East Timor 1975: How Britain hid a massacre

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When independence was declared by East Timor in 1975 it was recognised by Portugal. However the neighbouring Indonesian state had other ideas and invaded the island. In a war that lasted until 1999 up to 250,000 East Timorese died. The 1980 census figure was only 550,000. People died in the conflict, through atrocities committed by Indonesian troops, and as a result of famine, just one of the results of the destruction of 70% of the economic infrastructure.

You can read this anywhere now, in any standard reference work or reliable website. Back in 1975 the Labour government “knowingly lied about Indonesian atrocities in East Timor” (The Times 30/11/5) and “worked with the US and Australia to cover up details” (Guardian 1/12/5) of what troops were doing.

In recently declassified documents the British ambassador in Jakarta said in a secret telegram that the invading troops had gone “on a rampage of looting and killing”. He added “If asked to comment on any stories of atrocities, I suggest we say that we have no information.”

At the time, following the US withdrawal from Vietnam, Indonesia was a major ally of America in the area. The British ambassador wrote before the invasion that East Timor was “high on Henry Kissinger’s list of places where the US do not want to comment or get involved”.

Accordingly Britain followed the US example, including putting pressure on Australia not to demand information from Indonesia on two British journalists working for Australian television who “were killed while filming a clandestine attack on East Timorese soldiers” by Indonesian forces.

British imperialism has never had an ‘ethical foreign policy’, always considering British capitalism’s interests as the only factor to be taken into account.   Car 2/12/5