Correction to This Article
A Jan. 25 article on Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975 should have made it clear that documents showed Indonesia used former U.S. naval ships that had been supplied or sold to Indonesia, not U.S. Navy vessels.

Report: U.S. Arms Helped Indonesia Attack East Timor

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 24 -- U.S. political and military support for Indonesia was vital to its ability to invade East Timor in December 1975 and to sustain a brutal 24-year occupation that cost the lives of at least 100,000 people, parts of a Timorese inquiry made public Tuesday show.

East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation contended that the Ford administration "turned a blind eye" to the Indonesian invasion even though it knew that U.S.-supplied arms would be used to carry it out. The report called on the United States, France, Britain and other military backers of Indonesia to pay reparations to victims of Indonesian oppression.

The commission relied on more than 4,500 pages of recently declassified documents collected by the Washington-based National Security Archive, a nonprofit research group, which posted a 119-page portion of the commission's 2,500-page report on its Web site Tuesday. The rest is expected to be made public in the coming weeks.

The commission was created in 2001 by the United Nations and East Timor to provide a comprehensive account of abuses during Indonesia's occupation, which ended in 1999. East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao delivered it last week to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"The Commission finds that the United States of America failed to support the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination, and that its political and military support were fundamental to the Indonesian invasion and occupation," the report said. "The support of the United States was given out of a strategically-motivated desire to maintain a good relationship with Indonesia, whose anti-communist regime was seen as an essential bastion against the spread of communism."

The national archive gave the commission National Security Council documents showing that U.S. officials were aware of Indonesian plans to invade East Timor a year before the invasion and did not discourage it. Other documents showed that U.S. officials had evidence that Indonesia had used U.S. naval vessels in support of air bombardment during its invasion of East Timor, but decided to remain silent about it.

The commission's report cites a Dec. 6, 1975, meeting in Jakarta -- the day before the invasion -- in which Indonesia's former ruler, President Suharto, asked then-President Gerald R. Ford and then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger for their "understanding" if his government took "rapid or drastic action" against East Timor, according to a declassified account of the conversation first made public in 2001.

Ford assured Suharto that "we will understand and will not press you on the issue," the documents say. Kissinger pressed Suharto to delay an invasion until the president had returned to the United States. "It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly," Kissinger is reported to have said.

Kissinger did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening. A spokeswoman, Jesse LePorin, said he is recuperating from shoulder surgery.

In 1998, Kissinger was asked at Arizona State University about the invasion and, according to the Arizona Republic, replied: "You may not believe this, but Indonesia is a country of 180 million people, and they didn't ask our permission. Also, we were negotiating an end to the Vietnam War at that time, and we were not looking to make another enemy in Southeast Asia."

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