The Australian Federal Police announcement that it will investigate charges of war crimes against perpetrators of the murder of five Australian based journalists in the East Timorese town of Balibo in 1975 has put a legal cat among the diplomatic pigeons. Already senior Indonesian politicians have objected, saying they will not cooperate with such an investigation, while the Australian government and department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is going into a now well practiced mode of damage control.
The Australian government, including PM Rudd and Foreign Minister Smith, have predictably – and correctly - said that the matter is a judicial one that does not involve political intervention. Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono is likely to say much the same, although a government spokesman has already reacted with some hostility.
It is hardly novel that a politician looking back at the glory days of office will want to ensure that their political legacy looks as positive as possible. And for whatever faults one might find with John Howard’s period as prime minister, he was a politically-successful prime minister.
One wonders, then, why Howard finds it necessary to create a palpable fiction over his commitment to East Timor's independence, which he claimed was both inevitable and that he would go along with it. Similarly, one wonders why a journalist of Paul Kelly's stature would participate in the peddling of the fiction that "the Howard government decided in early 1999 to work for East Timor's independence", given evidence to the opposite is both overwhelming and freely available.
Steve Holland wrote in Crikey yesterday complaining about a supposed ‘media blackout’ in East Timor. As with another issue, he is wrong about this. There is no media ‘blackout’, but rather a refusal by the prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, to continue to feed into under-researched stories that have already been shown to be factually incorrect.
Refusing to comment on an incorrect premise does not, of course, equate to ‘censorship’, as Steve Holland claims.
As a matter of principle, all governments, including those of small and democratic neighbours, should be open and accountable. For those who have been following East Timor for some time, this has generally been shown to be the case.
On Sunday (30 August), it will be 10 years since the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia. Following 24 years in which more than a quarter of the population was killed or died as result of the occupation, the vote of almost 80 per cent in favour of independence was not surprising.
What was extraordinary was that in what had become a war zone, 98.6 per cent of registered voters turned out to vote. Many had trekked long distances over rough tracks, coming down from the relative safety of the mountains to line up before dawn at polling stations across the territory.
Heavily armed Indonesian police and soldiers stood at, and inside, polling centres. The Indonesian army’s proxy militias strolled in and out intimidating voters. In the village of Balibo, Indonesian intelligence officers directed the Halilintar (Lightning) militia and paid cash to ‘voters’ trucked in from West Timor.
A website claiming to represent the successor organisation to Indonesia’s Jema’ah Islamiyah terrorist network has claimed that the recent bombings of two luxury hotels in Jakarta was an attack against foreign intelligence and businesses operating in Indonesia. It also claimed the bombings in honor of JI leader Azhari, who was killed in a shoot-out with Indonesian security forces in 2005.
The website, claiming to represent an organisation called ‘Tandzim al Qo’idah Indonesia’ (Indonesian Organisational Base), represents a new trend in Indonesian Islamist terrorism, being the first such official claim of responsibility for a terrorist attack. Its ‘official statement’, dated 26 July 2009, was ‘signed’ by Indonesia’s most wanted man, Noordin Muhammad Top.
Just two weeks ago, observers were congratulating Indonesia for a presidential election that was seen to consolidate that country’s process of democratisation.
For those interested, please see my other blog site: Friends of Balibo at http://friendsofbalibo.blogspot.com/
Friends of Balibo is one of about 50 Friends of East Timor groups operating across Australia, and acts to suppor the community of the town of Balibo and its surrounding sub-district.
For those further interested, the movie 'Balibo', based on the events surrounding the murder of five Australian based newsmen at Balibo in October 1975 and another two months later in Dili, will headline the coming Melbourne International Film Festival and will be available on general release in August.
The shooting of a young Australian engineer at the Freeport mine in West Papua on Saturday morning has raised questions about who did it and why. Immediate attention focused on the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) and the long-held grievances of the local indigenous peoples who have been displaced by the massive mine. However, it is more likely this is a set-up job, with the usual suspects, the Indonesian military (TNI), behind it.
There is no doubt that the OPM and other West Papuan independence organisations want a very different arrangement with Jakarta. However, their policy over the past few months has been one of public protest, with the aim of getting the Indonesian government to the negotiating table.
There has been some disquiet about each of the three pairs of candidates for president and vice-president are former army generals. Two of these generals have been identified as having been responsible for war crimes in the pre-democratic era.