Source: Direct Submission
Organization: The Wisdom Fund
Title: Greed At Core Of Indonesia's Timor Problem
Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 07:00:33 -0400
[THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views]
Released September 22, 1999
The Wisdom Fund, P. O. Box 2723, Arlington, VA 22202
Website: http://www.twf.org -- Press Contact: Enver Masud
Greed At Core Of Indonesia's Timor Problem
by Enver Masud
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At its core the problem of East
Timor, and indeed much of Indonesia, has a lot to do
with greed rather than the Muslim-Christian divide
portrayed in the media.
From ancient times until the 7th century AD Indonesia
was ruled by various Hindu kingdoms among which the
Majapahit Empire became the most powerful. Sumatra was
then known as the "island of gold, and Java as the "rice
Muslim traders began arriving in the 13th century, and
Islam spread peacefully through the islands. Many
descendants of Hindu kingdoms retreated to the islands
of Bali and Lombok where they flourish to this day. In
the early 16th century the Hindu kingdom of Mataram
converted to Islam.
With the fall of Muslim Spain in 1492 (as in the
Americas, Africa, and South Asia), came 350 years of
brutal colonial rule and exploitation. First to arrive
were the Portuguese in 1511 AD. The Portuguese were
followed by the Dutch (1602 to 1799 AD), the British
(1811 to 1815 AD), and again the Dutch (1816 to 1908
The colonial masters took slaves, forced the natives to
grow crops for export which resulted in famines, and
destroyed the thriving inter-island trade.
By 1908 nationalist movements began seeking
self-government, and Indonesia declared independence on
August 17, 1947. Sukarno, a leader of the independence
movement, became president. He was overthrown in 1965 by
Suharto in a U.S. backed military coup in which it is
reported that one million people, mainly Chinese, were
When the Dutch and Portuguese formally partitioned East
Timor between them in the 19th century, East Timor
remained a part of the Portuguese colony. The governor
of Portuguese Timor, in 1974, granted permission for
political parties, and five emerged.
Said to be lacking popular support Fretilin, seeking
independence from Indonesia, resorted to terror. Civil
war broke out, and on August 27, 1975 the governor and
Portuguese officials abandoned the capital Dili. The
U.S. armed, trained Indonesian military entered East
Timor to stop a civil war.
Fretilin, supplied with arms from the Portuguese army
arsenal, declared East Timor independent. The four other
parties in East Timor declared their independence and
integration with Indonesia. East Timor became the 27th
province of Indonesia, but this claim was not recognized
by the UN.
Rich in natural resources, Indonesia's primary problem
is the equitable sharing of these resources. Foreign
interests, and internal corruption, add to the inherent
difficulty that while Java is Indonesia's most heavily
populated island, many of the resources are located in
less populated islands.
According to former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Edward
Masters, Indonesia did more in 35 years to develop
barren, infertile East Timor than Portugal did in four
Indonesia allocated development funds to East Timor at a
rate six times the national average. In 1975, less than
10% of Timorese were literate, there were only 50
schools, and no colleges. By 1994 East Timor had 600
elementary schools, 90 middle schools and three
colleges. Under the Portuguese East Timor had only two
hospitals and 14 health clinics. By 1994 there were 10
hospitals and nearly 200 village health centers. In 1975
it had 20 km hard surfaced roads, by 1994 there were 500
km. The number of Catholic Churches in predominantly
Catholic East Timor quadrupled under Indonesian rule
But Fretilin continued to resist Indonesian rule, and
offshore oil discoveries made matters worse.
A treaty was signed in 1989 by Australia and Indonesia.
This Timor Gap Treaty came into force in 1991 and is due
for review in 2031. Australia desperately needs this
oil, and massive revenues are said to flow to both
governments. Independence for East Timor would likely
give it a larger share of these revenues.
The division of natural resources is also at the core of
secessionist movements in Aceh, Irian Jaya, and in the
On Aceh in 1971 Mobil Oil discovered one of the world's
richest onshore reserves of natural gas, estimated at 40
billion cubic metres. Aceh provides an estimated 11% of
Indonesia's total exports, but less than 10% of this
wealth is reinvested in the province. Mobil Oil, is
reported to have caused massive environmental damage,
and is said to be linked to the Indonesian military's
land seizures, bombings, and massacres.
On Irian Jaya military repression, and massive
environmental damage has been linked to Freeport
McMoRan, a Louisiana corporation.
In April 1967 Freeport McMoRan became the first foreign
company granted an operating permit following the
1965-66 U.S.-backed coup that installed General Suharto.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is
credited with having introduced company officials to
President Suharto. It is reported that Mr. Kissinger
sits on Freeport's board, earning $500,000 a year, and
Freeport also retains his law firm, Kissinger and
Associates, for a reputed $200,000 a year.
In 1999 Freeport McMoRan received approval to almost
double production, which will increase land seizures and
environmental damage. With reserves valued at $40
billion, the Freeport project is the largest single gold
deposit in the world and the third largest open-cut
In the neighboring Philippines, National Steel Company,
writes Fred Hill author of Teasing the Tiger: A Third
World Study of Muslim Mindanao, the Philippines' largest
steel mill, is destroying Lake Lanao, the river's
source. Located in the Muslim countryside, it is the
major employer in the area. But except for 5 or 10
Muslims its 4000 employees are Christian Visayans, many
of whom were brought there in the 1970s. The media
publish reports about "Muslim" violence in Mindanao, but
not the reasons for their frustration.
And similarly in East Timor the violence has little if
anything to do with Muslim-Christian enmity. Christians
live in peace with Muslims in West Timor, and elsewhere
in Indonesia. Greed, the greed of corporations,
government officials, individuals is at at the core of
problems. The religion card is used to divide, rule, and
expolit the people and the land -- just like colonial
rulers did in earlier times.
[Enver Masud visited Indonesia in the early 1950's when
his father was the UNESCO Mission Chief, and several
times in the mid-1990's as an engineering management
consultant for The World Bank. He is founder of The
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