Friday, August 7, 2009

Woolcott and Balibo

Clinton Fernandes responded on the east-timor listserv (archive here, subscribe here) to an article in the Australian which features self-serving remarks by former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Richard Woolcott. The retired diplomat blames the murdered Balibo 5 journalists and their bosses for the deaths:
"The ABC left, and others left," Mr Woolcott said. "I think proprietors (of the TV stations) bear a heavy responsibility that they've never had to shoulder." ...He said the Indonesians "would have regarded (the reporters) as combatants because of their close association with Fretilin".
He also denies any Australian or personal culpability:
Mr Woolcott said he assumed the [Balibo] film would be "partly fiction, but I don't want to buy into an argument about what the Australian government knew, or didn't know. All my cables have been made public. I have put it all down in my book, and I would not change a word of that chapter. It is simply a tragedy that these young and inexperienced people were there, and their lives were cut short."

Fernandes responds:

1. On 13th October 1975, Woolcott reported in a cable that he had been told by his Indonesian interlocutors that "The main thrust of the operation would begin on 15 October. It would be through Balibo and Maliana/Atsabe".

2. On 14th October, viewers across Australia watched Greg Shackleton's story stating that the Channel 7 team were on their way to the border.

3. On 15th October, Woolcott was once again told by the Indonesians that "Initially an Indonesian force of 800 will advance Batugade-Balibo-Maliana-Atsabe... It is of course clear that the presence of Indonesian forces of this order will become public. The Indonesians acknowledge this. The President's policy will be to deny any reports of the presence of Indonesian forces in Portuguese Timor."

4. On 16th October, the Indonesians attacked Balibo.

5. While there were no mobile phones in those days, Woolcott had immediate access to his Indonesian interlocutors face-to-face.

6. Here's an extract from the proceedings of the Coronial Inquest:

"Every single move by the Indonesians succeeded according to their plans. When informed of the precise Indonesian battle plans, no objection, public or private, was voiced. There were no news broadcasts showing Indonesian involvement in the attack on Balibo. Because senior Australian leaders had been compromised by advance warning of the attack, they were hardly in a position to disclose their true knowledge to the Australian people. When news of the deaths came out, not a single word in public or in private was uttered by the Australian Government or political leaders to suggest involvement or blame on the part of the Indonesians for the deaths of the journalists. Instead, Australian officials in public and in private persisted in what can only be called a bizarre charade of asking the Indonesian Military to use their good offices in seeking information from their Timorese militia allies about the deaths of the journalists... It is apparent that the Indonesian leaders engaged in a masterful power play worthy of an international chess grandmaster using Australian leaders and departmental officers as their pawns."

see also: ETAN: Australian Inquest into Balibo Journalists Killings in East Timor Shows Ongoing Need to Pursue Justice and Accountability

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New West Papua Report Out

Here is the summary of the August 2009 West Papua Report - the full report is here

Summary: The West Papua Advocacy Team was among the many international organizations which called for justice regarding violence which took the lives of three people in the area of the Freeport gold and copper mine in West Papua in July. A WPAT statement warned that in past violent episodes associated with Freeport, the role of the military was ignored despite evidence of its involvement. The statement also noted that in the past such Freeport incidents have led to retribution and injustice meted out against innocent Papuans. Papuan church leaders have called for an end to the persecution of innocent Papuans in the Timika area by Indonesian security forces. More than 50 U.S. non-governmental organizations urged the U.S. government not to begin training programs or other assistance benefiting Indonesian special forces (Kopassus). In making the case for continued prohibitions on such cooperation, the organizations noted in particular Kopassus's long record of abuse and impunity in West Papua. International criticism over the arrests and prosecution of Papuans in Nabire continued to grow. Human Rights Watch issued an appeal calling for an end to the prosecution of political prisoners in West Papua. Papuans have launched a legal suit against the Indonesian government over its collusion with the giant mining firm PT Freeport which has caused enormous damage to Papuan lives and land. Statistics released by the Indonesian government underscore that Papuans continue to endure poverty at disproportionate numbers relative to migrants and transmigrants. Indonesia continues to seek international respect in the area of human rights protection but at the same time continues to persecute peaceful demonstrators, especially those who display the banned "morning star flag."

Back issues of West Papua Report