The Information Officer of the Australia East Timor Association SA, Andrew Alcock, issued the following statement today:

“Forty years ago on 7 December 1975, the Indonesian military (TNI) carried out its illegal full scale invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor.

This blatant attack followed 2 months of incursions and skirmishes that the TNI conducted in East Timor. During one such attack on the East Timorese town of Balibo on 16 October 1975, Indonesian soldiers murdered 5 Australian-based media workers, now known as the Balibo 5, who witnessed their entry into the town.

When the East Timorese could see that there would be no international assistance for them against Indonesia’s belligerent actions, they declared independence on on 28 November. Nine days later, the TNI moved in and from the first day its personnel carried out massacres of the civilian population. Roger East, another Australian journalist, was one of the victims of the early massacres.

The history of this period is one of great shame for Australians who believe in international justice because Australian leaders could have taken action to prevent the invasion. Instead, every Australian government during the 24 years of the brutal occupation of East Timor, aided and abetted the Suharto dictatorship and the TNI. Not only did Australia provide arms and military equipment, as did the US, France, Britain and Holland, it also acted as an apologist for the dictatorship when news of of the many massacres and human rights was revealed.

Recent revelations by Dr Clinton Fernandes of the University of NSW indicate just how far Australian leaders were prepared to go to help the Indonesian dictatorship cover up the real truth of what happened.

After the Santa Cruz Massacre in Dili on 12 November 1991, then Australian foreign minister, Gareth Evans, stated that this crime was an “aberration”! The 24 year illegal occupation of East Timor was, in fact, a series of many massacres and gross human rights abuses (aberrations?) which resulted in almost a third of the population being wiped out.

Australia’s betrayal of the East Timorese is particularly shameful because during World War 2, they gave great support to Australian commandos who were fighting the Japanese army there. After the Australians left, the Japanese military exacted a heavy revenge against the local people for supporting the Australians and carried out a series of mass murders. These resulted in the deaths of about 40,000 people. In addition, 30,000 people lost their lives because their villages were attacked or they were caught in between combatants.

During WW2, East Timor lost about 70,000 people out of a total population of half a million. In contrast, Australia lost 40,000 lives out of a population of 7 million.

After the final period of heightened TNI and militia violence in 1999 following the UN administered independence referendum, Australian leaders became “reluctant saviours” as Clinton Fernandes described it, and Australian soldiers played a very important role in the UN peace-keeping force, INTERFET, that entered East Timor and pushed the TNI out. The role of the Australian military was very much appreciated by the East Timorese people.

However, they are not so happy with our political leaders.

After Timor-Leste’s independence, our leaders decided to exert pressure on the newly independent nation to take oil and gas out of its half of the Timor Sea. The unfair agreement means that Australia, the wealthiest nation in our region, is taking billions of dollars worth of oil and gas from the poorest because it refuses to recognise the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Under this Convention, the mid way line between two countries represents the maritime boundary and each nation has the right to the resources in its half of the sea.

Australia recognises the UNCLOS principal for New Zealand and the Solomon Islands – so why not Timor-Leste?

After all that the people of Timor-Leste have suffered over many years and given their WW2 sacrifice, it is time for our leaders to behave fairly and recognise the UNCLOS principle so that our former allies can rebuild their shattered lives and their destroyed infrastructure.

We do not want Timor-Leste to be an economic failure.

If the Australian Government wants to contribute to stopping terrorism in our region, it should also stop all military aid and cooperation with the TNI until it pulls out of West Papua, which is still suffering brutal TNI rule after 53 years, and call for an international tribunal to deal with the TNI officers who have been responsible for the genocide and other war crimes in East Timor, West Papua, Indonesia and Acheh.

Our leaders can decide to be a positive force for peace, social justice, human rights and fairness in international relations or they can continue to be hard-nosed, unreasonable and unfair as they currently are.

We are currently not presenting a good image to the world – especially for a nation that prides itself on being fair-minded and on the side of the under dog. ”

Andrew (Andy) Alcock

Information Office

Phone: 61 8 83710480

0457 827 014



( AETFA SA was originally the Campaign for an Independent East Timor SA until Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002