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The Portuguese
Indonesia Invades
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The Invasion

All out invasion... The invasion, in the early hours of 7 December 1975, came in the form of a naval bombardment on Dili, followed by landings of paratroopers from the air and of marines on the beaches. Indonesian soldiers killed civilians indiscriminately in the streets of Dili, and after an incident when Indonesian soldiers fired on each other, indulged themselves in a rampage of rape, looting of Chinese shops and public executions on the wharf. On December 10, a second invasion resulted in the capture of the second biggest town, Baucau, and on Christmas Day another 10,000 -15,000 troops landed at Liquisa and Maubara, where further mass killings of civilians took place. By April 1976 Indonesia had some 35,000 soldiers in East Timor, with another 10,000 standing by in Indonesian West Timor. A large proportion of these troops were from Indonesia's elite commands. The Fretilin army, called Falintil, consisted of 2,500 regular troops, 7,000 who had some Portuguese military training, and 10,000 who had attended short military instruction courses - a total of 20,000.


Full-scale attacks continued for four years, 1975-1979... At first Fretilin controlled most (80%) of East Timor and, at the same time as organizing schooling, medicines and food distribution, managed to keep the powerful invading forces at bay. However, when the Indonesians started to use American OV 10 Bronco jets, supplied by the Carter administration, to bomb Fretilin forces in the mountains and lay waste the fields of corn and vegetables, resistance became difficult. Finally the Indonesian encirclement and annihilation campaign of 1977-1978 broke the back of the main Timorese military forces and the capable Timorese President and military commander, Nicolau Lobato, was shot and killed by helicopter-borne Indonesian troops on 31 December 1978. From then on war was less widespread and continued only in those mountain areas still controlled by the Timorese forces.

Massive Bombings

...causing massive killings and bombings... On 14 February 1976 the pro-Indonesian East Timorese spokesperson, Lopes da Cruz, claimed that 60,000 East Timorese had been killed since the Indonesian invasion, which equals about 1,000 deaths a day, almost all of whom were civilians. By 19 November 1976, it was estimated by Indonesian relief workers that 100,000 had been killed in the year (or less) since the invasion. It is now generally agreed that at least 200,000 were killed in the early years of the occupation. Remembering that the Timorese forces, at their most, numbered only 20,000, it is obvious that the majority of the deaths were civilians, and that this was a deliberate policy designed to bring East Timor to its knees, a policy that was genocidal in intent. The total population in 1975 had been 680,000. The means of this wholesale human destruction was massive conventional and napalm bombing directed at huge numbers of isolated villages, which were wiped off the face of the earth-humans, animals, houses and crops. Napalm bombs, first reported in The Times (London) on 25 December 1979, were used over a wide area. The loss of homes, crops and fields forced many families to leave the mountains and give themselves up to the Indonesian military. Many were murdered shortly after surrender. However the International Red Cross relief programme was not allowed into East Timor till 19 October 1979 (then halted again in July 1983). Adam Malik, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, later told reporters: "50,000, or perhaps even 80,000 people may have been killed during the war in East Timor. So what? It was a war... Why all the fuss?" (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/4/77).

Mass Resettlement & Starvation

...and mass starvation and resettlement of most of the population.. Reports of concentration camps being set up in East Timor were received on 12 July 1976, six months after the invasion. These camps were established to separate people from the Timorese resistance, discipline them and provide indoctrination. By 13 May 1980 according to Associated Press there were no less than 150 such camps in East Timor. Minimum rations were supplied, and with only the most trustworthy being allowed to grow crops very close to the camps, huge numbers of people died from starvation and malnutrition-induced disease, such as tuberculosis. Those that survived were later resettled in areas far from their homelands, and often without an allocation of land from which to make a living. Poverty increased, and malnutrition and food shortages were widely reported as existing from 1978 onwards.

Post 1979 Offensives

Since 1979 the Indonesian army has initiated many new offensives... Fighting has continued sporadically but continuously up until the present. It has been marked by major Indonesian offensives, small Falintil (Timorese army) guerrilla counter-attacks, Indonesian claims that Falintil is a spent force, and huge Indonesian troop numbers, fluctuating between 15,000 and 35,000, which strangely belie the Indonesian claim of Falintil's impotence. Some of the major actions between 1981 and 1988 were: July 1981: Operasi Keamanan. August 1981: Forced mass recruitment of Timorese civilians, including children, to form anti-Falintil human chains, which protected the Indonesian soldiers who followed behind. March 23 1983: Ceasefire signed between Indonesian Commander Colonel Purwanto and Timorese Commander Xanana Gusmao, but broken by Indonesians who, on August 8 launched a new campaign. September 1983: Operasi Persatuan. August 1983 - June 1984: Intense bombardment by Indonesian air force. December 1985: Successful Falintil ambushes of Indonesian soldiers. November 1986: Indonesian offensive, involving 50 Indonesian battalions, 12 of which were exclusively searching for Xanana Gusmao. March 1987: Offensive deploying 30,000 troops. July 1987: Another offensive. March 1988: Successful Timorese ambushes. May 1988: Operation Clean Up. December 1988: Successful Timorese attack on Indonesian soldiers in outer Dili suburbs.

Human Rights Violations

....and committed atrocious war crimes and human rights violations... From the day of the invasion up until the present the Indonesian military has systematically and deliberately made use of torture, rape and the killing of innocent civilians as instruments of war and oppression. Army handbooks describe the "established procedures". Every Indonesian commander since 1975 has been responsible for extra-judicial and civilian murders, which in essence are war crimes. At least 500 East Timorese were killed in cold blood by Indonesian troops at the shrine of St Antonio near Lacluta in September 1981 and 200-300 villagers near Viqueque in August 1983. On 28 December 1982 a Timorese priest wrote: " Macabre scenes are a Javanese speciality in East Timor: cutting off heads and displaying them in public; the Commander going along to give an air of solemnity to the act and having his photograph taken among the remains; bodies being dragged by vehicles through the village streets, burning them in front of the people in the market -square; simply burning people alive as they did recently in Ainaro". People are pushed alive out of helicopters into the sea, and women are raped in front of their husbands and children. A 1983 letter explained how Pedro, a junior high school boy, on learning that his father and two uncles had been murdered by the military, went to complain to the "red berets". Their response was to tie a rope around his neck and hang him on a tree.

Dili Massacre

...one of which was the heinous Dili Massacre at Santa Cruz (1991) A long-planned visit to East Timor by Portuguese parliamentarians was due to take place in November 1991; the politically active Timorese therefore prepared for demonstrations. Although the visit was eventually cancelled, the Timorese decided to proceed with a pro- independence march, in view of the unusual presence of a number of journalists who had come in secret to cover the parliamentary visit. The march took place on November 12 after a 6am Mass at the Motael church in Dili, which was held to commemorate the death of a student, Sebastiao Gomes, who had been killed by police at the church three weeks before. The marchers, consisting of some 2000 youth aged mainly between 14 and 25, wound their way through the town, past the Governor's office and stopped at the Santa Cruz cemetery, a distance of about three kilometres. As photographs were taken of the banners on the cemetery walls and announcements made for the ceremony of prayers and flower-laying that was to take place inside the cemetery, automatic rifle fire broke out, and for two to three minutes, soldiers, commanded by officers in civilian dress, fired directly into the crowd. The cemetery was surrounded, and the young people, hiding behind tombstones or fleeing in any direction, were chased by soldiers, who brutally beat, shot and rounded up the wounded. These wounded, numbering between 50 and 200 were taken to the military hospital in trucks, where a witness saw Indonesian soldiers crush their skulls with rocks, or give them lethal pills to take. All died. On the basis of testimonies from friends and relatives of the victims, it has been possible to establish the identity of 271 dead, 250 missing, and 382 wounded (a total of 903). This atrocity, brought to the world by journalists and photographers who were in Dili at the time, was only one in a never-ending line of horrendous outrages which the Timorese have suffered, and are still suffering, but which the world has seldom witnessed or heard of. The response from governments in Europe and America was to condemn the massacre and bring pressure on the Indonesian government to investigate the killings and punish those responsible. Even better, it had the effect of reminding the world that the issue of East Timor was not dormant, as had appeared, but was in fact viciously alive, a realization which prompted the United Nations Secretary-General to activate his mandate to find a solution to the issue, and the Portuguese government to take more positive steps to complete their unfinished decolonization responsibilities. Nevertheless no nation actually altered its official position on East Timor. Indeed within two weeks of the massacre, Australia even celebrated with Indonesia the official beginning of the Timor Gap Treaty. The reaction of Indonesia to the international outrage was to take two unprecedented steps: setting up a commission of inquiry and punishing several military. The commission found that 19 had been killed, a figure later increased to 50, while two senior officers were transferred and some lower ranking officers received sentences of just a few months, for firing on an unarmed crowd. Whilst this was clearly a sop to the international condemnation, Jakarta's real sentiments were conspicuous in the sentences handed out to those charged with organizing the peaceful Dili demonstration, and the demonstration held in Jakarta a week afterwards. These sentences ranged from 10 years, to 15 years, and life imprisonment.

A Military Colony

Although East Timor has been ruled like a military colony...Since the invasion East Timor has been nominally ruled by an East Timorese Governor, but as a figurehead. Civil power resides with the Deputy Governor who is usually a military man from Java, whilst all sensitive and security matters are subject to ratification by the Indonesian military commander, who, through his territorial commander in Bali, is subject to military headquarters in Jakarta. Ultimate authority lies with the military. Once in the 1980s when the Governor, Mario Carrascalao, a Timorese, asked to visit an arrested acquaintance, permission was refused by the military commander. Access to law through the courts is not an option that exists in East Timor, where all "law" is dispensed through force, by local military commanders. Defence from oppression can only be found by escaping to the hills to acquire the security of a Falintil rifle and a mountainous hide-out, or, more radically, by escaping overseas. Within the confines of normal living, no avenues for defence exist, through the law courts, the church, or the Red Cross. Even bribery is not an option, for who among the East Timorese is not impoverished?

A Closed Colony

...and a closed colony (1975-1989)... For 13 years East Timor existed as a closed colony of the Indonesian military. No media access was allowed, so, while reports of famine, massacres and human rights abuses reached the outside world, the only official version of events was the Indonesian army version. Thus it was easy for governments who were in collusion with the Indonesians to dismiss the reports of massacres as "unsubstantiated". The ban on access prevented Western tourists, Indonesian citizens or indeed any outsider from visiting East Timor, with the result that East Timorese felt themselves to be forgotten by the outside world, and became increasingly desperate. This imposed seclusion continued from the time of the invasion in December 1975 until 1 January 1989, on which date the colony was opened up.

A Military Failure

...the occupation has been a military failure. For over 20 years Indonesia has deployed huge numbers of troops in East Timor, as well as extremely sophisticated jet fighter/ bombers. Its aim has been to crush the East Timorese army, and to integrate East Timor into Indonesia. However it failed in its early aim of crushing the Timorese within the first few weeks, and has more completely failed by being unable to wipe out the small and poorly-equipped Falintil army, who even after 22 years are able to inflict losses on the Indonesian forces. This failure has cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 Indonesian soldiers and an estimated US$ 1 million per day. The proclaimed attempt to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese has not only met with no success, but has earned the Indonesians the bitter and undying hatred of the East Timorese, even among the youth who were born well after the invasion. Now, in the late 1990s, the international image of Indonesia and its army is conspicuously tarnished, precisely because of its activities in East Timor. International hearts and minds, as well as those of the East Timorese, are also being lost. Why has the Indonesian Goliath been unable to subdue the ill-equipped Timorese David? Their impotence humiliates them, but the message is clear - an Indonesian military victory is impossible.