Australian Parliament Urges Harder Line on Indonesia
AUSTRALIA is gradually taking a stronger stance on the Indonesian Army's Nov. 12 massacre of demonstrators in Dili, East Timor.The massacre took place in a cemetery where demonstrators had marched to protest the death of a student. The Indonesian government now says it regrets the actions and has announced an inquiry. Indonesian President Suharto has called for a "free, accurate, just, and thorough" investigation. This investigation is supposed to begin in Dili on Nov. 28. Exactly how many people were gunned down is still unclear. The Indonesian Army says it killed 19 people. But the Australian minister for foreign affairs and trade, Sen. Gareth Evans, said at a press conference that officials here estimate the number at 75; Amnesty International says it has documented 60 deaths. Rumors of more shootings in East Timor abound in the Australian media, but officials say they lack evidence. Senator Evans said Australia's "acceptance of the de jure incorporation [by a legal or official act] of East Timor within Indonesia," will remain unchanged. Indonesia is a major trading partner for Australia, and the Australian government has signed an agreement to share revenue with Indonesia from oil found in the Timor Sea, off East Timor. But Evans will visit Jakarta in mid-December to discuss the incident with Indonesian officials. In addition, he will seek to get the United Nations secretary-general involved in resolving longer-term issues. The Australian government's cautious words follow a flurry of activity by the rank and file of the ruling Labor Party. The Parliament's Human Rights Committee, which is dominated by Labor members, recently announced its own investigation into the massacre. THE Labor Caucus, a group comprised of all Labor's Parliamentary members, passed a two-page resolution on Nov. 26 condemning the massacre. The resolution calls on the government to find "constructive avenues to meet the longer-term needs and aspirations of the East Timorese people." Garrie Gibson, a Labor backbencher in federal Parliament, says, "We believe past policy has been incorrect.... This is a fundamental shift in government policy and sends a clear message." If Indonesia's investigation is not fair, the Labor Caucus has called on the government to take still more action, such as the suspension of military training. Evans says an unsatisfactory investigation will cause a "complete review of Australian policies." Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 after Portugal granted independence to its former colony. The Indonesians justified the invasion because of fears of communism. "They said they did not want a little Cuba next door," says Ines Almeida, a refugee living in Sydney and a member of East Timor's Fretilin resistance. Since the invasion, the Indonesian Army has been fighting Fretilin guerrillas. Indonesia maintains a large military presence in East Timor, and the island has been off-limits to journalists for many years. Mrs. Almeida says she gets reports of the Army hunting down people at night. "Students are assaulted, innocent people picked up at random," she says. The military is trying to intimidate eyewitnesses to the massacre, she adds. Although the international community has condemned the incident, the reaction in Australia has been more intense, in part because of the closeness of East Timor. Many Australians recall the help East Timorese gave Australia during World War II. The Victorian Trades Hall Council, a labor union here, has had workers manning a picket line outside the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra. "It's annoying," says S. Wienardi, press counselor for the embassy. Nearly 10,000 East Timorese refugees live in Australia. Many have been protesting outside Indonesia's embassy, its consulates in Darwin and Sydney, and at Garuda Indonesia Airlines offices. At press time, the Indonesian ambassador was quoted as saying he will shut down consulates in Australia unless the disturbances stop in Darwin.