The recent arrival in Dili of an Indonesian military delegation led by General Gatot Nurmantyo raises questions about the Indonesian government’s willingness to recognize atrocities committed during the occupation of Timor-Leste. The delegation came to Timor-Leste to see the Heroes’ Cemetery (Taman Makam Pahlawan) in Baucau, where it has spent two weeks rehabilitating the graves of Indonesian soldiers who died during the occupation. Will this visit bring the Indonesian government any closer to acknowledging the crimes committed during Indonesia’s occupation of Timor-Leste?
In 1999, the United Nations gave Timor-Leste the option to decide whether or not to end the Indonesian occupation. As a result of this referendum, the nation emerged from a quarter century of horrific bloodshed. Timor-Leste’s independence enabled cooperation with the Indonesian government in various aspects at the international, regional, and bilateral levels. These relations have had positive consequences in the political, economic, cultural, security, and military defense spheres.
Timor-Leste and Indonesia had a violent relationship during the time of the resistance. The Timorese people and the Indonesian military became enemies during that period due to Indonesia’s use of military aggression, intimidation, and torture against innocent civilians. Relations improved after Timor-Leste became independent. The cooperation between the two countries generated a strong and genuine friendship between the people of Timor-Leste and the people of Indonesia, as well as between the politicians and soldiers of these nations. From this angle, the Indonesian military’s visit to rehabilitate the Heroes’ Cemetery will strengthen per-existing ties of friendship. Such behaviour sends a positive signal about the possibility of true friendship and reconciliation between the two nations, making them an example for conflict resolution in the region and around the world.
At the same time, Indonesia should recognize the horrors that the Soeharto regime and the Indonesian military inflicted on the Timorese people during the occupation period. The two countries’ current relationship exemplifies the attitude of “forgetting the past in order to move forwards in the future.” Such reconciliation can generate development that will benefit both countries. It also reinforces the similarities of culture, tradition, and history between them. The Suharto regime is over. Reconciliation policies in Indonesia and Timor-Leste should indeed become an example for the world. However, Indonesian citizens should learn more about the atrocities for which their military was responsible. Timor-Leste’s suffering must serve as a reminder for the Indonesian people that they cannot solve conflicts through military aggression. The futility of such violence has been exemplified in both Timor-Leste and Papua, as well as in the wider region and throughout the world.
Currently, no Indonesian military commander or ex-commander has recognized the crimes which Indonesia committed in Timor-Leste, crimes which included the massacres of innocent civilians. Nevertheless, the Indonesian military and Timorese people have become good friends. This friendship is demonstrated by Timorese citizens’ support for the upkeep of the Indonesian soldiers’ graves. The Indonesian delegation’s arrival provides a good opportunity to highlight the clear evidence about the the Soeharto rregime’s crimes in Timor-Leste.
On 20 September 2017 a large delegation from the Indonesian military, led by an Indonesian military commander, came to tend to the cemeteries of the Indonesian soldiers in Baucau. Last year, Indonesia’s military leaders helped Timor-Leste locate the burial places of two of its greatest heroes: Commander David Alex Daitula, a crucial resistance leader, and Nicolao dos Reis Lobato, Timor-Leste’s second President. Both of these individuals were killed by Indonesian soldiers during the occupation.
Fundasaun Mahein believes that the political ties between Timor-Leste and Indonesia should lead to an acknowledgement of the atrocities perpetrated by the Indonesian military. At this time, official visits from the Indonesian state to Timor-Leste only involve laying flowers or lighting candles at the cemetery for Indonesian soldiers (Taman Makam Pahlawan Seroja) in Dili.
The rehabilitation of the Heroes’ Cemetery in Baucau will dignify the souls of the fallen and cement the good relationship which Timor-Leste and Indonesia have established after Timor-Leste gained independence. It should also reveal the evidence that testifies to the crimes committed by the Indonesian military during its occupation of Timor-Leste. In the face of such proof, the people of Indonesia must acknowledge these atrocities and stop defending Suharto’s dictatorship and the occupation of Timor-Leste. Hopefully, by recognizing the horrors of the past, the government of Indonesia can learn that military aggression should never be used to resolve problems on the national, regional, or international levels.