Fri, 03 Dec 1999

The Balibo Declaration revisited

By Aboeprijadi Santoso

AMSTERDAM (JP): With the recent visit of East Timorese leader Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao to Jakarta to meet his old friend President Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur, the two leaders have begun a new relationship between Indonesia and Timor Lorosae. Only a few weeks ago the two men -- Gus Dur and Gusmao -- were partners and opposition leaders in Jakarta. With democracy hopefully starting to flourish in the country, the time has come for the two nations to reflect on past mistakes.

But some mistakes may be harder to forget and forgive than others. One such mistake, no doubt, is the killings, rampage and mass deportations by Army-backed militias last September which marked the end of the Indonesian era in East Timor.

Another would be Indonesia's invasion of East Timor on Dec. 7, 1975, which started the conflict. Twenty-four years on, it is still overshadowed by the much celebrated event a week earlier which served to justify the invasion, i.e. the so-called Balibo Declaration in which four East Timorese political parties, allegedly representing the people and expressing their wishes, called for integration with Indonesia.

The declaration shaped the basis to legitimize the 1976 annexation of the former Portuguese colony. Soeharto's New Order propaganda machine was so pervasive that few doubt the invasion's validity. It has been taken for granted for decades that the "integration" of East Timor into Indonesia was politically and morally sound. Even though the formal integration was revoked by the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) last October, the Balibo Declaration remains officially intact and unquestioned.

In reality, though, the document was artificial from the very beginning. It is symbolic of the whole tragedy of East Timor itself; for if the Balibo Declaration represented the wishes of the majority of East Timorese as was claimed, why did the Indonesian Army have to launch a major assault to annex East Timor why did it take so many years to pacify the territory. In other words, the declaration marked a new phase in the conflict, suggesting the determination on the part of Indonesian generals to act against the East Timorese with force.

Indonesia never had ambitions to expand territorially. But, as early as 1963, the late Gen. Ali Moertopo, then a member of the Mandala command resolving the conflict in West Irian, suggested, so he later claimed, that Indonesia simultaneously take over East Timor with the conquest of West Irian. However, his superiors, Gen. Soeharto and president Sukarno, rejected the idea. Moertopo disclosed this to journalists in 1974.

Moertopo's claim indicates the belief among some military leaders in the legitimacy of the annexation of the former Portuguese colony. East Timor was simply regarded on the same par as West Irian, which was part of the former Dutch East India. As Indonesia used to compare her independence struggle with Vietnam's and Algeria's as pioneers of Afro-Asian anticolonialism, it follows, in this view, that East Timor, being the colony of a Western nation, would be considered by Indonesia a "natural" part of the country, which earlier was born out of this struggle.

It is this kind of ahistoric patriotism which served as the context for the Balibo Declaration. In addition, there was an odd sentiment -- a pseudo-nostalgic cry of sorts. "We are true brothers, so we need to restore the historic links and solidarity of our ancestors that have been broken by the Western imperialists," the late Jose Martins Jr. told Moertopo when they first met in 1974.

Significantly, Moertopo played a key role in the run up to the invasion. In the 1940s, he joined the nationalist struggle against the Dutch, nonetheless, 30 years later, he turned out to be a leading strategist in the political campaign and war against East Timor. He saw East Timor as a "security risk ... itching our (Indonesia's) armpit". Like many actors in the Timor saga, the anticolonial "hero" himself became a colonialist.

A key factor here, of course, was the heightening tension of the Cold War in mid-1975. Still, it came as a great surprise to Jakarta that Fretilin, the popular East Timorese left-wing nationalist movement, declared independence before Jakarta had fully prepared itself for a military offensive. The invasion itself was, as many generals now admit, "a great blunder".

Although the possibility of an invasion was being discussed in the East Timor capital of Dili as early as mid-August, it was not until three months later that the invasion was felt to be imminent. By then, the Rome Memorandum between Indonesia and Portugal had failed to materialize and Moertopo's political maneuverings had gained momentum.

In July, he organized a tour for Timorese leaders -- mostly from the political party UDT -- in order to impress (read intimidate) them with Indonesia's arsenal in Cilandak, South Jakarta. A few weeks later, a UDT-led coup broke out in Dili, provoking a short-lived civil war. But Opsus, a military intelligence operation directed by Gen. Moertopo, continued to launch attacks from neighboring Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara, while supporting the mounting number of refugees.

The growing tension eventually resulted in Fretilin unilaterally declaring independence for East Timor on Nov. 28. At this time, United States president Gerald Ford and secretary of state Henry Kissinger were about to visit Indonesia, so it became urgent for Jakarta to response to Fretilin's challenge sooner than planned. Hence, justification for the invasion had to be prepared hastily, even before it was certain that president Soeharto would give the green light for the military action -- which he did on Dec. 3.

As a consequence, the issuing of the Balibo Declaration was clumsy, and yet it had to appear credible because it was intended to sway international public opinion. It was for this purpose that a dozen East Timorese from all parties except Fretilin were gathered in a Denpasar hotel owned by Col. A. Soegiyanto.

"We were in Bali to take courses (on integration), and on Nov. 29 Pak Soegiyanto suddenly called us," the then leader of the Apodeti political party, Guilherme M. Gonzalves, told this writer in 1995.

"That morning we were woken up. Mario (Carrascalao), me and others went out in pajamas and were told the news (of Fretilin's unilateral action)," Jose Martins Jr. recalled in 1992.

But nothing was spontaneous. It was not without pressure, Martins indicated, when he was asked to sign the declaration. The Balibo text was drawn up quickly and brought to the border between East Timor and East Nusa Tenggara to be presented to the authorities in a ceremony attended by East Timorese refugees. "We came up with (the concept), and the next day we went to Atambua to meet foreign minister Pak Adam Malik, and after an hour or so we returned to Bali," said Gonzalves.

The two Balibo cosigners denied the document was drafted in the East Timor town of Balibo as was claimed. In fact, Moertopo's Opsus team and the pro-Jakarta East Timorese elite never met inside East Timor.

Jose Martins recalled instructions given to him by the military officer: "We made the proclamation in Bali. You write Bali." But the officer hastily corrected himself: "You write Balibo."

Former Australian consul James Dunn suspected it was Col. Soegiyanto and intelligence (Bakin) agent Luis Taolin who came up with the original concept for the Balibo Declaration.

One Japanese linguistic scholar, Akihisa Matsuno, who compared the many versions and additions to the declaration, made it clear that he believed the text was a heavily manipulated document. In the original version, the four political parties simply declared their desire to be integrated into Indonesia, but in the version meant for the United Nations "integration" was defined as a form of independence.

Interestingly, in one of the most crucial points for justifying the military invasion, the text clearly shows it was composed by an Indonesian speaker rather than a Portuguese speaker. Indonesia's hand, not that of East Timor, was obvious.

In the end, the Balibo Declaration will die. Most of the signers of the declaration have denounced it while a few others have kept silent, but they all feel humiliated by their connection to the document. East Timor is now free and the conspiracy of the Balibo Declaration -- a "great masquerade", according to Jose Martins -- has failed. For most East Timorese, the Balibo Declaration was the Bali-bohong (Bali Lie). It is an example of a great lie which caused people to suffer greatly.

The writer is a journalist based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He wrote a book on Indonesia and East Timor in 1995.