian Parliament concerning a possible visit by a representative Australian parliamentary delegation in early 2000.

John Hogg


[1] ABRI included both the armed forces and the police.

[2] On 1 April 1999, ABRI was replaced by two entities: the police and the armed forces (TNI).

[3] Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in East Timor, 17 September 1999

[4] Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in East Timor, 17 September 1999

[5] Jim Dunn, speaking on ABC Four Corners Program, 20 September 1999.

Isa Bradridge, resident of Dili, speaking on ABC Four Corners Program, 20 September 1999.

[6] Committee Hansard, 20 September 1999, pp571-2.

[7] Committee Hansard, 20 September 1999, p. 574.

[8] Mark Dodd, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 1999.

[9] United Nations Press Release HR/CN/99/70 dated 27 September 1999.

[10] United Nations Press Release HR/CN/99/70 dated 27 September 1999.

[11] United Nations Press Release HR/CN/99/70 dated 27 September 1999.

[12] UNHCR Timor Emergency Update 28 September 1999.

[13] Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in East Timor, 17 September 1999

[14] For example, Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in East Timor, 17 September 1999

[15] UNHCR Timor Emergency Update 28 September 1999.

[16] Agence France-Presse, 28 September 1999.

[17] Committee Hansard, 10 September 1999, p. 505.

[18] Committee Hansard, 10 September 1999, p. 505.

[19] Committee Hansard, 27 August 1999, p. 338.

[20] Committee Hansard, 15 September 1999, p. 526.

[21] Committee Hansard, 10 September 1999, p. 505.

[22] Treaty between Australia and the Republic of Indonesia on the Zone of Cooperation in an Area between the Indonesian Province of East Timor and Northern Australia.

[23] Committee Hansard, 8 September 1999, p. 417.

[24] Committee Hansard, 8 September 1999, p. 424.

[25] Committee Hansard, 20 July 1999, p. 112.