Jakarta's Godfathers

7 September 1999

It is grotesque hypocrisy for Tony Blair to weep for the children of Dunblane.

Having finally discovered East Timor, most of the media have now left, blaming a "descent into violence". The long, silent years mock these words. The descent began almost a quarter of a century ago when Indonesian special forces invaded the defenceless Portuguese colony. On December 7, 1975, a lone radio voice rose and fell in the static: "The soldiers are killing indiscriminately. Women and children are being shot in the streets. This is an appeal for international help. This is an SOS - please help us."

No help came, because the western democracies were secret partners in a crime as great and enduring as any this century; proportionally, not even Pol Pot matched Suharto's spree. Air Force One, carrying President Ford and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger, climbed out of Indonesian airspace the day the bloodbath began. "They came and gave Suharto the green light," Philip Liechty, the CIA desk officer in Jakarta at the time, told me. "The invasion was delayed two days so they could get the hell out. We were ordered to give the Indonesian military everything they wanted. I saw all the hard intelligence; the place was a free-fire zone. Women and children were herded into school buildings that were set alight - and all because we didn't want some little country being neutral or leftist at the United Nations." And all because western capital regarded Indonesia as a "prize".

Having been tipped off about the invasion, the British ambassador cabled the foreign office that it was in Britain's interests for Indone sia to "absorb the territory as soon and as unobtrusively as possible". Since then, the foreign office has lied incessantly about East Timor - not misled, lied. When the film I made with David Munro and Max Stahl, Death of a Nation, disclosed the extent to which the British were involved, especially the use of British Aerospace Hawk fighter aircraft in East Timor, officials of the south-east Asian department tried to denigrate and smear East Timorese witnesses to the Hawks' bombing raids, whose relatives had been killed and maimed by British cluster bombs. When Robin Cook's predecessor, David Owen, licensed the sale of the first Hawks to Indonesia in 1978, he dismissed reports of the East Timorese death toll, then well over 60,000 or 10% of the population, as "exaggerated".

For almost 20 years, the BBC and the major western news agencies preferred to "cover" East Timor from Jakarta, which was like reporting on a Nazi-occupied country from Berlin. The coverage was minute; not offending the invader and keeping your visa became all-important. A Jakarta-based BBC correspondent told me that my film, made undercover in East Timor, had "made life very difficult for us here".

In Whitehall, a refined system of flattery worked well. Senior broadcasters and commentators popped into the foreign office without any material favours expected. For them, the flattery and "access" were enough. Thus, both Tory and Labour governments, Indonesia's biggest weapons suppliers, were able to go about their business of complicity in genocide unchallenged, bar the efforts of a few honourable exceptions.

More recently, the grotesque hypocrisy of Tony Blair weeping for the children of Dunblane, then sending machine guns that mow down children in East Timor, was ignored. So was Robin Cook's epic cynicism, allowing him to leap from telling parliament in 1994 that Hawk aircraft had been "observed on bombing runs in East Timor in most years since 1984" to denying his own words - to the public-relations stunt of an "ethical" foreign policy while his functionaries lied to journalists that no Hawks were operational in East Timor.

Now that Hawks have been visible to all over East Timor, Baroness Symonds, who has the Orwellian title of defence procurement minister, insults the intelligence and humanity of Radio 4 listeners by lecturing a deferential James Naughtie on "rights". East Timor's tormentors should have British weapons because they "have a right under the United Nations charter to defend themselves". Moreover, "they have a right" to come to next week's British government-sponsored arms fair in Surrey, the biggest ever. Last year, her government approved the sale of ?625bn in arms, a record never reached by the Tories and surpassed only by the US.

Tomorrow, the East Timorese leader, Xanana Gusmao, is due to be released from house arrest in Jakarta. If he returns to his homeland, he is likely to be killed and the murder weapon is likely to be British; the Heckler and Koch rapid-firing gun, supplied to Indonesia's Kopassus gestapo by British Aerospace, is perfect for the job. All arms sales to Indonesia, by the way, are heavily subsidised by the British taxpayer.

As for getting the Indonesians out of East Timor, their western godfathers can achieve a great deal if they want to. Blair has the power to freeze arms shipments. The US controls $45bn underwriting Jakarta's collapsed economy. They always say they act in our name. So raise your voice now.

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The John Pilger archive is held at the British Library