01 January 2009

Invasion Of Timor `In Our Interests' - Australian Cabinet Secrets Revealed

The Australian 1 January 2008 Invasion Of Timor `In Our Interests' - Cabinet Secrets Revealed Siobhain Ryan INDONESIA'S 1975 takeover of East Timor was in Australia's strategic interests, then defence minister James Killen told his prime minister, Malcolm Fraser.

Cabinet documents released today show the extent of the Fraser government's willingness to embrace the Suharto regime, even though it knew of the military's plans to rearm to retain its control over the archipelago.

Indonesia provoked international condemnation when it invaded the former Portuguese colony in response to its civil war and declaration of independence. Tens of thousands are believed to have died in the invasion.

Killen visited Suharto and his generals in 1978, in the same year the Fraser government controversially gave de jure recognition to East Timor's incorporation into Indonesian territory.

He wrote to Mr Fraser of Jakarta's disappointment and resentment at Australia's earlier failure to support it 'in the containment and cleaning up of a mess in Timor'.

'The Indonesians believe that their action in this respect has, after all, been essentially in Australia's interest too. From the defence point of view, I am bound to say that I do not disagree with this,' Killen said.

The letter was written at a time when Australia feared communism could spread beyond China and Vietnam. The pro-independence Fretilin in East Timor was viewed as a left-leaning party, George Quinn, from the Australian National University's Southeast Asia Centre, said.

'Both in Australia and Indonesia, there was a feeling that it would not be in their interests to have an independent and left-leaning country in its immediate neighbourhood,' Dr Quinn said.

Damien Kingsbury, associate professor with Deakin University's School of International and Political Studies, said Australia's decision to give legal recognition to Indonesia's claim over East Timor ran very much against international and domestic opinion at the time.

'I think the Australian government went to some very considerable lengths to be conciliatory, regardless of the position in international law,' he said.

Killen backed an expanded defence co-operation program with Indonesia, noting the country wanted to diversify its sources of military equipment after then US president Jimmy Carter tied supplies to human rights.

'The Indonesians could be looking to Australia as a source of support for defence equipment,' the minister said.

His report reveals, however, the Indonesian military was rearming largely to ensure it was ready to retain power ahead of the 1981 elections.

'General Yusuf did not beat about the bush in these remarks: the armed forces' intention to retain a firm grip on the country was freely expressed,' Killen said.

Then foreign minister Andrew Peacock briefed cabinet early in 1978 that he wanted to give Suharto the advantage of Australia's de jure recognition ahead of an Indonesian election in March that year. He also warned that the president would not visit Australia until he secured that recognition.

'There are signs that the patience and understanding of a growing group of influential Indonesians in the government are running out, and I believe the point has been reached where our continued refusal to accept fully and formally the reality of the situation in East Timor could damage the relationship,' Mr Peacock said.

Image added by ETLJB: Former Liberal Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

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