The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded recently to Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos Horta for their activism in East Timor. Indonesian troops have occupied that country for more than twenty years, defiant of the U.N. Security Council and international condemnation for human rights abuses. As the Nobel Committee noted, Indonesia has killed roughly one-third of the East Timorese people. When a candidate in 1992, Clinton said, "I think we have ignored [East Timor] in ways that I think are unconscionable."
But Clinton has close relationships with Indonesian corporations and families that have supported him since his days as Arkansas governor. As President, he has approved more than $470 million in U.S. arms sales to the Suharto dictatorship, and supports the pending sale of F-16 fighter planes.
Many of Clinton's ties to the area involve Indonesian banking conglomerate, "The Lippo Group." John Huang, for example, was a Lippo Group executive before becoming a Democratic Party fund-raiser and the a top appointee with the Commerce Department. As another example, Lippo Group hired former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell after he resigned from the Justice Department and pleading guilty to fraud. As noted in our related story, Lippo associates have given $475,000 to Democrats and the Party since 1991.]
Prize is "challenge to the Western countries that remain skeptical about the situation in East Timor"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- After struggling for more than 20 years to end Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, activists now believe that the convergence of two recent events may finally turn the tide in their favor.
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to two prominent Timorese and revelations that Indonesian businesses have funneled some one million dollars to U.S. politicians, they say, could build enough public pressure to force Washington to abandon its de facto approval of the Indonesia's 21-year-old occupation.
Without U.S. support, the Suharto regime may be forced to withdraw its troops from the former Portuguese colony and allow residents to decide their own political future, as urged by several U.N. resolutions, according to Timorese and U.S. activists who addressed a press conference this week.
"The announcement of the Nobel Prize is a big victory," said Constancio Pinto, U.S. representative of the National Council of Maubere Resistance, the East Timorese resistance umbrella group led by Nobel Peace Laureate Jose Ramos Horta, who shared the prize with Timor's Roman Catholic bishop, Carlos Ximenes Belo.
Pinto said the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Belo and Horta represents a "challenge to the Western countries that remain skeptical about the situation in East Timor, especially the United States."
"Fundamental violation of human rights and crimes on the scale of Nuremberg (site of the Nazi war crimes trials)"
But U.S. journalist
Allan Nairn pointed out that the decision of the Nobel Committee alone hasn't been sufficient to change U.S. policy, even though the Nobel committee stressed that its selection was intended to foster self-determination for the Timorese.
Soon after the committee made its announcement, Nairn noted, the Bill Clinton administration reiterated its intention to sell military aircraft to Jakarta and continue military training for Indonesian troops, which was suspended after Indonesian troops massacred at least 100 unarmed Timorese in November 1991.
"One couldn't imagine a more dramatic slap in the face to the Nobel committee, to the East Timorese, and to Clinton's claim to be a supporter of human rights and international law," said Nairn, whose skull was fractured by Indonesian troops while he was covering the 1991 massacre.
However, Nairn said recent revelations that the Lippo Group -- an Indonesian banking, insurance, and real estate conglomerate -- used a network of business associates, relatives and former employees to pump about one million dollars into the coffers of the Democratic National Committee and individual lawmakers of both U.S. parties have created a unique opportunity.
"I think we have entered a whole new phase of the issue," Nairn said, arguing that the Nobel Prize and Lippo revelations have "transformed" Indonesia into a campaign issue that "is finally on the agenda of the corporate press here in the United States."
Clinton's continued support of President Suharto is not a political issue, according to Nairn and others, because this has been the policy of all U.S. presidents, both Democrat and Republican, since the 1975 invasion.
And Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole will not be able to make it a campaign issue, they added, because while in the Senate he helped derail efforts aimed at curbing abuses by the Indonesian military.
"What we are talking about is not a partisan issue; it is not an issue of campaign finances," Nairn said. "What we are really talking about is an issue of foreign policy and, more important, the fundamental violation of human rights and crimes on the scale of Nuremberg (site of the Nazi war crimes trials.)"
Change in U.S. policy toward Indonesia, particularly in regards to East Timor, is far from assured
groups like Amnesty International have reported that as many as 200,000 Timorese -- about one third of the territory's population -- died during the first years of the occupation.
Claims that Lippo's political contributions may have aided Suharto were discounted by Nairn, who said Washington's support had already been "purchased" by "a powerful array of U.S corporations" doing business in Indonesia.
Nairn, however, said the Lippo revelations are likely to result in a public outcry by bringing into sharper focus the fact that "Clinton and the Pentagon have been in bed with a dictator." In turn, he added, this could "provide a window" to push for a change in U.S. policy.
Nevertheless, Nairn and other activists admit that a change in U.S. policy toward Indonesia, particularly in regards to East Timor, is far from assured.
The Timorese, Pinto said, have had similar hopes dashed before, most recently in 1992 when then-presidential candidate Clinton denounced the George Bush administration's decision to ignore East Timor as "unconscionable."
Based on these remarks, Pinto said, "we thought it (Clinton's election) would be the end of the suffering in East Timor." But since taking office, he noted, Clinton has continued to provide economic and military aid to Soeharto, including the proposed sale of nine F-16 jet fighters and surveillance aircraft worth some 400 million dollars.
Opponents of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor also acknowledge that the United States is not alone in its support of Indonesia.
"Australia has the dubious distinction of being the only government in the world that has been slightly worse than the U.S. in its complicity with Suharto," said Nairn, who ripped Canberra for legally recognizing the takeover of East Timor's in an efforts to secure a deal to explore for oil in the Timor Sea.
Charles Scheiner, director of the New York-based East Timor Action Network, pointed out that Indonesia's other neighbors have also been reluctant to condemn Jakarta. "Unfortunately," he said, "Southeast Asia is not a hotbed of democracy."
Nevertheless, Scheiner said activists plan to press their case with regional heads of state when they attend the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila later this month.
Albion Monitor November 1, 1996 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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