A Lie In the Ointment?
by Jared Israel (9-22-99)

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The reporting out of East Timor has been remarkable for its mix of richness of quantity and poverty of facts. How many times have we been told that 78% voted for independence and then, out of spite, the militias, spurred on by corrupt Indonesian Generals, attacked the general population, burned everything down, drove some people into the mountains and forced others into West Timor.

So. The Pro-independence people are all "resistance fighters" and the Anti's are vicious militiamen. That's the story, and it sold millions on supporting the imposition of UN control, that is, an occupation force dominated by the US, Australia and England.

One thing that bothered me about this morality tale: why did the Anti-independence militias wait until after they had lost the election and the count was announced before going on a rampage which, according to media reports, was planned in advance? Why plan to wait until after you lose an election whose outcome was (we are told) a foregone conclusion? Wouldn't it make more sense to attack before or during the election when a) nobody could point to an actual vote count to justify intervention and b) the focus would be more on meddling outsiders (the UN) and less on sore losers (the Anti's)?

Dispersing the image of good vs. evil, now comes a single AP dispatch. I wonder what you make of it. It intrigues me.

Most of the dispatch gives the usual report - hungry-but-gentle Pro-'independence' refugees welcome no-nonsense-but-humanitarian peacekeepers etc. And then, buried at the end, in the last four paragraphs, is the following amazing information:

  • In West Timor's provincial capital, Kupang, men glared when Indonesia's social affairs minister, Yustika Baharsyah, led a delegation of aid officials, mostly Europeans, through three refugee camps.

    One refugee, Augustina de Costa, sat under a tarpaulin outside a stadium in Kupang where 10,000 refugees have gathered, offering cigarettes and drinks for sale.

    In her hometown of Lostalos, just outside Dili, she had lived well. But she knew she could not stay when one of her two houses was burned to the ground.

    "`We thought of staying in Indonesia, but we lost the vote,'' she said. `"Maybe we can return to East Timor someday.''

    END EXCERPT FROM DISPATCH

  • So her house "was burned to the ground." And "maybe we can return to East Timor someday."

    Two observations and two puzzles for you.

    OBSERVATION #1: There is a lot of oil near East Timor. The oil companies used to oppose independence, but they have come to terms with independence leaders who now promise to safeguard the oil company interests.

    OBSERVATION # 2: 'Independence' was never a choice in the UN referendum. Rather, the choices were association with Indonesia vs. becoming a UN protectorate. Many in Indonesia say a UN protectorate means Australian/US domination. They fear this is part of a process of breaking up Indonesia into small, easily dominated pieces. Whether or not one they are correct, it is a fact that the UN was supposed to be the neutral referee of an election in which it was, in essence, a candidate. The Western media seems to have overlooked this offense to common sense and the pro-Indonesian side. The pro-Indonesian side, of course, did not.

    PUZZLE # ONE: We have been told the violence involves Anti-'independence' militia members punishing the Pro-'independence' majority. If that's the real picture, or the entire picture, why does the AP dispatch report thousands of Anti's driven into miserable refugee camps in West Timor before the arrival of the occupation force? Who drove these people out of East Timor?

    When the media talked about Pro-independence refugees who'd been herded into West Timor by Anti-independence militiamen - were they really talking about these Anti's? It certainly seems that way. Then who did the herding? Certainly not the militias, who were their comrades. And who burned down this Anti woman's house, making it clear to her that "she could not stay" in East Timor?

    If the people driven into West Timor were not Pro-independence but Anti - then the media lied. Why? And if we were lied to about this isn't it possible we were lied to about other things as well? Isn't it possible there was violence on both sides - that perhaps the fighting did not simply stem from the Antis' spite? Maybe - just maybe - the fighting was deliberately provoked by the Special Forces of some Great Power to create a justification for intervention in this oil-strategic area. That, after the referendum vote, that is, after the UN announced the pro-'independence' side had won, covert operatives perhaps attacked one or both sides, sparking massive violence and producing a 'Humanitarian Crisis' and the call for intervention. (This sort of thing is not unheard of in recent times.)

    PUZZLE NUMBER TWO: The impression given by the last four paragraphs in the dispatch is startlingly different from everything we have heard about the East Timor situation. Why? Why has this part of the story been blocked out? And why, when it is finally presented, is this REAL news (as in something that is new) not featured prominently, with banner headlines: 'PRO-INDONESIAN SIDE SUFFERS TOO.' Why, instead, is this very interesting information stuck at the end of a single AP dispatch, after a much longer section presenting the much-repeated story of pro-independence victims and anti-independence villains?

    Indeed, the first part of the AP dispatch lets us know - in most unobjective fashion - whom to support and whom to scorn. In the first paragraph (crucial in any news story) we read that pro-independence people "have survived the reign of terror in East Timor." But they are fun people, we know, because they "greeted the {nice, white} peacekeepers with wild applause." Meanwhile, in West Timor, the Anti-'independence' refugees are described as ''sour,'' a visually unattractive word. The Antis are not fun at all.

    Are we being steam-rollered with words and images?

    Please note that though the article is supposedly about the TWO groups of refugees, the headline - "Independence refugees, etc." - clearly poses the problem entirely from the perspective of one side: the side whose suffering is being used to justify Western intervention.

    Here's the AP dispatch, in full:

    Independence Refugees Worlds Apart

    By ROHAN SULLIVAN

    The Associated Press

    DARE, East Timor (AP) - Independence supporters who survived the reign of terror in East Timor greeted arriving peacekeepers with wild applause Tuesday.

    But the mood was sour on the other side of the island, where pro-Indonesia loyalists, who also fled the violence, hunkered down in camps - and considered a possibly desperate future.

    Refugees in the two camps have only misery in common. The question of whether East Timor should be part of Indonesia or independent still divides them.

    Food, clean water and medical care are lacking everywhere. Twenty people have died in Dare, where thousands of independence supporters have been weakened by hunger and are susceptible to disease, said UN mission chief Ian Martin. Five babies were among the dead, another aid worker said.

    And it likely will get worse.

    "`The real issue is also time. The rainy season will be coming in two months' time, or maybe even less,'' Sadako Ogata, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, said in Jakarta on Tuesday. "`In the current camps this would be very difficult for them to survive.''

    Hundreds of East Timorese were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced after the United Nations announced that the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence in a referendum Aug. 30. Militias backed by some elements of the Indonesian military went on a rampage, leaving Dili and other towns in ruins.

    In Dare, located in the hills above Dili, waves of cheers rippled through the crowd as a U.N. convoy made its way through the town.

    Grinning people reached out to clasp hands with Australian soldiers riding in Land Rovers. People chanted pro-independence slogans.

    "`I feel very happy because today we can see that the international community is with us - for the people and for democracy,'' said Leandro Isaac, a leader of East Timor's independence movement.

    In West Timor's provincial capital, Kupang, men glared when Indonesia's social affairs minister, Yustika Baharsyah, led a delegation of aid officials, mostly Europeans, through three refugee camps.

    One refugee, Augustina de Costa, sat under a tarpaulin outside a stadium in Kupang where 10,000 refugees have gathered, offering cigarettes and drinks for sale.

    In her hometown of Lostalos, just outside Dili, she had lived well. But she knew she could not stay when one of her two houses was burned to the ground.

    "We thought of staying in Indonesia, but we lost the vote,'' she said. "Maybe we can return to East Timor someday.''

    ***

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