26 November 2008

The Howard Years - Notes on Episode 2 on East Timor

Notes on Episode 2 of the Australian Broadcasting Commission's The Howard Years - East Timor excerpts 25 November 2008 From Reading, Writing and Bugger-All Arithmetic

[12] Interviewees included former Indonesian President Habibie and his adviser Dewi Fortuna Anwar. Habibie said he wanted to resolve the East Timor issue finally instead of leaving it for one of his successors to sort out. He suggested some kind of special autonomy for the province.

[13] Howard wanted to change Australia's East Timor policy. He and Downer drafted a letter to Habibie which supported Habibie's autonomy push but also insisted Habibie allow East Timorese the option of holding a referendum on independence after a decade or so. Tim Fischer said that the "most important letter ever written by the Howard government never went to cabinet."

[14] Habibie read letter signed by Howard very differently to how Howard envisaged it would be read. Habibie was very upset. Habibie felt Howard was trying to force him to make quick decisions. Habibie decided to make an even quicker decision, holding a referendum within 6 months on the issue of independence.

[15] There was a violent reaction from pro-Jakarta militias, who went on the rampage under the eyes of the TNI who allegedly did nothing to stop them.

[16] Howard met with Habibie in Bali, and suggested the referendum go ahead under the direction and supervision of UN peacekeepers. Habibie said this would have proved an insult to the TNI and have been domestically untenable. The militias were still rampaging through Dili with the TNI even accused of participating. Australian public opinion was hardening, with Joe Hockey admitting there was even pressure on the government to invade Indonesia if that was the only way to stop the violence.

[17] Howard contacted Clinton who said he wasn't prepared to support a UN peacekeeping force in East Timor with US ground troops. However, the US would lend diplomatic muscle, and Clinton declared that Indonesia's access to international assistance would be conditional upon how it responded to the violence in East Timor.

[18] Habibie soon announced that Indonesia would agree to an international peacekeeping force in East Timor. Australia would lead that force under the command of Howard's handpicked Major General Cosgrove. The first contingent arrived on 20 September 1999. As they approached, they noticed an Indonesian submarine entering Dili harbour with a capacity to destroy the Australian ships. War could have eventuated with Indonesia.

[19] Liberal pollster Mark Textor said that East Timor showed Howard as a national security leader.

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