A Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts

By Samuel Totten; William S. Parsons et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

Genocide in East Timor

JAMES DUNN


Introduction

In 1975 Indonesian forces invaded the Portuguese colony of East Timor, which was then in the process of decolonization. The invasion provoked a spirited armed resistance, and during the subsequent five-year period, which was marked by bitter fighting in the interior and harsh oppression in occupied areas, the population of the territory underwent a substantial decline. So heavy was the loss of life that 16 years later (in 1991) the population was reported to be significantly lower than the estimate prior to the Indonesian invasion. In relative terms, therefore, the humanitarian costs of this act of forced integration reached genocidal proportions, which makes the East Timor case manifestly one of the most costly genocides in recent history.

While it should not be concluded that the Indonesian authorities embarked on a grand plan designed to bring about the systematic destruction of the Timorese people, Indonesia's occupation strategies and the behavior of the military seemed bound to achieve that end. The large influx of Indonesian settlers into the province could, in the long run, have led to ethnocide-that is, the destruction of the distinctive culture of East Timor. In the years following the invasion, however, the Timor case remained on the UN agenda, despite persistent efforts by Indonesia and its powerful Western friends. Thanks to the efforts of courageous Timorese such as Bishop Carlos Bello, by the end of the 1980s there was a growing

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