Indonesia / E. Timor
As Australia leads a U.N. peacekeeping force onto the territory
of E. Timor in an effort to quell the horrific violence that
followed a vote by the E. Timorese for independence, I thought
we''d take a quick look at the history of the region as well as
The nation of Indonesia is the world''s 4th most populous with
around 210 million people. It is really an archipelago of 13,000
islands, half inhabited, with about 300 different ethnic groups.
90% of the people identify themselves as Muslims, making
Indonesia the largest Islamic nation in the world. About 3% of
the people are ethnic-Chinese, but those 3% exert a large force
on the economy.
40% of the world''s trade passes through Indonesia''s waters.
1511 - The Portuguese, in pursuit of the spice trade, capture the
commercial center of Melaka on the Malay Peninsula (current
1520 - Portuguese arrive in Timor.
1610 - Dutch oust Portuguese from W. Timor. Portugal retains
E. Timor. The Dutch East India Company gains political control
over the rest of the area (roughly current day Indonesia). The
Dutch government then takes over in 1799.
1920 - Indonesia Communist Party is founded.
1929 - Indonesian Nationalist Party arises under Sukarno but it
remains politically weak until World War II.
1942 - Dutch colonial government surrenders to Japan.
1945 - After Japanese surrender, Sukarno proclaims
independence and becomes president. But the Dutch fight for 4
years before giving up.
1950 - W. Timor becomes part of Indonesia.
1968 - General Suharto thwarts a Communist coup. Thousands
are executed as Suharto then assumes total power, replacing
1975 - After the 1974 revolution in Portugal, fighting breaks out
in E. Timor between independence fighters and Portuguese
troops. Portugal leaves in December. Indonesian troops then
1976-77 - Indonesia annexes E. Timor, imposing Jakarta''s rule
and causing the rise of independence fighters. According to
reliable sources, 200,000 E. Timorese are killed over the next 4
1979 - Australia is the only nation to acknowledge Indonesia''s
annexation of E. Timor.
1984 - Portugal and Indonesia hold the first U.N. - sponsored
talks over E. Timor.
1991 - Indonesian troops kill pro-independence protesters in the
1996 - E. Timorese independence activists Jose Horta and
Bishop Carlos Belo are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
1998 - Suharto forced to resign, replaced by B.J. Habibe.
1999 - In January, Indonesia announces it is willing to let go of
E. Timor if its people reject an offer of autonomy within
Indonesia. In May, Portugal and Indonesia sign a U.N. -
sponsored agreement in New York allowing the E. Timorese to
choose between autonomy or independence. Aug. 30th, balloting
takes place. On Sept. 4th, it is announced that 78.5% voted for
independence. Hours after the tally is revealed, militias begin
their campaign of terror.
The situation in E. Timor, today, could be a harbinger of things
to come. As I noted above, there are some 300 ethnic groups in
Indonesia. Perhaps 5-10 of them have "legitimate" independence
claims of their own. The Indonesian government has its hands
full and the role of the military, on a national basis, is key.
This past spring Indonesia held parliamentary elections and an
electoral assembly will be choosing a new President this fall.
Megawati Sukarnopatri, the daughter of the founder of the
nation, Sukarno, won the spring elections and she is not happy
about the loss of E. Timor. The question will be whether or not
she receives the support of the military (which holds seats in the
assembly under the Indonesian constitution). One would think
that the military, for its part, is also not happy with current
President B.J. Habibie.
The complicity of the army in the recent violence in E. Timor is
beyond question. Indonesia''s armed forces chief, General
Wiranto, appears to have lost control of the head of the forces on
the island, General Makarin (previously head of military
intelligence). Wiranto has vast ambitions of his own and until
recently he was seen as a possible vice presidential candidate.
For all nations, the issue with Indonesia is how to weigh
intervention in E. Timor, or other future separatist crises that
may develop, against the costs to overall relations with this
volatile and strategically important nation.
[Source for timeline: Associated Press and New York Times]