Updated on 2023-12-01 at 11:47 PM ET
Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta said Friday that he bears no grudge against former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who died this week and helped green-light Indonesia’s December 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony.
But Virgílio da Silva Guterres, the human rights ombudsman for the country formerly known as East Timor, was less conciliatory, saying it was unfortunate that the senior American statesman had died unrepentant for his ruthless policies. More than 200,000 people were killed in the 24 years Indonesia illegally occupied East Timor until 1999.
Kissinger, who died Wednesday at the age of 100, served as America’s top diplomat and national security adviser under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and was widely seen as an influential and hard-line practitioner of American foreign policy during the Cold War. No place for human rights.
He is a controversial figure for his signal that Washington will not stand in the way of a massive military invasion by neighboring Indonesia in the tiny former colony formerly known as East Timor, now an independent nation. The era of the dictator Suharto, a staunch ally of the United States
„From the narrow perspective of Timor-Leste, I obviously cannot have the best memories of Mr. Kissinger,” Ramos-Horta told Benarnews via email on Friday.
„He was the architect of America’s Cold War diplomacy, he supported the Suharto dictatorship, but other dictatorships across the planet, including in Latin America, the worst case being in Chile. Having said that, I’m not angry or anything like that.
Kissinger’s admirers have praised him for his diplomacy, which led to the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the United States and Communist China and led to negotiations with Hanoi to end the American war in Vietnam.
Critics have accused him of being a war criminal, among other things, for his role in the Nixon administration’s covert B-52 bombings of Cambodia in 1969; his support for Pakistan in its brutal war with East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971; his support for the military coup that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende, a leftist leader, in 1973; And, of course, the bloody course of events in East Timor.
On Friday, Ramos-Horta, who lost a sister and two brothers in conflict during the years of Indonesian occupation, said she had met Kissinger two or three times over the years.
The Timorese leader, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who served as a spokesman for rebels fighting Indonesia in East Timor, said he could understand the sense of American paranoia during the Cold War.
„The paranoia about the domino effect of the successful communist insurgencies in Indochina and the potential influence on then-independent East Timor. I can understand all that,” he said.
“I didn’t apologize to him when we met. He was very gentlemanly with me when we met 20 years ago. May his soul rest in peace.”
Guterres, Timor-Leste’s ombudsman for human rights and justice, said Kissinger will be remembered the same way people remember Indonesia’s former autocratic leader Suharto „and his murderous regime”.
The invasion of East Timor was ordered by President Suharto and began on December 7, 1975, the day after he, Kissinger, and US President Gerald Ford met at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.
In Guterres’ view, Kissinger represented the hypocrisy of America and the West.
„Kissinger embodies the face of US and Western double standards on global human rights issues. It is sad that he died without being held accountable for his inhumane policies,” he told BenarNews.
’I will not press you on the issue’
Declassified U.S. documents describe a conversation in Jakarta before the invasion between Kissinger, President Ford, President Suharto, Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik, Indonesian Foreign Minister Sudarmono, and U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia David Newsom.
During the conversation at the presidential palace, Suharto told his American guests that political conflict and turmoil in neighboring East Timor could threaten his country after the colonial Portuguese left in 1974.
Suharto said Jakarta was considering its options to protect the country’s security Classified US State Department document found online by Gerald. R. Ford Presidential Library.
„We would like your understanding if we deem it necessary to take swift or drastic action,” the Indonesian leader told the Americans.
Ford responded that he and his team would understand and „not pressurize you on the issue.” Kissinger told Suharto a minute or so later that „whatever you do it is important to succeed quickly.”
A top US diplomat said whatever action Jakarta decides to take, the Indonesians would do well to delay until he and Ford return to the US.
„We understand your problem and the need to move quickly, but I can only say that it would be better if we did it after our return,” Kissinger said, according to a diplomatic cable marked „secret.”
Indonesia invaded East Timor a day later, while Ford and Kissinger landed in Honolulu on their way back to Washington.
When asked by reporters Ford’s press secretary He said the Americans had asked the Indonesians to delay the invasion of East Timor until they left the city, which he said was „not an indication he got from the president, or at least the president was not participating in such a conversation.”
In early 1975, Kissinger expressed concern about the possibility of an Indonesian takeover of East Timor by force during the summer.
On Feb. 6, A telegram to the US embassies in Jakarta, Canberra and Lisbon, „to ask for their views on how the US can prevent the Indonesian government from moving into the neighborhood without us getting caught”. [the] problem.”
The US government is ready [to] Accept any course of the Portuguese Timor issue in accordance with the wishes of the Timorese people and do not wish to be involved in any way in the process of determining the future of the territory,” the cable read.
It added that an Indonesian move to seize East Timor by force would „create serious difficulties for us”.
It is worth noting that the landscape of geopolitics in Southeast Asia changed in the inter-Kissinger era.s February cable to embassies and meeting with Suharto in Jakarta 10 months later. Both Phnom Penh and Saigon fell to Communist forces in April, suffering major defeats for the US superpower in the Cold War.
Is Kissinger the only one guilty?
Some human rights activists in Indonesia have also questioned the extent to which Kissinger was involved in Indonesia’s decision to invade East Timor.
Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Indonesia, said that despite Washington’s green light, Kissinger and the US were not entirely responsible for the invasion.
“Step [then-military chief] Benny Mordani’s biography, Indonesia had actually made preparations and infiltrations before the invasion,” he told BenarNews.
“Blaming him [Kissinger] And a full-scale invasion of the US was not justified because the attack was ready.
Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director Usman Hamid said some indications were that Kissinger and the US government were aware at the time of providing political and military support to the Indonesian government to invade East Timor.
„However, debate continues about the extent to which Kissinger or the US government is responsible for human rights abuses in this context,” he said.
Dria Dianti and Ari Firdaus in Jakarta and Kate Pedal and Imran Vitachi in Washington contributed to this report.
This report has been updated to include additional details from Henry Kissinger’s February 6, 1975, cable to American embassies.
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