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1975 green light { December 7 2001 }

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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 14:32 GMT
US 'endorsed East Timor invasion'

The United States gave Indonesia the green light for the bloody 1975 invasion of East Timor, subjecting the territory to 24 years of occupation, according to newly released state documents.

The papers were released only hours before hundreds of people convened in the Timorese capital, Dili, to commemorate the anniversary of Indonesia's invasion.

The documents record talks in Jakarta between then US President Gerald Ford, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Indonesia's former President Suharto, a day before the invasion of East Timor.

Mr Kissinger has insisted over the years that the Timor issue never arose during the talks with Suharto.

But new details of the conversation, made available by the National Security Archive, reveal otherwise.

Mr Suharto briefed Mr Ford and Mr Kissinger about his plans for the former Portuguese colony, and they expressed understanding for the proposal.

This marked the start of an occupation which left as many as 200,000 dead.

Communism fears

Earlier in 1975, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia had become communist.

The US shared Suharto fears that the movement might seep into Indonesia via Timor, where a political power vacuum had been created by Portugal's hasty withdrawal after 400 years of colonial rule.

The parties in Jakarta were discussing both sides' concerns about communist insurgencies in Malaysia and Thailand, when Suharto broached the subject of Timor.

Warning that Timor's powerful left-leaning group Fretelin was "infected with communism", Suharto said: "We want your understanding if we take rapid or drastic action."

President Ford said he understood.

"We will not press you on the issue. We understand the problems you have and the intentions you have," he said.

Mr Kissinger also approved the decision, but said he preferred that Suharto held off until the president was back in America.

"We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying it would be better if it were done after we returned."

That way, he said, "we would be able to influence the reaction in America."

Independence near

The eastern part of Timor was invaded by Jakarta on 7 December and was annexed the following year.

In 1999, the territory voted overwhelmingly for independence, after a 24-year campaign for sovereignty accompanied by guerrilla warfare.

The territory is currently under UN administration, but is due to assume formal independence on 20 May next year. Peacekeepers are to remain for an unstipulated period.

Suharto, who enjoyed a close relationship with the US during much of his 32-year military rule, stepped down in 1998 amid corruption scandals and economic crisis.

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