Distant social and political changes radically altered die nature of external interest in East Timor. In Portugal, growing domestic frustration with colonial wars (particularly in Africa) resulted in the Carnation Revolution (or Revolution of Flowers) when the Armed Forces Movement overthrew the civilian dictatorship of Marcello Caetano in April 1974. Following a civil conflict for power, elections in April 1976 saw the victory of a moderate president and Socialist prime minister, who quickly ended Portugal’s 500 years of colonial history and granted East Timor independence.
After Indonesia’s invasion, Portugal steadfastly supported its former colony at the United Nations, which continued to recognize Portuguese authority over East Timor despite the defacto Indonesian occupation. On December 22, 1975, UN Security Council Resolution 384 was passed supporting East Timor’s right to self-determination, and UN Security Council Resolution 389 of April 22, 1976 was adopted urging Indonesia to withdraw and reiterating Portugal’s role as administrator of the non-self-governing territory (UN Security Council Resolution 384 (XXX) and UN Security Council Resolution 389, 1976).
As an ‘internal matter’ of Indonesia, East Timor barely received any attention, least of all from ASEAN governments, and remained in a state of siege from 1976-89, and low-level civil strife thereafter. Meanwhile, by the 1990s, the economies of East and Southeast Asia were increasingly integrated, offering cheap labor and favorable business conditions.
Although dependent on foreign capital and investment, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand were the latest NICs (following Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) to achieve an impressive rate of growth. However, in 1997, the illusion of Southeast Asian stability burst in a financial contagion of non-performing bank loans, over-extended real estate markets, unregulated currency speculation, and foreign capital flight. Beginning in Thailand, these ‘Asian tiger’ economies quickly collapsed, in some cases leading to civil unrest.
In Indonesia, social movements against corruption, collusion, and nepotism (“korupsi, kolusi, dan nepotisme” or KKN) and growing calls for democracy converged with the economic turmoil of the Asian financial crisis and its consequent restrictive International Monetary Fund (IMF) regulations, and caused long-time President Suharto to resign on May 21, 1998. On the diplomatic front, Indonesia’s benefactors were becoming uncomfortable with the brutality of Indonesian occupation, exemplified in events like the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre.
An East Timor Self-Determination Act was drafted (though not enacted) in the U. S. Congress, the United States suspended certain military training programs after the massacre, and all military ties, including International Military Education and Training (MET), were severed in 1999. On May 5, 1999, Indonesia and Portugal agreed to allow UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to authorize a popular consultation, and UNAMET was deployed a month later following UN Security Council Resolution 1246 of June 11, 1999 (Tanter et al. , 2001).
In order to assuage international condemnation (and assuming a pro-integration tally), Suharto’s temporary successor B. J. Habibie hastily called for a referendum on autonomy in East Timor to take place August 30, 1999. Ninety-eight percent of the population turned out, and 78 percent opted against limited autonomy and thus in favor of independence. Rampaging militia and the Indonesian military ransacked the province, destroying 90 percent of the buildings, killing more than 1,000, and forcibly deporting about 400,000 refugees. Strong pressure on Indonesia by U.
S. President Clinton and other interested states encouraged Indonesia’s acquiescence to a UN peace operation and the deployment of the Australian-led INTERFET to establish security in the restive province prior to the UN arrival (Heder, 176-77). ASEAN neglected the opportunity to play a major role in regional conflict resolution or to deflect the pressure that was brought to bear on Suharto and Habibie by the international community. As an internal matter of a member-state (Indonesia), the East Timorese transition to independence was in effect off limits.
Following the referendum, the United Nations took over administration of the province in a guided process that resulted in independence on May 20, 2002. UNTAET was authorized in October 1999 with Lieutenant General Boonsrang Niumpradit of Thailand as Force Commander. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1272 of October 25, 1999, UNTAET had overall responsibility for the administration of East Timor and was empowered to exercise all legislative and executive authority, including the administration of justice.
At the end of UNTAET’s mandate in 2002, two follow-on missions were deployed, UNMISET under UN Security Council Resolution 1410 of May 17, 2002 and the UN Office in Timor Leste (UNOTIL) under UN Security Council Resolution 1599 of April 28, 2005. References John G. Taylor, (1991). Indonesia’s Forgotten War: The Hidden History of East Timor (London, UK: Zed Books David Hicks, (2004). Tetum Ghosts and Kin: Fertility and Gender in East Timor (Long Grove,
IL: Waveland Press Ben Kiernan, (2004). “War, Genocide, and Resistance in East Timor, 1975-99: Comparative Reflections on Cambodia,” in Mark Selden and Alvin Y. So, eds. , War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Sonny Inbaraj, (1997). East Timor: Blood and Tears in ASEAN (Bangkok, Thailand: Silkworm Books