09 October 2012

Shirley Shackleton responds to Trisko's review of "If You Leave Us Here We Will Die": How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor

ETLJB 09 October 2012 - In Volume 7 Issue 2 (September 2012), Jessica N Trisko, who is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Western Ontario and a former Visiting Fellow with the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence at Yale University (2010-2012) wrote a review of lawyer Geoffrey Robison's book, "If You Leave Us Here We Will Die": How Genocide Was Stopped in East Timor.

In her review, Trisko writes: "The December 1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia occurred in the context of a Timorese civil war that pitted multiple political factions against one another, and which generated tens of thousands of refugees." 

It is not immediately clear whether this is a reference to Mr Robinson's observations in his book or her own statement.

In any event, Mrs. Shirley Shackleton takes objection to this statement as an inaccurate description of the actual historical fact.

Shackleton notes that "Geoffrey Robinson’s excellent book ‘If You Leave us Here we Will Die,' provides a typical example of the power wielded by General Suharto and his Western Public Relations advisor’s and the complicity of Western governments regarding the so-called annexation of East Timor, which should read:  bloody, ruthless land grab, for if you intend to seize the land and all that exists on that land, you will gain 100% profit. And the record as a result of that propaganda will be deeply flawed."

In response to the assertion that the Indonesian invasion occurred in the context of Timorese civil war, Shackleton writes:

"In Portuguese Timor three political parties had formed: União Democrática Timorense (Timorese Democratic Union or UDT), largely made up of conservatives who had prospered under Portuguese rule; Associação Popular Democrática Timorense (or Apodeti), originally called the Association for the Integration of Timor into Indonesia, but because of adverse public reaction, it was swiftly renamed the Timorese Popular Democratic Association; and Frente Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente (Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor or Fretilin), the political party with the majority of supporters.

The differences between the political parties were minor until a covert Indonesian military organisation, Operasi Komodo (named after the Komodo dragon), was established to destabilise Portuguese Timor.

Strategies employed by the organisation included transmissions from a propaganda radio station into East and West Timor; hit-and-run attacks against the shared border designed to convince the western Timorese that their eastern brothers were a threat and vice versa; and Indonesian spies infiltrating businesses in Dili who presented gifts with ‘no strings attached’ to liurais and individual church leaders to convince them of President Suharto’s goodwill.

Fretilin’s stated aims, meanwhile, were based on the universal doctrines of socialism and democracy, including the right to independence with a program of progressive autonomy to be overseen by the Portuguese. Fretilin leaders told Australian officials on a fact-finding mission that they ‘would need a lengthy timeframe of about eight to ten years in order to establish an efficient political and economic infrastructure’.

Propaganda painted the Fretilin political party as a front for communism. Even today certain apologists assert that the Timorese were either communists or were about to become communists!  Remarks by Indonesian Generals Ali Murtopo and Yoga Sugama to US ambassador David Newsom would eventually be revealed as a strategy of disinformation carefully designed to smooth the way for an invasion. The Portuguese half of the island was rife with rumours; people lived in dread, not knowing whom to trust. Some Timorese believed that the Indonesian government intended to improve their lives, but the majority favoured home rule.

The lead-up to the so-called a civil war remains as poorly understood today as it was in 1975. Some ‘experts’ bet a bob each way by referring to a civil war and the UDT Coup in the same breath. I intend to call proceedings in Dili what they were – a coup that failed. The term ‘civil war’ was and is still being used to provide justification for the Indonesian invasion and subsequent genocide.

On 11 August 1975, the UDT political party seized control of the airport and the radio station in the capital, Dili, they arrested the police chief and seized the water purification plant and the Marconi Communications Centre, then arrested the leaders of the Fretilin political party. Portuguese officials, believing BAKIN (Indonesian intelligence agency) propaganda that Fretilin was planning to overthrow the Portuguese government, began to quit the country. UDT officials were said to be plotting to arrest their own leaders and senior members of UDT were believed to be in Indonesian-controlled Western Timor, conspiring with Javanese generals. The Portuguese governor called an emergency meeting and issued instructions to all Portuguese officials and Portuguese military to stand aloof from both UDT, and Fretilin. Some Portuguese military officers were suspected of secretly supporting UDT and at one time a small contingent from the Portuguese garrison marched from Baucau to take control of Dili.

Confusion was as widespread as it is in any country undergoing bewildering threats and changes. Loss of confidence and suspicion was skilfully manipulated to appear as if the country was on the edge of a civil war and Fretilin was cast as the guilty party.

Eleven days after UDT tried to seize control, the fighting arm of Fretilin, known by the acronym Falintil, rallied, put down the attempted coup and restored the peace.

A coup that fails within eleven days with less than 1,500 deaths cannot be construed to be a civil war. If anyone wants to contest this let them give an example that has occurred under the same conditions anywhere in the world.

As to the claim that tens of thousands of Timorese fled across the border in August 1975 (in respect of which Trisko cites the Indonesian Department of Information reference "The Question of Portuguese Timor" 1971), the figure is merely part of the Indonesian propaganda at that time. Think about it. Imagine the terror no matter what an out-break of hostility is called when people are killed. Very few UDT members had any idea of what their leaders were attempting and when they heard reports from western radio stations describing the coup as a civil war they believed them.

Two days after Fretilin declared East Timor an independent nation on 29 November 1975, a bevy of Timorese led by João Tavares, the self-styled Integration fighter, were flown to Bali. At the Bali Beach Hotel, one day after Timor’s declaration of independence, four representatives from UDT, Apodeti and two other minor political parties – KOTA and Partido Trabalhista – signed a document declaring that the majority of Timorese desired integration with Indonesia. (Quoted in Antonio Barbedo de Magalhaes’s East Timor, A People Shattered By Lies and Silence.)

Any document prepared by a foreign power and signed by Timorese without official status on foreign soil could not be said to represent the will of the majority, yet judicial validity was claimed because the document was grandly titled The Balibó Declaration. Appealing to the criminal minds of the collaborators and those who were financially coerced to use this deception, the perpetrators laughed and toasted each other as two letters were added to transform Bali into Balibó.

However, two months after Falintil put down the coup and four months before the invasion took place, ‘The liurai of Atsabe, Guilherme Gonçalves’s sons did commit treason. José and Thomas led Indonesian battalions and Team Susi into East Timor via Balibó in a pre-invasion raid designed to terrify the Timorese into submitting to Indonesian rule without a fight.

 It is correct to report that ‘The majority of UN members refused to provide de jure recognition of East Timor’s integration after an April 1976 UN Security Council resolution failed to bring about Indonesia’s withdrawal. And that was a miracle which lasted for the 24 years of the brutal occupation of East Timor by the colonial power-mongers of Indonesia.

In another part of Trisko's review, she writes: ‘Robinson does, however, provide substantial evidence that East Timor’s Tetum-speaking Catholics were indelibly scarred by the Indonesian occupation.’

In this regard, Shackleton responds: 

"Initially all Timorese, whatever their religion were not just ‘scarred’ but were liable to be shot for not obeying an order spoken in Indonesian which they could hardly be expected to understand. They were shot for speaking their own languages by a military oligarchy that operated in a climate of impunity guaranteeing that military perpetrators were beyond the reach of the law.

In the pre-invasion society in order to climb the social ladder Timorese had to speak fluent Portuguese and convert to Catholicism. Despite this, animism persisted and still exists in Timorese society today.

After the invasion Timorese priests bravely stood their ground by refusing to co-operate with Suharto’s attempt to conduct the Mass in Indonesian. Though there was nothing in writing, Timorese were routinely shot for speaking their own languages, the lingua franca, Tetum and their dialects. The one place Timorese could hear their own language spoken was in the Catholic Church. This and the fidelity of the Timorese priests led to huge increases in attendance at church services and in time, led some foreign priests to take up the cause of freedom."

In conclusion, Shackleton expresses her thanks "to all who care enough to have educated themselves regarding the lies and who still take the time to correct them."

Shirley Shackleton is the author of the Walkley Award winning history, The Circle of Silence.......a personal testimony before, during and after Balibó.

ETLJB would like to thank Mrs Shackleton for her permission to publish her remarks here.

Warren L. Wright BA LLB
Solicitor & Barrister

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