US knew of invasion plans
The US knew well in advance of – and explicitly approved – Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975, which led to a brutal, 24-year occupation of the former Portuguese colony, according to newly declassified documents.
Released this week by the independent Washington-based National Security Archive, the documents showed US officials were aware of the invasion plans nearly a year in advance and adopted a "policy of silence", according to the documents.
East Timor voted in favour of breaking away from Indonesia in a United Nations-sponsored ballot in August 1999 before gaining independence in May 2002.
But the path to independence was bloody. Militia gangs reportedly directed by Indonesia's military went on a killing spree before and after the East Timorese referendum, killing about 1400 independence supporters.
Released 30 years after the Indonesian invasion, the formerly secret US documents showed how multiple US administrations tried to conceal information on East Timor to avoid a controversy that would prompt a Congressional ban on weapons sales to Indonesia.
"I'm assuming you're really going to keep your mouth shut on the subject," then national security adviser Henry Kissinger told his staff in October 1975 in response to reports that Indonesia had begun its attack on East Timor.
President Gerald Ford's administration knew that Indonesia had invaded East Timor using almost entirely US equipment, and that the use of that equipment for that purpose was illegal, the documents showed.
In 1977, officials of the administration of Ford's successor, Jimmy Carter, blocked declassification of an explosive cable documenting president Ford and secretary of state Kissinger's meeting with Indonesian president Suharto.
At the December 1975 meeting, they explicitly approved of the East Timor invasion, the documents say.
The National Security Archive had provided more than 1000 formerly classified US documents to help an East Timorese commission of inquiry into human rights abuses between 1975 and 1999.
East Timor president Xanana Gusmao handed the commission's 2500-page report to the East Timorese Parliament last Monday.
Brad Simpson – director of the National Security Archive's Indonesia and East Timor documentation project – said he expected the commission's final report to show that Indonesia's invasion and resulting crimes there "occurred in an international context in which the support of powerful nations, especially the United States, was indispensable".