Companion to East Timor - International Solidarity - Phase Six
International Solidarity – Phase Six
For a detailed analysis, see Chapter 10: Military Body Language, of The Independence of East Timor.
The ballot was held on 30 August 1999. Despite the climate of fear, the campaign of intimidation, the presence of dubious voters from West Timor, and the fact that many voters did not believe their votes were secret, 78.5% of registered voters opted for independence from Indonesia. The results were announced on Saturday 4 September 1999. The Indonesian military began a campaign of forced displacement, driving approximately 250,000 East Timorese across the border to West Timor. According to the United Nations and a subsequent investigation by Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission, approximately 70% of the buildings in East Timor were destroyed, vital infrastructure was crippled, and towns across East Timor were left without running water, electricity or telephones.
Australian defence planners implemented Operation Spitfire, which involved a military escort from the UN compound to Dili airport, and then a one-way trip out of East Timor. The evacuation of UN staff, journalists, foreign observers and a few East Timorese allowed Indonesia to act without foreign witnesses, permitting it to manoeuvre without restrictions, reverse the results of the ballot and retain East Timor. While the burning of Dili was underway, Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer said,
"I get the impression that President Habibe, Mr Alatas, General Wiranto are all trying to do the right thing and some of the commanders are clearly trying to do the right thing." (Max Blenkin and Fiona Hamilton, 'UN would veto peace mission without Indon approval', AAP, 5 September 1999.)
By this stage, however, public outrage in Australia and internationally was reaching tsunami-like proportions. Read an extract from Reluctant Saviour here. There were unprecedented and unforgettable scenes inside the UN compound, described by John Martinkus in his book A Dirty Little War. Read an extract here.
Below are photos of demonstrations in Melbourne, reproduced courtesy of Takver under CC-nc-sa 3.0