The United States knew well in advance of and explicitly approved Indonesia's
invasion of East Timor in 1975, which led to a brutal 24-year occupation of
the former Portuguese colony, according to newly declassified documents.
Released this week by the independent Washington-based National Security
Archive (NSA), the documents showed US officials were aware of the invasion
plans nearly a year in advance.
They adopted a "policy of silence" and even sought to spores
news and discussions on East Timor, including credible reports of Indonesia's
massacres of Timorese civilians, according to the documents.
East Timor is today an independent nation. The people of East Timor voted in
favour of breaking away from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored ballot in August 1999
before gaining full independence in May 2002 after more than two years of UN
But the path to independence was bloody. Militia gangs reportedly directed
by Indonesia's military went on a killing spree before and after the East Timorese
referendum, killing about 1400 independence supporters.
Thirty years after the Indonesian invasion, the formerly secret US documents
showed how multiple US administrations tried to conceal information on East
Timor to avoid a controversy that would prompt a Congressional ban on weapons
sales to Indonesia.
"I'm assuming you're really going to keep your mouth shut on the subject,"
then National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger told his staff in October 1975
in response to reports that Indonesia had begun its attack on East Timor.
The administration of President Gerald Ford knew that Indonesia had invaded
East Timor using almost entirely US equipment, and that the use of that equipment
for that purpose was illegal, the documents showed.
In 1977, officials of the administration of Ford's successor, Jimmy Carter,
blocked declassification of an explosive cable transcribing President Ford and
Secretary of State Kissinger's meeting with Indonesian President Suharto.
At the meeting in December 1975, they explicitly approved of the East Timor
invasion, according to the documents.
Through the 1980s, US officials continued to receive - and deny or dismiss
- credible reports of Indonesia's massacres of Timorese civilians.
The National Security Archive had provided more than 1000 formerly classified
US documents to help an East Timorese commission of inquiry into human rights
abuses that occurred between 1975 and 1999.
East Timor president Xanana Gusmao handed the commission's 2500-page report
to the Timorese Parliament last Monday but wanted it withheld from the public,
amid an outcry from opposition politicians and rights activists.
Brad Simpson, Director of the National Security Archive's Indonesia and East
Timor documentation project, said he expected the commission's final report
to show that Indonesia's invasion of East Timor and resulting crimes there "occurred
in an international context in which the support of powerful nations, especially
the United States, was indispensable".
"These documents also point to the need for genuine international accountability
for East Timor's suffering," he said.