The months leading up to the referendum had been marked with escalating violence, as “pro-autonomy” militias tried to derail the elections, but it had seemed that they had given up and accepted their defeat... at least momentarily. The elections in East Timor were carried through with relative peace, and with an unprecedented voter turnout of 99%. At the end of the day, there had been dancing in the streets, elation, singing and rejoicing in the prospect of the long awaited freedom.
The results of the referendum in East Timor were released the morning of my phone call at 9:00 a.m. This marked an incredible and historic moment, the first time ever the East Timorese had been asked whether they wanted to be a part of Indonesia. The results of the referendum were not surprising: 78.5% voted for independence from Indonesia while 21.5% voted to accept the “autonomy” proposal, a scheme whereby East Timor would continue to be integrated with Indonesia. (If you aren’t sure what ‘autonomy’ means in this context, the example of Tibet is instructive. Tibet is the beneficiary of an ‘autonomy’ plan arranged by China).
But all this was to be shattered the next night by the Indonesian military (TNI). It soon became clear to those on the inside (and shortly after to the rest of the world) that the Indonesian military had no intention of accepting the independence of East Timor, not at least without one last finishing fight. The sentiment of TNI was, OK, fine, you can have your independence—but we are going to make you pay for it: we will obliterate your people, infrastructure and chances of building a stable nation.
The saddest part of this story, and why I’ve taken the time to write it all down here, is that the violence unleashed before and after the elections in East Timor was completely premeditated by the TNI and supported by 24 years of military aid from my own country, the U.S. The U.S. provided 90% of the weapons used against the East Timorese including OV10 Broncos and Winchester bullets (officially outlawed in our country). The militias, characterized by our mass media as being “out of control,” were in fact armed, trained and directed by the TNI for the past six months, from the day that Indonesian President Habibi first called for the referendum in East Timor. The U.S. Pentagon had complete knowledge of this and is complicit in all of the murders that took place there. The terror continues to this day. Preliminary to Slaughter
During the calm week long period following the elections, the TNI evacuated all of its “important” people from East Timor. Then the militias, armed with automatic weapons and drugged with speed, were unleashed.
My CARE co-workers were told by Indonesia officials that they should consider leaving the island on the night before what the TNI later claimed to the media were “surprise” attacks by the militias. The TNI, out of patience, didn’t wait for the UN and media evacuations to be complete. The night of the 5th, the militias began rampaging in Dili. Barely a building was left standing; over 70% of the infrastructure was destroyed. At the peak of the violence East Timorese were fleeing over the border at a rate of 1000 people per minute, only to have this escape for their lives later twisted and used against them. The TNI is now claiming that the elections must have been a farce because far more than the 21.5% who voted for “autonomy” left the new nation to “join” Indonesia. Many people have also been forcefully evacuated by TNI from the island of Timor altogether, shipped to other islands within the archipelago of Indonesia.