by Allan Nairn

from The Nation magazine, July 17 - 24, 1995

In a seismic political shift that augurs trouble for General Suharto, the Commander in Chief of U.S. Pacific forces has privately told Congressional officials that the time has come for Indonesia to get out of East Timor. For the past twenty years the United States has helped Jakarta kill Timorese. But now, in the face of growing grass-roots resistance both in Timor and this country, Adm. Richard Macke has concluded that the Timor occupation has become more trouble than it is worth.

According to accounts from officials who have discussed the matter with him-accounts that Admiral Macke, when contacted by The Nation, did not deny-Macke told friends on Capitol Hill this May that Indonesia's continued presence in East Timor, long supported and armed by Washington in defiance of the U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on it to withdraw "without delay," has now become a liability. He said that Jakarta's generals should cut their (and Washington's) political losses, pull their troops and allow the Timorese, with U.N. help, to hold a referendum to determine their own political future.

(Macke's office, after a week's delay, issued three one sentence statements to The Nation that sidestepped the question of his private remarks on Timor. The written statements discussed a Macke visit to Indonesia, referred to his public Congressional testimony and said that Macke "as a public official" does not offer personal opinions. When asked directly and repeatedly if Macke was denying the Timor comments attributed to him, his spokesman, Col. Joe Chesley, said: "The [written] statements speak for themselves.")

Macke's comments are a major breakthrough because Washington is Suharto's main patron. Though Macke's privately stated views are his own and are not yet official, they indicate that Washington is beginning to feel the heat for its role in Timor.

That is an impressive testament to the heroism of the Timorese, who after twenty years of genocide still resist and organize. Last November, for example, during a regional summit in Jakarta, as uprisings broke out across East Timor, twenty nine young Timorese stole the stage from Clinton and Suharto by peacefully occupying the U.S. Embassy grounds. Macke's shift also indicates the efficacy of the U.S. grass-roots movement, which has sought to make Washington pay a price for facilitating the genocide. Since the November 12, 1991, Dili, East Timor, massacre, U.S. activists-with bipartisan support in Congress-have won a cutoff of Indonesia's IMET military training aid, blocked a transfer to Indonesia of F-5 fighter planes, reversed the U.S. stand on Timor at the U.N. Human Rights Commission and secured a ban on the sale of small arms to Indonesia. (As one who witnessed and survived the Dili massacre, I fought and lobbied for those changes and continue to work with the grass-roots movement to reverse U.S. policy.) It is precisely in hopes of disposing of such impediments to the larger project of propping up Suharto that Admiral Macke-for one-has decided that, pragmatically, it's easier to set East Timor free.


Allan Nairn, with Amy Goodman of WBAI / Pacifica, won the R.F:K and the Alfred I. duPont - Columbia University journalism awards for their coverage of East Timor.

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