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Thursday, 30 September 1999
Page: 9239


Senator HOGG (11:32 PM) —I present an interim report of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee on East Timor.

Ordered that the report be printed.


Senator HOGG —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The situation in East Timor has unfolded in a dynamic and dramatic way this year, sometimes changing almost daily. Although some of the evidence taken in the committee's inquiry will stand the test of time; other parts of it, which relate to current events, will date very quickly. Consequently, the committee believes it is vital to report now on some issues while the committee's evidence remains current. The fact that both the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights have appointed commissions of inquiry into the violence in East Timor, following the popular consultation on 30 August this year, is testament to the seriousness with which the international community and Indonesia view the violations of human rights and the destruction of property that have occurred in East Timor.

The post-consultation violence has resulted in a massive displacement of the East Timorese population. More than 233,000 East Timorese have been registered as displaced persons in West Timor camps. Many of these were forcibly transported from East Timor. Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese have been hiding in the mountains to escape the violence of the militias. Evidence indicates that not only did the Indonesian military give free rein to the militias, and aided and abetted them in the process, but the military planned the program of violence, destruction and transportation of people out of the territory before the popular consultation took place.

The militia and military harassment of and violence against the East Timorese people and their intimidation of UNAMET staff, both before and after the consultation, were a blatant violation of the agreement concluded between Indonesia and Portugal on 5 May 1999. Under this agreement, Indonesia, at its own insistence, was responsible for providing security during the UNAMET deployment. The intensity of the violence, the destruction and the forced transportation of people out of the territory resulted in the United Nations, with the agreement of the Indonesian government, sending a United Nations force into East Timor to restore security and enable essential humanitarian aid to be distributed to the hundreds of thousands of displaced East Timorese.

The committee is at pains, however, to distinguish between the TNI and alleged militia atrocities on the one hand and the government and people of Indonesia on the other. Clearly, the TNI and the militias acted against the declared intention of the Indonesian government in its operations in East Timor. Undoubtedly, neither President Habibie nor the people of Indonesia sanctioned these alleged crimes against humanity. The Australian Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all other parties represented in this parliament have clearly stated that Australia has no dispute with the Indonesian people. Australia has supported the United Nations' action in East Timor aimed at restoring security in East Timor and enabling the East Timorese people to restore their dignity.

The committee noted that Australia's prominent role over the last year in relation to East Timor has consequently strained our bilateral relationship with Indonesia. Australia has been blamed for being forthright in seeking a role for the United Nations to provide security in East Timor, a responsibility which the TNI was unwilling to fulfil. The committee supports Australia's leading role in securing the United Nations' mandate and the sending of a United Nations force to East Timor.

Indonesia has recently held elections as a step towards fulfilling its own democratic aspirations. Australia's interests are best served by fostering democratic principles and supporting the establishment of democratic institutions. Although the committee recognises the role of President Habibie in bringing on democratic national elections in Indonesia, and the popular consultation in East Timor, the committee received evidence that little could be achieved by way of rebuilding our relations with Indonesia during his period of caretaker government.

When a new Indonesian President is elected later this year, the best long-term interests of both countries will be served by rebuilding the relationship based on mutual respect. In the meantime, broadcasting and publication by some Indonesian media outlets of false information about Australian policies and actions in relation to East Timor are harming our relations with Indonesia. In the absence of accurate news reports in Indonesian, anti-Australian sentiment is likely to grow, which affects not only diplomatic ties but also trade, education, tourism and other Australian interests. It is clear that Australia needs to respond to false news reports broadcast by Indonesian media outlets by providing in Indonesian and English accurate reports about the Australian role in East Timor.

Radio Australia, which is part of the ABC, is Australia's short-wave broadcaster and has an enviable reputation throughout Asia for its independence, objectivity and integrity in news reporting. Radio Australia uses the transmitter at Shepparton to transmit programs to East Timor but the signal from the station is too weak to reach central or western Indonesia. The committee understands that Radio Australia is currently broadcasting one hour a day in Indonesian through leased offshore transmission facilities to Indonesia. This compares with about eight hours a day before the closure of the Cox Peninsula transmitting station in 1997. In view of the degree of the deterioration of our relations with Indonesia, the committee recommends: (a) Radio Australia increase significantly the number of hours transmitted in Indonesian; (b) the Australian government either lease additional transmission time from appropriate offshore transmission facilities and/or reopen the Cox Peninsula short-wave transmitting station near Darwin; and (c) the Australian government provide additional funds for the increased transmission.

The committee believes that the parliament as well as the government have a responsibility to help bridge the differences that have occurred in our relations with Indonesia. The most effective way for parliament to contribute to this process would be for a parliamentary delegation to visit Indonesia in early 2000 to discuss issues of importance to both sides. The committee therefore recommends that the parliament liaise with the Indonesian parliament concerning a possible visit by a representative Australian parliamentary delegation in early 2000.

Apart from restoring security to East Timor, urgent tasks for the international community are the provision of humanitarian aid to almost the whole population of the territory, and then the rebuilding of the structures of East Timorese society that were destroyed by the militias and the Indonesian military. A key element in both tasks is the need for coordination among the multilateral, government and non-government agencies which will be supplying and distributing aid. East Timorese leaders also need to be involved in the planning to ensure that East Timorese aspirations are fulfilled as far as possible.

The committee notes with great concern the 233,000 or more East Timorese refugees held in camps in West Timor. Some of these camps are allegedly under the control of the militias. The East Timorese refugees in West Timor are a mixture of pro-integration and pro-independence supporters. Media and other reports of the killing of some pro-independence supporters in these camps by the militias and of the plans for the transmigration of refugees to other parts of Indonesia have generated considerable concern about the fate of the pro-independence refugees. As conditions in these camps are very poor, the refugees in them require urgent and substantial humanitarian aid. The committee believes that humanitarian agencies should be granted full access to all refugee camps and shelters in West Timor and elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago to distribute food, medicine and other essential supplies to refugees and assist them in their return to East Timor, if that is their wish.

On 28 September 1999, Indonesian Foreign Minister Mr Ali Alatas reportedly assured the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Alexander Downer, that militia activity in the camps has ceased. Mr Downer was promised by Mr Alatas that aid agencies would be allowed to access refugees in West Timor and that the refugees would be free to return to East Timor. The situation in the West Timor camps should be monitored closely. If reports continue to be received alleging human rights abuses by militias or other parties, or the forced transmigration of refugees to other parts of Indonesia, the international community should as a matter of urgency pressure Indonesia to stop such actions. The TNI leadership has a responsibility to respect the United Nations mandate, as Indonesia agreed to do in the 5 May agreement, by not supporting the militias in any continuing campaign against East Timor. Moreover, the TNI should secure the western side of the border between West and East Timor to prevent the militias from crossing into East Timor. Should the TNI disregard the views of the international community and continue to support the militias in a campaign against East Timor, the international community should put pressure on the TNI to stop helping the militias.

The committee fully supports the role and performance of Australian troops and civilian police in East Timor. Having presented this interim report to the Senate today, the committee will now continue with its inquiry. However, given the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the circumstances of East Timor, the committee may decide, if necessary, to present another interim report to the Senate. I wish to thank those who participated in putting the report together and the secretariat.