Companion to East Timor - Blocking Food Aid

Blocking Food Aid

The Indonesian authorities prevented food aid from entering East Timor for the first five months after the invasion. In April 1976, Father Stanislaus Bessin, a Catholic priest from the Society of the Divine Word (SVD – Societas Verbi Divini) organized 100 tons of food from his base in Atambua, West Timor. He was unable to deliver it to East Timor directly but had to give it to the Indonesian military, which promised to take it in. He was unable to verify whether this promise was kept. A nun, Sister Consuela Martinez, also collected food, clothing and some medicines from December 1976 onwards in order assist the relief effort. Neither Martinez nor Bessin was permitted to deliver the aid themselves. Instead, they had to rent trucks from the military, load the food and clothing onto them, and take them as far as the border town of Balibo. The military then took custody of the aid, which it said would be delivered by the Indonesian Red Cross. Father Bessin was not permitted to verify what happened to the aid after he handed it to the military.

In July 1979, however, a detailed report by the Australian Council for Overseas Aid concluded that corrupt practices by the army-controlled Indonesian Red Cross had resulted in the deaths of thousands of East Timorese. Citing 'widespread and repeated charges of administrative corruption,' it pointed out that desperately needed food aid was being sold for profit:

100 kilo bags of rice sent in as aid to Timor are sold in Dili for Rp 12,500 – 18,000, and in outlying areas such as Baucau for Rp 30,000, and in Laga for Rp 25,000.3

3ACFOA, Aid and East Timor, Canberra, July 1979.