|Indonesia Table of Contents
A connection between the Sukarno and Suharto eras was the ambition to build a unitary state whose territories would extend "from Sabang [an island northwest of Sumatra, also known as Pulau We] to Merauke [a town in southeastern Irian Jaya]." Although territorial claims against Malaysia were dropped in 1966, the western half of the island of New Guinea and East Timor, formerly Portuguese Timor, were incorporated into the republic. This expansion, however, stirred international criticism, particularly from Australia.
West New Guinea, as Irian Jaya was then known, had been brought under Indonesian administration on May 1, 1963 following a ceasefive between Indonesian and Dutch forces and a seven-months UN administration of the former Dutch colony. A plebiscite to determine the final political status of the territory was promised by 1969. But local resistance to Indonesian rule, in part the result of abuses by government officials, led to the organization of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) headed by local leaders and prominent exiles such as Nicholas Jouwe, a Papuan who had been vice chairman of the Dutch-sponsored New Guinea Council. Indonesian forces carried out pacification of local areas, especially in the central highland region where resistance was particularly stubborn.
Although Sukarno had asserted that a plebiscite was unnecessary, acceding to international pressure, he agreed to hold it. The Act of Free Choice provisions, however, had not defined precisely how a plebiscite would be implemented. Rather than working from the principle of one man-one vote, Indonesian authorities initiated a consensus-building process that supposedly was more in conformity with local traditions. During the summer of 1969, local councils were strongly pressured to approve unanimously incorporation into Indonesia. The UN General Assembly approved the outcome of the plebiscite in November, and West Irian (or Irian Barat), renamed Irian Jaya, became Indonesia's twenty-sixth province. But resistance to Indonesian rule by the OPM, which advocated the unification of Irian Jaya and the neighboring state of Papua New Guinea, continued. Border incidents were frequent as small bands of OPM guerrillas sought sanctuary on Papua New Guinea territory.
East Timor and the small enclave of Oecusse on the north coast of the island of Timor were poor and neglected corners of Portugal's overseas empire when officers of Portugal's Armed Forces Movement, led by General António de Spínola, seized power in Lisbon in April 1974. Convinced that his country's continued occupation of overseas territories, especially in Africa, was excessively costly and ultimately futile, Spínola initiated a hasty "decolonization" process. In Portuguese Timor, local political groups responded: the Timor Democratic Union (UDT) favored a continued association with Lisbon, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), demanded full independence, and the Popular Democratic Association of Timor (Apodeti) favored integration with Indonesia.
Although Indonesia's minister of foreign affairs, Adam Malik, assured Portugal's foreign minister on his visit to Jakarta that Indonesia would adhere to the principle of self-determination for all peoples, attitudes had apparently changed by the summer of 1974. Fretilin's leftist rhetoric was disquieting, and Jakarta began actively supporting Fretilin's opponent, Apodeti. Fears grew that an independent East Timor under Fretilin could become a beachhead for communist subversion. At a meeting between Suharto and Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam in September 1974, the latter acknowledged that it might be best for East Timor to join Indonesia but that the Australian public would not stand for the use of force. This acknowledgment seemed to open the way for a more forward policy. External factors relating to the communist subversion theme were the conquest of South Vietnam by communist North Vietnam in May 1975 and the possibility of a Chinese takeover of the Portuguese colony of Macao.
Fretilin had become the dominant political force inside East Timor by mid-1975, and its troops seized the bulk of the colonial armory as the Portuguese hastened to disengage themselves from the territory. An abortive coup d'état by UDT supporters on August 10, 1975, led to a civil war between Fretilin and an anticommunist coalition of UDT and Apodeti. Fretilin occupied most of the territory by September, causing Jakarta to give the UDT and Apodeti clandestine military support. On November 25, 1975, Fretilin proclaimed the Democratic Republic of East Timor. Jakarta responded immediately. On December 7, Indonesian "volunteer" forces landed at Dili, the capital, and Baukau. By April 1976, there were an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 Indonesian troops in the territory. On July 15, 1976, East Timor was made Indonesia's twenty-seventh province: Timor Timur.
Indonesian troops carried out a harsh campaign of pacification that inflicted grave suffering on local populations. Through the late 1970s and 1980s, accounts of military repression, mass starvation, and disease focused international attention on Indonesia as a major violator of human rights. An undetermined number--from 100,000 to 250,000--of East Timor's approximately 650,000 inhabitants died as a result of the armed occupation. However, by the mid-1980s, most of the armed members of Fretilin had been defeated, and in 1989 the province was declared open to free domestic and foreign travel.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress