Timor Killers Caught on Tape

Timor Killers Caught on Tape

Timor Killers Caught on Tape

What the foreign papers are saying.
Sept. 21 1999 3:30 AM

Timor Killers Caught on Tape

The Independent of London led its front page Monday with what it claimed was the first clear, documented evidence that the Indonesian army directed the slaughter in East Timor. It published transcripts of recordings of two-way radio conversations between the special forces unit of the Indonesian army--the Kopassus--and anti-independence militias. Radio conversations between Kopassus officers and militia commanders shortly before and after the Aug. 31 referendum included Kopassus saying, "It is better we wait for the result of the announcement [of the ballot]. ... Whether we win or lose, that's when we'll react." Also, Kopassus: "Those white people [referendum observers] ... should be put in the river." Militia commander (passing the order to other militiamen): "If they want to leave, pull them out [of their car], kill them and put them in the river." Kopassus: "They need to be stopped." Militiamen: "It will be done." "I'll wipe them out, all of them." "I'll eat them up."

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On Sunday, the Observer of London led with an "exclusive" report that members of the Kopassus had been secretly trained in the United States under a program code-named "Iron Balance." Quoting Pentagon documents obtained by the U.S.-based East Timor Action Network and Rep. Lane Evans, D-Ill., the Observer said the program "was hidden from legislators and the public when Congress curbed the official schooling of Indonesia's army after a massacre in 1991." The training of Kopassus went ahead nevertheless at American taxpayers' expense "despite US awareness of its role in the genocide of about 200,000 people in the years after the invasion of East Timor in 1975," the paper said. It quoted a 1990 cable to the State Department from an unidentified former official of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta that the training had been "a big help to the (Indonesian) army. They probably killed a lot of people and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands."

As the first peacekeepers arrived in East Timor, the South China Morning Post took a hard line against the Indonesian government in an editorial Monday, saying that "[i]f the army lets its militia puppets fight the UN forces, then Jakarta should pay a heavy price. International agencies should halt all aid, and other countries should bring maximum pressure on Indonesia to act like the responsible nation it so often claims to be." The liberal Jakarta Post predicted a strengthening of the power of the Indonesian military with the anticipated passage in parliament this week of a new state security bill. Condemning Indonesia's reform leaders for their lack of resistance to the bill, the paper said it would give the military almost unlimited power in a state of emergency, including the right to jail people without trial. The day the House of Representatives endorses the bill will be "a sad day for civil society," sounding the death knell for the reform movement.

A commentary in the Jakarta Post warned that Australia's leadership of the peacekeeping force could destroy the hitherto close relationship between Australia and Indonesia. Aleksius Jemadu, a lecturer in international relations at Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung, Indonesia, wrote that the East Timor militias might target Australian troops, "thus drawing Australia into a conflict much more complicated than it ever expected. The possibility of an open conflict with Indonesia cannot be ruled out, particularly if pro-integration militias launch an attack from the western half of the island of Timor." Noting that the Indonesian military is "very suspicious" about Australia's motivation in East Timor (believing it may have as much to do with Prime Minister John Howard's popularity at home as with humanitarian concerns), Jemadu asked, "Does Australia have a strategic agenda which might strengthen its bargaining position vis-a-vis its closest northern neighbor? Now Australia's fear of Indonesia is turning out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

The same kind of anxieties were expressed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Michelle Grattan wrote that without a clear exit timetable, Australia's relationship with Indonesia "will be seen through the Timor prism for years rather than months." She said, "The surge of feeling for 'our boys' on their departure is dangerously fuelling nationalist sentiment in both countries. Australian business interests in Indonesia are being hit by the surge of anti-Australian emotion. And alarmingly, despite the fact that Australia is putting pressure on Indonesia rather than vice versa, some Australian politicians are starting to talk in old threat-from-the-north language."

While remarking that Australia had played "a commendably sensible diplomatic role throughout the latest troubles," the Financial Times of London said Monday in an editorial that "[t]he venture has also exposed latent resentment of the potential leadership of Australia in the region," particularly from Malaysia, which has refused to take part in the peacekeeping force under Australian command. Le Monde of Paris made the same point Sunday in an editorial, saying that most Asian countries (with the exception of Thailand "which accepts all its responsibilities") regard the intervention in East Timor as an example of western neocolonialism, but it argued that the intervention is justified by international justice and, in the specific case of Indonesia, by its wish "to benefit from the globalization of trade and from substantial international financial aid." In an editorial Monday, the Bangkok Post praised Thailand's decision to join the peacekeeping force and described it as a policy of "tough love."

In Spain, El País reported an improvement in Spanish-Chilean relations because of Chile's decision to raise the case of Gen. Augusto Pinochet with the International Court of Justice in the Hague. It quoted Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes as saying this could bring "a complete solution" to the row generated by Spain's request for Pinochet to be extradited from Britain for murder, torture, and other human rights violations. It said the Spanish and Chilean foreign ministers will meet for talks in New York this week.

In London, the Times reported Monday that British mountaineer George Mallory, who died on Mount Everest in 1924, may have been the first person to reach the summit after all. A book by members of the team that found his body on the mountain last May revealed that he had enough oxygen to do so, and it also offered another "tantalising clue. ... It is known that Mallory had intended to place a photograph of his wife, Ruth, on the summit should he reach it. No photographs were found on his body. 'Where are they,' the authors ask, 'if not at the summit?' " In an editorial, the Times (which is serializing the book Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory, by Jochen Hemmleb, Larry Johnson, and Eric Simonson) admitted that the evidence is hardly conclusive but said that an American search expedition will return to Everest next year to look for the body of Mallory's fellow mountaineer Andrew Irvine and for the missing camera with which Irvine planned to record them both on the roof of the world.