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East Timor

1997 East Timor

1996 Nobel Peace Prize to Horta and Belo

In December 1996, exiled activist Josť Ramos-Horta and Catholic Archbishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo received the Oslo Nobel Peace Prize. According to Countryaah, the Indonesian authorities sought to boycott the ceremony, yet the problem in East Timor was on the newspaper front pages of the world.

In April 1997, Ramos-Horta presented a document on Indonesia's 20-year occupation of East Timor for the UN Human Rights Commission's annual meeting in Geneva. In July, during a visit to Indonesia, South African President Nelson Mandela stated: "The release of Xanana Gusmao - the leader of the Timorese liberation struggle - is a fundamental step in the process towards a solution to the East Timor problem." That same month, a high-ranking officer in the occupation army announced that the military would soon receive 18 armored personnel carriers produced in France. Two months later, the British government declared it interrupting its military assistance to Indonesia as the weapons could be used in East Timor.

While a group of college students in November 97 conducted a commemoration ceremony on the anniversary of the 1991 massacre, the military opened fire, killed a student and injured 16 others. Archbishop Ximenes Belo condemned the military's "horrific brutality" and at the same time declared that Indonesian forces had entered the university area without permission, breaking doors and windows.

In 1998, the East Timorese formed the Timor National Resistance Council (CNRT).

In January 1999, Australia, the only Western country to have recognized Indonesia's supremacy over the former Portuguese colony, declared that "the status quo in East Timor was extremely regrettable". Indonesia initially condemned the statements, but in February, the Minister of Information stated that the government would "propose" to the parliament to be elected on June 7 that it considered East Timor's independence if the people rejected the offer of autonomy that BJ Habibie had made the month before. At the same time, Xanana Gusmao was released from prison and transferred to house arrest in Jakarta.

After considerable political strife, senior officials from Indonesia and Portugal agreed in May on the details of a referendum on the country's future. The foreign ministers of the two countries signed the agreement at the UN headquarters. Acc. the agreement was to carry out a referendum in which East Timor's people had to choose between "special autonomy" proposed by Jakarta or independence.

The details of voting and designing electoral rolls to decide who had the right to vote led to major delays in the process, and a few weeks before the scheduled vote in August 99, pro-Indonesian militias launched a terror campaign targeting supporters of independence. The Indonesian military was massively present, but remained completely passive to the militia ravages, causing considerable international criticism of Indonesia. The UN envoy was to monitor the elections and other election observers were unable to prevent the assaults that sent thousands on the run.

Therefore, there was some uncertainty as to the last vote, but it was scheduled to take place on 30 August 1999. The turnout is 98% and 78.5% vote for independence. The result triggers extensive revenge actions by the militias, and this time the Indonesian military is actively participating in the terror. 90% of the country's buildings are burnt down and hundreds of thousands are sent on the run, 150,000 of them to West Timor.

The terror initially causes Australia to react, and two weeks after the vote, the country gets the UN and Indonesia's blue stamp to send a peace-making force into East Timor. The Interfet force consists of 3,000 soldiers - mostly from Australia, but also some from New Zealand and the UK. They waive the militia control over Dili and the other major cities, and on October 25, the last Indonesian soldiers leave the country. However, the UN intervention creates another refugee stream in the form of the militias and their families, as well as the 30,000 Indonesians working in East Timor. They fear revenge from the East Timorese and Interfet.

 

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