The death of former Indonesian president Suharto was a great loss to the region, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said, but his opponents have labelled his passing
“the death of a tyrant”.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (centre) expressed his deep sorrow and asked people to pray for the late strongman.Â
*Â Â The United States was a steadfast ally of Suharto for much of his rule, seeing the authoritarian ruler as an effective bulwark against communism and a force for stability in the region.
Human rights abuses during Suharto’s rule included a 1965-1966 crackdown on suspected communists and sympathisers that historians estimate killed at least half a million people.
*Â Suharto, Indonesia’s longest serving dictator, kicked the bucket. His legacy is as Islamic (messy) as can be:
*Â One of theÂ (very)Â few who always got it right about Indonesia and East Timor is the old commie propagandistÂ John Pilger: you may say what you want about him: when it comes to East Timor he’s got it right. If Pilger has ever been consistent and truthful, without pushing his commie-agenda, it was about East Timor and Ambon.
In my film Death of a Nation, there is a sequence filmed on board an Australian aircraft flying over the island of Timor. A party is in progress, and two men in suits are toasting each other in champagne. “This is an historically unique moment,” says one of them, “that is truly uniquely historical.”
This was Gareth Evans, Australia’s then foreign minister. The other man was Ali Alatas, the principal mouthpiece of the Indonesian dictator General Suharto, who died yesterday. The year was 1989, and the two were making a grotesquely symbolic flight to celebrate the signing of a treaty that would allow Australia and the international oil and gas companies to exploit the seabed off East Timor, then illegally and viciously occupied by Suharto. The prize, according to Evans, was
“zillions of dollars”.
Beneath them lay a land of crosses: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides. Filming clandestinely in East Timor, I would walk into the scrub, and there were the crosses. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. In 1993, the foreign affairs committee of Australia’s parliament reported that “at least 200,000â€³ had died under Indonesia’s occupation: almost a third of the population. Yet East Timor’s horror, foretold and nurtured by the US, Britain and Australia, was a sequel. “No single American action in the period after 1945,” wrote the historian Gabriel Kolko, “was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre.”
He was referring to Suharto’s seizure of power in 1965-6, which caused the violent deaths of up to a million people.
Moslem fundamentalists have been brutalizing people all over the world for years, and 9/11 was just our belated introduction to the problem.Â Â Take, for example, the murderous terror of Indonesian Muslims against Christians in East Timor, mostly unknown in America although Washington aided and abetted it.
East Timor is the eastern end of Timor Island, part of the vast archipelago that today makes up the island state of Indonesia. Originally a Portuguese colony, — it was one of the famous “spice islands”Â –Â it became a tempting morsel for the military government of neighboring Indonesia when the Portuguese empire collapsed in a bloodless military coup in 1975.Â Indonesia did not have any valid claim to it, but President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who were visiting Jakarta, nevertheless approved the Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese on December 7, 1975. They only asked that the attack be delayed until after their departure.
Kissinger told reporters that “the United States understands Indonesia’s position on the question of East Timor” and the U.S. abstained in the subsequent U.N. vote condemning the invasion.Â As then-US Ambassador to the UN Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”Â Suharto was delighted to have received U.S. support for the invasion because of the Indonesian army’s reliance on American weaponry that, by U.S. law, could only be used for defensive purposes.
The East Timorese did not want to be forcibly incorporated into Indonesia, and an insurgency ensued.Â Washington continued to supply arms to Indonesia that were obviously not meant for general defense purposes, but specifically chosen to meet the needs of a counterinsurgency campaign. Through two and a half subsequent years of that campaign – leading to the death of about a third of the population – The New York Times ran only two brief stories about “the problem of East Timorese refugees.”
President Suharto’s carnage was on a scale worthy of Pol Pot. By 1989, Amnesty International estimated that Indonesia had murdered 200,000 East Timorese out of a population of 600,000-700,000.