Wednesday, August 5, 2009

U.S. and E. Timor in 1999

The U.S. political dynamics around E Timor in 1999, as discussed below by Piers Akerman in his column "Balibo ghosts return to haunt Labor" are - to put it mildly, tremendously over-simplified.

He writes in Australia's Daily Telegraph that:

A significant omission from the film [Balibo] and its footnotes is the reality it was right-wing US politicians urged on by William P.Clark, the former national security adviser to US president Ronald Reagan, who pushed Timor as an issue when he was working for George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 1999.

The combined actions of Clark and fellow Republicans, and the Catholic Church pressing former US president Bill Clinton at the same time he was meeting with former Australian prime minister John Howard at the APEC conference in Auckland in September 1999, paid off.
There was tremendous bi-partisan congressional pressure (that grew out of years of organizing by ETAN, various churches (not just the Catholic Church)). Both Houses of Congress had gone on record as supporting self-determination in 1998. In addition, with the fall of Suharto, the blind supporters of his dictatorship were, to put it mildly, lost as to what to do and did not mount any counter to those urging the U.S. to pressure Indonesia by cutting ties with the Indonesia military and threatening other aid to Indonesia, which Clinton did while he was on his way to APEC.

That said Akerman is right about the current Australian administration's failure to act on accused war criminal Guy Campos' continued presence in Australia. Akerman writes:

For over a year now Campos, who entered Australia on a pilgrim's visa during the Papal visit, has been investigated by the AFP [Australian Federal Police].

In that time we have had Utegate and the OzCar giveaways but Campos is still on our streets terrifying East Timorese residents who have testified to his activities.

My question: When does Rudd think Campos will be held to account?


Former Australian diplomat James Dunn submitted this note to the east-timor listserv in response to a note similar to the one above:

I fully support the note by JMM. Piers Akerman is a well-known columnist of the right who, with very few exceptions, in the past supported the invasion of East Timor and, as Akerman does here, accused the journalists of being at least partly responsible for their plight. The same can surely be said of the US right, one of whom many years ago, when I appeared before a congressional committee, accused me of trying to drive a wedge between the US and its good anti-communist friend, the Suharto regime. Columnists of Akerman's ilk responded in a similar vein here in Australia, accusing us of supporting communists or neo-communists. Clark's contribution may have been helpful but it came late in the piece. True, Labor was in power in Canberra when the Balibo killings occurred, but in less than a month they had been replaced by the Fraser government which proceeded along the same lines. It is nice to have a glimmer of humanitarian light from Akerman now, but we got nothing from the Right after the Balibo event, and, even more shamefully, they continued to remain silent in the subsequent four years when East Timor became a killing field. Balibo holds lessons for all of us, for Australian politicians, our journalists, our churches, as well as for Indonesians. As one who was in East Timor when he Balibo killings occurred, it seems that if the media had reacted to the events of 1975, as they have to this moving film, one of the worst atrocity cases of its kind might never have occurred.

James Dunn

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