The Indonesian invasion of East Timor began on 7th December 1975, when the Indonesian military invaded East Timor under the pretext of anti-colonialism. East Timor was a Portuguese colony.  200,000 people died in East Timor during the invasion. That’s one-third of the population. The invasion was done in private. There were ten United Nation sanctions brought against Indonesia.


“…I don’t really fill my mind much, with what one set of foreigners are doing to another” said Alan Clark the Ex British Defence Minister. “What is it that is so dreadfully special about East Timor…”


The Indonesia government played a strategy of not allowing people to go into East Timor. No tourists, no journalists, and no cameras were allowed into East Timor. The people of East Timor were on the biggest prisoner island in the world.


Before the invasion, the people of East Timor lived a happy friendly island life. The Portuguese left people alone to live their lives. The people of East Timor had a different language and culture to Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest muslin country in the world while the East Timorese were largely Catholic.


When General Suharto came to power in Indonesia in the 1960’s, books were burned and democracy was crushed. Indonesia was seen as a huge market for wealthy investors. Rich in oil and other natural resources. Richard Nixon called Indonesia the greatest prize in South East Asia. Suharto and his Generals were welcomed to the free world.


An estimated one million of Indonesia’s people were killed. Most of them were landless peasants accused of being communists. Declassified documents showed that the American government actively supported Suharto and his Generals. The American Government showed that they were satisfied with and sympathetic to the Suharto government.


Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam flew to Indonesia to meet with Suharto. Whitlam regarded good relations with Indonesia as vital to Australia’s strategic and economic interests in Asia. Whitlam believed that “an independent Timor would be an unviable State and a potential threat to the area.”


Richard Woolcott Former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia said Whitlam made three things clear. Including that when the time came for East Timor to be decolonized it would make sense for Indonesia to take over the government of East Timor. Woolcott knew in advance what was coming.


James Dunn Ex Australian Consul in East Timor knew about the planned invasion a year in advance.


The Fretilin party took control of East Timor through a military coup. The Portuguese left East Timor. On 4th September 1975, the CIA reported to Washington that “Two Indonesian special forces groups entered Portuguese Timor…” and on the 17th September they reported “…Jakarta is now sending guerrillas to provoke incidents that provide an excuse to invade”


Two Australian TV network news crews, one from Channel Seven and one from Channel Nine who set out to report on the coming invasion. They were murdered by the Indonesian invaders. They drove to the East Timor town of Balibo, where Indonesian ships had been spotted.


Greg Shackleton of Channel Seven made his last report from Balibo. They painted their house with the word Australia and the Australian flag in red, hoping it would give them some protection. When the Indonesians arrived they were heard to be shouting “We're Australians, non-combative” then everything went quiet.


They were hung up by their feet, their sexual organs were removed and shoved down their throats. They were stabbed with short throwing knives. It isn’t known whether the asphyxiated or bled to death.


The Australian government claimed they protested the deaths, however, they only asked diplomatic questions, which meant they only got diplomatic answers. Woolcott claimed that he didn’t know what happened and then added that “they were very unwise to be where they were”. Australia like every other nation didn’t protest the incident.


It was very clear that the British, American and Australian ambassadors knew about Indonesia’s plan to invade. Woolcott said it was very clear that the invasion was happening however it was best to play it down. The American Ambassador said he hoped it was quick and that they didn’t use the equipment they had sold the Indonesian.


President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrived in Indonesian on 5th December 1975. Many photos were taken of Ford and Suharto indicating the American support for the invasion.


C Philip Liechty Senior CIA Officer in Indonesia in 1975 thought there was “something very wrong here” he said “you can be 100% certain that Suharto was given the green light (by Ford) to do what he did (invade East Timor)” The Americans persuaded Suharto not to invade until after they left. As the Americans left Indonesian airspace the bloodbath began. The Indonesians landed in Dili and killed all the educated people first, Doctors, public officials, teachers, students, and nurses.


The CIA provided all the ammunition, weaponry, helicopters, logistical support, food, uniforms and all the expendables the Indonesians needed to conduct the war.


When Henry Kissinger returned to Washington he summoned all his aides. He was worried people would find out his complicity in the war.


He said “on the Timor thing that will leak in three months it will come out that Kissinger overruled his pristine bureaucrats and violate the law. How many people … know about this?”


Staff Member: “Three”


Kissinger: “plus everybody in this meeting… Everything on paper will be used against me…”


He gave orders that the shipment of arms be “stopped quietly” … but secretly “Started again in January”


As the killing increased in East Timor, the shipment of arms was doubled.


In the next two years, there was a virtual news blackout on events in East Timor. Women who survived were brought to a ‘village of the widows’ there they were placed on birth control without their permission, as a form of population control.


In 1983 General Suharto received a United Nations prize for his support for family planning. East Timor had a population of about 680,000 thousand people. Had it kept growing it would have had a population of 1 million people, today it has a population of 650,000 people.


According to Dr. Mario Soares, President of Portugal what’s happened in East Timor amounts to genocide. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s famine claimed many thousands of people’s lives in resettlement camps where people were denied adequate land to grow food.


Britain sold Indonesia the 144 Hawk aircraft, one of the fastest selling aircraft in the world. In 1978 at the height of the genocide, David Owen, British foreign secretary in the Labour Government agreed to sell the Hawk to Indonesia. From then on the British establishment courted the Suharto regime. Selling it more Hawks, more missiles, helicopters, frigates, armoured vehicles, mine disposal equipment, communications and a fully equipped institute of technology for the Indonesian army. Margaret Thatcher received an award for the promotion technology. She told her Indonesian audience she was proud to be one of them.


In 1991, the government of john Major urged its European partners to cut aid to regimes that violate human rights. In the same year, Major Shook hands with Indonesia’s weapons Chief B. J. Habibie. Later the government announced a billion pound deal with Indonesia to sell more Hawk Aircrafts.


Archie Hamilton the British Armed Forces Minister (1988-93) claimed that the point of selling Hawk Aircraft to Indonesia was to give jobs to British people he also claimed that there was nothing a Hawk Aircraft could do to suppress the people of East Timor.


Alan Clarke claimed that no such arrangement was made by the Defence department, and he blamed the Foreign Office. He was lying that an agreement had been made. Part of the deal with Indonesia was conversion training. Habibie said, “The planes will be used not only to train pilots but also for ground attacks.”


Baroness Lynda Chalker told parliament that British aid was helping the poor of Indonesia, In fact, half of all aid to Indonesia is linked to trade and much of that is tied to weapons.


One of the biggest wins for the West is the Timor Gap oil treaty between Indonesia and Australia. Which allows foreign companies to exploit the huge oil and gas reserves in the seabed off East Timor. Portugal has taken Australia to the world court over the legality of the treaty.


In 1991, an unarmed student was shot dead by Indonesian soldiers. Two weeks later the people of Dili held a brave protest in tribute to the dead boy. What was unusual was that the protest was witnessed by foreigners and the filmed by their media. It was a peaceful demonstration. The people arrived at the cemetery and shouted out for a free East Timor. The Indonesians opened fire, killing 180 demonstrators.


Nugroho Wisnumurth is the Indonesian Ambassador to the United Nations. He is an ardent defender of Indonesia’s human rights record. He refers to the occupation of East Timor as integration. The incident of 12th December as it is known resulted in a fascicle investigation.


Ten low ranking Indonesian soldiers got life sentences but were out of jail within a couple of months. In contrast, eight Timorese protesters got given sentences of eight years to life imprisonment. Woolcott claimed the claimed that the Indonesians were still were claiming that the journalists stirred up trouble.


After the Dili massacre, the British government increased aid to Indonesia to 81 million pounds. At the same time, eleven more contracts under the Timor Gap treaty were awarded to Australian companies. Foreign Minister for Australia Gareth Evans described the massacre as an aberration. Nugroho Wisnumurth claims that people are lying about the murders. After a second protest that day and another one the next day the total number of people murdered or missing was 400.


When Bob Hawke’s Labour party gained power in the 1980’s Bob Hawke went to Indonesia to visit President Suharto to foster greater ties. Later the Hawke Government became the only western nation to give formal recognition to the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor.


During the 1983 cease fire an Australian delegation headed to East Timor. The party was led by Bill Morrison a federal Labour Party Minister. Before the delegation got to Dili the Indonesians sent in an army of men to tell the people of Dili how to behave.


Near the town of Laga the delegation was stopped by Fretilin Guerrillas they extended an invitation to Bill Morrison to come and talk to them. Morrison said it was too late in the day so he didn’t accept the invitation.  It was later reported that the Fretilin guerrillas were executed. In April 1985, Bill Morrison was appointed Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia. 


In WWII the East Timorese fought alongside the Australians losing 40,000 lives in the process.


The number of Catholics grew in East Timor to about 80 percent of the people. The Pope John Paul II visited East Timor in 1989, in preparing for the visit the pope’s envoy Father Roberto Tucci said that the Vatican should not sacrifice its interests for the sake of a few 1000 Catholics. The Pope paid homage to the people's suffering but when he suggested that they should reconcile he was met with silence.  

Invading Indonesian Forces

General Suharto

Gough Whitlam

Richard Woolcott

Greg Shackleton

The Balibo Five

Henry Kissinger

Gerald Ford

Margaret Thatcher &

Alan Clark

Starving East Timorese Children

Fretilin Troops

Bob Hawke

The Timor Gap