THE 1995 United States foreign aid bill, finalized by House and Senate lawmakers on July 29 and due to be passed this week, contains an important provision pressuring Indonesia to end its brutal occupation of East Timor. The small Pacific island was illegally invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and has been occupied ever since. In addition to extending the ban on US military training assistance to Indonesia, this foreign aid bill bars the sale of small arms to Jakarta until it shows progress on human rights and East Timor.
The latter provision was largely the work of Sens. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont and Russell Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, who fought off an earlier attempt by Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (R) of Louisiana to drop all conditions on US military assistance and arms sales to Indonesia. Senator Johnston argued, without presenting real evidence, that Indonesia ``has made huge steps forward in human rights'' and stressed America's vital commercial interests in Indonesia. Not coincidentally, Johnston has close ties to Freeport-McMoRan Inc., the Louisiana-based mining and exploration company that has an estimated $1 billion invested in Indonesia gold and copper operations.
Johnston and other staunch Indonesia loyalists have long turned a blind eye to the plight of East Timor, which has suffered the death of roughly 200,000 noncombatants - a third of its population - since Indonesia's genocidal occupation of the island began. For two decades of brutality, US arms shipments to Indonesia have been steadfast, accounting for an estimated 90 percent of Jakarta's military hardware during the peak of the massacre in the late 1970s. Moreover, since the Nov. 12, 1991 Dili massacre, when Indonesian troops killed 271 peaceful Timorese demonstrators and hospitalized two US reporters, the State Department has licensed some 250 military sales to Indonesia, including machine guns, riot gear, and spare parts for F-16 jets.
Congressional action to bar equipment may indicate the tide is turning on Indonesia, thanks largely to the perseverance of the Timorese resistance movement and a global network of solidarity groups. In June these groups organized a private conference on East Timor in Manila. Indonesian President Suharto demanded the Philippines cancel it. Despite Jakarta's attempted sabotage, the conference proceeded and drew press coverage further highlighting the plight of East Timor. Indonesia also recently banned three popular magazines that had reported on the Suharto regime's corruption, an action that prompted demonstrations and more publicity.
Indonesia's attempt to silence its critics has begun to backfire. But additional pressure must come from the Clinton administration, Jakarta's principal sponsor and trading partner. President Clinton should raise the issue of East Timor and human rights concerns (such as Indonesia's abysmal labor conditions) at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting with Suharto in November. Also, the US should take the lead in endorsing an orderly process of decolonization through the United Nations, with the goal of staging a referendum for the East Timorese to determine their status. Such steps will buttress Congress's recent action and put an end to two decades of shameful complicity.