What can we do about East Timor? Having had the "autonomy" ballot go against their wishes, the Indonesian military & their puppet militia have responded with massacres which are approaching (and may yet reach) genocidal proportions. Dili has been sacked & burnt, vast numbers of East Timorese have been kidnapped (some killed immediately & some shipped out West Timor) and foreign observers have been systematically evicted. For the third time since the 60s, the Indonesian generals are creating rivers of blood.
A UN-approved multi-national force is about to enter East Timor, but this doesn't solve the problem. There are now up to 200,000 East Timorese in West Timor and at least half are being held against their will. While the military & militia evacuate East Timor, leaving it to the occupation force, massacres of the hostages continue apace in West Timor. Some people are calling for the UN-backed force to act.
Second, there are practical difficulties with such a war. Who, besides the Australian government, would supply troops? Facing them, there are already 20,000 Indonesian troops in Timor (plus militia) – with a lot more where they came from. An invasion would be a risky & very bloody business. It would entail vast destruction in West Timor and there'd be plenty of time to kill off all the East Timorese. The military option would, in all probability, spill far more blood than it is supposed to save.
Third, any military intervention would be to uphold the interests of the governments of countries supplying the soldiers. The Australian government has acted with the same concerns in mind as they have had all along. They are worried about the Timor Gap and a potentially lucrative tourism industry. With or without a UN mandate, humanitarian concerns are a low priority.
Finally, and most importantly, military action would undermine the only real chance for doing something effective for the people of East Timor. The same Indonesian military which is massacring the East Timorese has had the entire population of Indonesia under its jackboots for over thirty years. In the last ten years independent democratic workers' & student movements have emerged and, in the context of the recent economic crisis, a popular uprising deposed President Suharto and dealt heavy blows to his dictatorial regime. An invasion of West Timor would undo that overnight. The military would be able to rally the population around it in a burst of patriotic fervour - and take its bloody revenge on all those who had the gall to speak up for democratic rights or organise free trade unions. The military option would lead to the rout of the Indonesian military's most dangerous enemy - the ordinary working people of Indonesia.
What is necessary is comprehensive worldwide workers' action against the Indonesian government and businesses. We must hit them in the place it hurts them most - the hip pocket nerve. Research on the Suharto family's global fortune has been published and should form the beginning of a hit list.
The crucial role here will be played by the new & growing workers' movement in Indonesia. Both independent union federations there have recognised the result of the "autonomy" ballot and commended the actions of workers in Australia. One, the FNPBI, has called for the military to get out of East Timor.and for the militia to be disbanded. The military are hated in Indonesia and a campaign to free the hostages (and possibly bring down the entire military-dominated regime) would get wide support there – provided we don't drive workers in Indonesia into the arms of the generals by supporting the Australian government's own power politics.
By acting as a class, the workers of the world can isolate and bring down this bunch of blood-soaked tyrants. We can be free together – or, divided, we can go to war against each other. The choice is ours.
19 September 1999