Alex Constantine - June 24, 2009
" ... President Ford and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger gave the green light for Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor that left up to 200,000 people dead..."
(Repost from 2001)
Boston Globe, p. A-3
Papers implicate Ford, Kissinger in E. Timor
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON -President Ford and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger gave the green light for Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor that left up to 200,000 people dead, according to previously secret documents made available yesterday.
The invasion under the dictator Suharto was followed by a bloody occupation of the former Portuguese colony that lasted two decades. Kissinger has maintained that he only learned of the plan at the airport as he and Ford prepared to fly home after meeting Suharto in Jakarta on the eve of the Dec. 7 thrust into East Timor.
Kissinger also has argued that any US nod for the action should be seen in its Cold War context - on the heels of the communist victory in Vietnam and amid US fears that other "dominoes" might fall in Southeast Asia. The occupation by Indonesia ended only after an international peacekeeping force took charge in 1999 and East Timor achieved independence.
At the time of the 1975 invasion, the United States supplied as much as 90 percent of Indonesia's weapons on condition that they be used only for defense and internal security. Ford and Kissinger appear to have gone to considerable lengths to assure Suharto, a staunch anticommunist, that they would not oppose the invasion, which was designed to keep East Timor from breaking away from Indonesia.
"We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," Suharto told them during a stopover on their way home from meetings with Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in Beijing, according to a newly declassified Dec. 6, 1975, document.
"We will understand and will not press you on the issue," Ford replied, according to the State Department record of the conversation declassified by Ford's presidential library.
Kissinger said that "the use of US-made arms could create problems," but added: "It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation," according to the same document.
The private National Security Archive, a Washington-based research group that obtained the document under the Freedom of Information Act, said it showed that Kissinger's concern was not that US weapons would be used offensively - hence illegally - but about how he might manipulate public opinion.
"It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly," Kissinger told Suharto, according to the document. "We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return."
"We understand your problem and the need to move quickly, but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned" to Washington, Kissinger said, according to the document.
Ford's current chief of staff, Penny Circle, said the former president had no comment. Kissinger did not respond to requests for comment.
The National Security Archive released a package of East Timor-related documents, some of which had been made public before in heavily censored form.