Click through to see the entire document and thread summarizing it.
More documents on Six Nations/Canada international relations can be found at historybeyondborders.ca.
Click through to see the entire document and thread summarizing it.
More documents on Six Nations/Canada international relations can be found at historybeyondborders.ca.
The Asian-African Conference Bulletin, published daily during the African-Asian conference at Bandung in April 1955, 65 years ago, is a significant and unused source in international history. In its pages, as much as in the conference hall around it, was born the idea of Asian-African solidarity and non-alignment. The Bulletin and other sources from the conference are now digitized as an e-dossier.
The creation of an idea of a “Third World” was one of the major themes of the 20th century. That “world” was born in Bandung, Indonesia, 65 years ago. Yet too few 20th century historians spend much time talking about the Asian-African conference and the world it gave birth to. The study is left to important networks outside the Western (and West-centric) historical mainstream, such as the Afro-Asian Networks project and the Bandung Spirit group, though there’s been an admirable revival in recent years with multiple perspectives on Bandung’s legacy – a literature too extensive to list here.
The conference was enormously important. It came at a time when the superpowers and their followers – Canada at the fore – were trying to divide the world into two sides. The Soviet Union’s chief ideologue, Andrew Zhdanov, spoke of “two camps.” So did the enormously influential US evangelist Billy Graham, using the same words. You were either with us, or against us. Or so thought the leaders of both camps.
So when Indonesia, for instance, was seeking its independence from Dutch attempts to recolonize the former Netherlands East Indies, the issue turned on alignment. The United States supported Indonesian independence after President Sukarno crushed a communist uprising. Canada aimed to avoid US conflict with the Netherlands as NATO was being formed. The independent Indonesia that emerged and joined the United Nations in 1950 was supposed to be pro-Western despite the socialist leanings of its leadership. (The first prime minister, Sutan Sjahrir, spoke of living in “the sphere of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and imperialism, as I discuss in my book Fire and the Full Moon.) Canada’s Security Council representative even managed to do an end-run over a Soviet veto against the new Republic.
Originally published by the UN History project, Feb. 2017.
In 1955, a team of government officials from India toured the Soviet Union, examining everything from coal mining to civil aviation. Distinctive in their group photograph was Australian Eleanor Hinder, the only woman and the only non-Indian on the mission. She is identified with a ruled indicator line in pencil on this photograph of the group posed in front of the Kakhova Dam construction site, part of the great Donbass industrial complex taking shape in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The photo comes from the official trip report submitted by the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration, sponsor of the study tour. The pencil was wielded by Viola Smith, Hinder’s partner in life and love, on the copy of the report housed in Hinder’s personal papers. The image draws together several threads: the way the United Nations bridged development and diplomacy in its technical assistance work; the role of countries seen as less central in postwar international politics; and the occasional visibility of key actors like Hinder whose names are seldom recalled when stories of international politics are penned.
The UN was founded with a strong Security Council partly in order to avoid the perceived security failures of its predecessor, the League of Nations. In the event, the Security Council’s permanent members failed to work together. Unable to act as it wished on peace and security, the UN found a more satisfying global mission in economic development. In the early years of the 1950s, this took the form of technical assistance, a scheme for wealthier and more technically advanced countries to send experts to less developed countries, where they would share their knowledge and skills. It established a Technical Assistance Administration within the UN Secretariat under the leadership of Canadian administrator and diplomat Hugh Keenleyside.
But technical assistance, like so much of the UN’s work, was caught up in the global Cold War. The USSR initially rejected technical assistance as a tool of American imperialism – no surprise, since technical assistance was first mooted as “point four” of US president Harry Truman’s foreign policy agenda. But in 1953, the USSR offered to contribute the equivalent of a million American dollars. Soviet officials insisted that this money would be entirely in unconvertible roubles, causing the United States and its allies to block the offer. In response, Keenleyside flew to Moscow and brokered a deal that brought the Soviet Union into the UN technical assistance plan, removing technical assistance at least a little bit from the Cold War.
“Academics are too caught up in comfort and too often afraid,” George Aditjondro told me in Vancouver back in 1997. It’s not a trap he fell into.
Friends are marking the death of George Aditjondro this month. The Indonesian professor and activist taught many people formally and, I imagine, even more people informally. I didn’t study with him, except on a rather makeshift course in Portugal one summer in which he tried to free a group of human rights activists of some of our illusions about Indonesia. But in remembering him this month, I’m recalling some informal lessons.
George Aditjondro taught me that Canada and Indonesia were more enmeshed than I’d imagined on the level of daily life. He grabbed a package of instant noodles and showed how the noodles tied Saskatchewan wheat farmers to Javanese farm labourers through a chain running from the prarie farm, through the Canadian government’s wheat marketing board, to buyers in Indonesia dominated by one of President Suharto’s cronies, to Indonesian labourers needing a quick and cheap snack while they worked the rice fields. The result? Indomie, or Indonoodles, easy to make and cheap to buy, and owned by PT Indofood Sukses Makmur, itself part of the Salim Group controlled by Indonesia’s Liem family, one of the world’s richest families – which got its start when Fujianese migrant Liem Sioe Liong became quartermaster to an Indonesian soldier named Suharto, who in 1965 led a slow coup and plunged Indonesia into three decades of dictatorship.
As George Aditjondro told this story, it was 1997 and we were getting ready to protest the arrival of Suharto in Vancouver for the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit. I thought noodles were just about noodles. In a few minutes, George Aditjondro taught me they were also about global capitalism and how trade linked the everyday to global politics, and farmers across oceans to each other, and economics to human rights. I was just trying to finish off a B.A. and doing a bit of East Timor support work on the side. “Have you read Gramsci?” he asked. It’s not a name I knew. “Antonio Gramsci,” he explained. “Read some Gramsci, and then maybe we can talk about this again one day.”
“George was known as a passionate critic of what he saw as corrupt power,” reads his obituary in the Jakarta Post. “During the Soeharto regime he researched the business empire of the ‘Cendana family’, referring to Soeharto’s family that resided on Jl. Cendana in Central Jakarta.” Earlier, and the obituary is quieter on this, it meant he spoke up for human rights in East Timor and Papua (then officially called Irian Jaya). That cost him a safe academic postings, though (through the work of some supporters in the academic world) it also brought him a new post in Australia. For me he was an example of solid research connected to his “research subjects,” and of the sort of teaching outside the classroom that’s an all too rare skill.
Two offerings from the files of George Aditjondro’s work: a piece he wrote in the 1980s on Indonesian NGO collaboration with indigenous Papuan communities, and a table laying out the details of Indonesian monopolies in East Timor that he produced in the 1990s.
Digging into the archival records isn’t purely academic. It can tell us why governments make the decisions they did – and suggest ways to influence future government decisions.
The Santa Cruz massacre, when Indonesian troops shot a crowd of unarmed pro-independence protesters in East Timor (now independent Timor-Leste) serves as an example. Film footage captured by British journalist Max Stahl, along with reports from US journalists Allan Nairn and Amy Goodman, led to a wave of outrage and activism in Western countries which had supported Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor for years. As Timor-Leste president Taur Matan Ruak noted in his speech commemorating the 25 anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre: “The images recorded by those journalists and the articles they wrote travelled the world and spread news of the crime committed in Santa Cruz on 12 November 1991.”
Archival records show that governments were sensitive to this pressure and wanted to give the appearance of responding to it in some fashion.
But there was another, much more hidden lobby. Western corporations that were doing business – highly profitable business – in Indonesia also lobbied governments. Much of this was visible. The East Timor Action Network/US pointed to the role of US business lobbies and public relations firms, for instance. But it is difficult to track this lobbying and determine how intense it was.
Archives can help here. The Canadian government archives give one example. Other countries are likely to have a similar pattern of corporate lobbying visible. After the Santa Cruz massacre, as pressure for sanctions against the Indonesian military regime grew, business lobbied to prevent any effective action being taken by the government, calling instead for verbal pressure only.
Canadian companies lobbied hard for “business as usual” with Indonesia in the month after the massacre, the archival record indicates. There are many more letters on the Canadian government’s East Timor file from companies than is normal on foreign policy files. A few examples from November and December 1991 follow.
Power generation company Babcock and Wilcox wrote to Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, who had just declared Canada would do more on human rights. Saying they were expecting nearly a billion US dollars in business in the coming year, the company pleased for the government to do nothing that could harm these anticipated profits. The letter: babcock-1991-11-28.
That letter led to a stiff note from the Ontario International Corporation to the Canadian government’s Department of International Trade. The OIC was an agency of the government of Ontario, Canada’s largest province and home to Babcock and the largest number of corporate head offices in Canada. At the time, Ontario was governed by the New Democratic Party led by Premier Bob Rae. The OIC letter said that any reduction of Canadian aid would cause Indonesia to “invoke punitive counter measures which will severely threaten Canada’s (in large part, Ontario’s) commercial interests.” OIC letter: oic-1991-12-09
The Canadian ambassador to Indonesia invited Canadian business representatives in Jakarta to breakfast at her residence, to brief them on Canada’s plans to review aid to Indonesia as a means of human rights pressure over East Timor. This drew lobbying letters from the associations and representatives of Canadian companies operating in Indonesia. “If Canada chooses to be one of the first countries to cut off aid to Indonesia [it] will set back Canada’s position in Indonesia [and] have very serious economic consequences on Canadian companies,” wrote the Canadian Investment Advisor in Indonesia. (This letter is dated December 7, the 16th anniversary of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.) The Advisor’s letter: investment-advisor-1991-12-07
The Canadian Business Association in Jakarta sent a similar letter to Brian Mulroney. If Canada suspended aid without waiting for the findings of an internal Indonesian government inquiry into the Santa Cruz massacre, the Association wrote, “then Canada is guilty of meddling in the internal affairs of this country.” This was an odd conclusion, given that very few countries recognized Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor (certainly the United Nations did not). It was odder still in arguing that reducing or even reviewing Canadian aid programmes was a function of Indonesian sovereignty. The association argued that Canadian business in Indonesia was booming and that helped to advance human rights, and asked Ottawa to do nothing until the Indonesian internal inquiry was complete. CBA letter: cba-1991-12-06
Meanwhile in Ottawa, foreign minister Barbara McDougall met with the Canadian Exporters Association, the umbrella group for Canadian companies selling products to other countries. The influential CEA repeated its stance that political pressure for human rights overseas not interfere with Canadian trade. Nothing should be done to harm the “innocent” in Indonesia -a group within which the CEA included Canadian companies there. Cutting Canadian aid to Indonesia, the CEA said, “would irreparably damage Canada’s long term dedicated and committed efforts to penetrate Indonesian-ASEAN markets.” In other words, for the CEA promoting human rights was fine, but protecting Canadian trade was more important. CEA letter: cea-1991-12-06
Another Canadian company, CAL, joined the lobby with letters to the ministers of foreign affairs, international trade, and international development. CAL expressed support for the idea of human rights but said cutting aid would risk $500-million of business the company expected in Indonesia in the coming five years. Instead, it called for a round table conversation among Canadians, with no concrete action taken for the moment. CAL letter: cal-1991-12-06
As the Canadian government prepared to review its aid programme to Indonesia, Canadian business interests mobilized to lobby against this plan. They had no objection to verbal expressions of concern to the Indonesian government, but they wanted to make sure that the Canadian government did not reduce its aid to Indonesia, for fear this would affect potential profit.
It would be surprising if the same was not happening in other Western countries with business interests in Indonesia. At the time, activists claimed that Western governments were putting trade ahead of human rights. A slice of the Canadian archival records, for one month in 1991, shows that yes, business was certainly lobbying hard to prevent strong pressure on Indonesia, and using arguments about profit to make their case.
This sentence has been written a thousand times: On 12 November 1991, Indonesian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor, killing more than 250 people and injuring many more. The massacre was neither the first nor the last in the period of Indonesian military occupation, which lasted from 1975 to 1999, but one thing was different: it was the first time international journalists were present as witnesses, the first time a massacre in East Timor was captured on film, the first time that foreign citizens were among those killed and beaten. The film footage screened around the world, leading to a wave of outrage and activism. The fuller story has been told many times – Clinton Fernandes’ Companion to East Timor being one of the most accessible.
25 years later, East Timor is independent as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (first declared days before the Indonesian invasion in 1975). In the final days of Indonesian rule, some outside governments started to support Timorese self-determination (Canada did so in 1998, for instance).
At the time of the Santa Cruz massacre, however, those governments did not. Documentary evidence continues to emerge and much is still hidden. But what there is shows that Western governments knew very well what had happened; that it was a cold-blooded act of revenge (in the words of one US State department official days later, speaking to a Canadian counterpart) by Indonesian soldiers; and that many more were killed than the Indonesian government would admit. Some outside governments raised concerns with the Indonesian government, but none shifted to support the Timorese right to self-determination. In the days following the Santa Cruz massacre, only one G7 country – Canada – suspended any aid. Denmark and the Netherlands were the only other Western countries to link aid to human rights. No country linked trade or went further than raising concerns on human rights grounds.
As documents continue to emerge, I share here two new documents from the days immediately after the Santa Cruz massacre, from Canadian government archives. The first is an initial report on what happened that day, from the Canadian embassy in Jakarta. The story was much worse than had been thought, the embassy reported. The army’s story was false, people in Timor were “terrified,” and it seemed that army officers had decided deliberately to shoot protesters in cold blood. The document indicates that Western governments knew, almost immediately, that the massacre was deliberate and that the Indonesian army was being dishonest.
Canadian embassy report on Santa Cruz massacre, dated 14 Nov. 1991: cej-massacre-report-1991-11-14
Despite this knowledge, few Western governments planned anything more than verbal protest to the Indonesian government. A second report from the Canadian embassy one week after the massacre indicates that no Western embassy in Jakarta had received any instructions to take any concrete action, other than words of concern. After a meeting of 12 Western and ASEAN embassy political counsellors, “general impression was business as usual.” Only Canada had decided to review its aid to Indonesia. Only 4 of the 12 countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States) had made official protests over the massacre. No country had altered plans for official visits to Indonesia or East Timor, including military visits.
Canadian embassy report on meeting of embassy political counsellors, Jakarta, dated 20 Nov. 1991: cej-embassies-meeting-report-1991-10-20
International support for Timorese self-determination began to increase after the Santa Cruz massacre, but the inclination of most governments in the days that immediately followed the massacre was, in the words of the Canadian embassy in Jakarta, to carry on with “business as usual.” It is only as Timorese resistance continued and public protest in the Western countries mounted that any Western government started to look at taking action any stronger than words.
The League of Nations can’t get no respect. Among academics this is changing, as researchers tell redemptive stories about the League and the end of empires or the emergence of international society in this period, for instance. But the League’s image, for those who think about it, still tends to be mostly that of the useless talking shop that could not prevent military aggressions leading up to the Second World War.
Back in the League’s day, though, it was the chosen court of appeal for people seeking independence during a “Wilsonian moment” of self-determination. That’s true even for people living in territories ruled by such “non-colonial” powers as Canada, New Zealand, and Turkey. A quick skim of League of Nations archival materials in Geneva reveals appeals to the League for justice from places as diverse as Korea (seeking freedom from Japan), the Grand River Territory of the Six Nations Confederacy (1924), the Maori of Aotearoa / New Zealand (1925), Turkish-controlled Kurdistan (1925), Scotland (1928), the Vietnamese community exiled in Thailand (1930), and Baluchistan (1933) from whence came the assertion that the Baluch people had always been independent, never part of India.
Documents can help tell these stories, and show that these claims for independence are far from new, that claims to be free from British imperial control pre-date the foundation of post-British states like Canada and New Zealand. (Thanks to Bishop’s University undergrad Matthew Robinson for research assistance in finding these documents in Geneva.)
Some of the documents related to the appeal of the Six Nations Confederacy to the League in the early 1920s, appear at a special blogspot site on the Six Nations Appeal that I created to support a forthcoming book chapter. This one shares documents from three archives on how the Six Nations used images of ‘picturesque Indians’ to win European sympathy and the backing of the governments of Estonia, Ireland, Panama and Persia (a collection of countries without much in common other than a sympathy for the Six Nations cause and an unimpressed attitude towards Canada’s actions at the League).
There are many more.
When a Maori delegation arrived in Geneva in 1924 asking to see League Secretary-General Sir Eric Drummond, he dodged the group and asked a subordinate to deliver the bad news that the League could not help them – but not before noting the case was “very similar to that of the Chief of the ‘Six Peoples'” in its nature.
One that resonates the most may be from a group of Kurds in Baghdad, then controlled by the British Empire. The Kurdish appeal speaks of terrors committed by the Turkish government upon Kurds living in Turkey. The petitioners to the League felt the “national existence” of the Kurdish people was in threat from “ignoble killings” and asked “the civilized world” to help end “the bloody violence of the Turks against our oppressed nation.”
Time heals no wounds: these are mostly ongoing struggles, whether non-violent (Six Nations or Scotland) or all too violent (as in the case of the Kurds in Turkey). If the League had been able to provide justice, or even a hearing, might these disputes have been less visceral today?
Bishop’s University students in my course on Memory, Truth and Reconciliation have written one of the textbooks for the next time the course is taught: Memory, Truth and Reconciliation in 16 Countries. They produced some fine essays – worth collecting in book form, and originally published on Wikipedia, thanks to a collaboration with the Wiki Education Foundation.
As with everything on Wikipedia, essays can be read free via the course web page – click to access the dashboard.
Originally published by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network at http://etanaction.blogspot.ca/ as “1965: Evidence from Canadian documents” by David Webster
At a time when the Indonesian government seems to be clamping down on discussion of the mass killings of 1965, it’s more important than ever to share documentary evidence about the wave of violence that swept Indonesia 50 years ago and brought the Suharto military dictatorship to power.
The events of 1965 are not just an Indonesian story. In the words of a recent book co-edited by Indonesian scholar Baskara Wardaya SJ and international scholar Bernd Schaefer: “So far the international dimension of those events is hardly explored. Although they were domestic by execution, they were also firmly embedded into the global Cold War.”
Fifty years ago an army-led campaign of brutality targeted hundreds of thousands of Indonesians accused of being left-wingers in sympathy with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The killings started with a coup and counter-coup, and were encouraged by the US embassy’s provision of names to the army. As American government documents published in 2001 reveal, the Johnson administration had severed most American ties to President Sukarno’s government, preferring to work with the Indonesian army.
The true extent of American involvement in the Indonesian regime change and mass killings of 1965 is a story still to be written. Increasingly, there seems to be evidence that those once accused of being “conspiracy theorists” were right on many scores. Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat who became a professor of English in California, is one of the most prominent of those figures, and has recently written a retrospective on his seminal article on US complicity in the events of 1965, forty years after its first publication.
Many State Department documents have been released. But many more remain hidden. American government documents are normally declassified on a fixed cycle and the key documents published in the series Foreign Relations of the United States. When the time came to release the FRUS volume dealing with Indonesia in 1965, the government stalled on releasing of the volume.
That’s why ETAN/US has launched a campaign for a full declassification of all the United States government documents and a US government acknowledgement of the American role in aiding and abetting the 1965 killings.
In the face of this withholding of information, it may be worth checking the files of more distant and less involved governments. Below I share some documents declassified by the Library and Archives Canada, part of the files of Canada’s Department of External Affairs. They reveal that Western governments had been aware of coup planning by the Indonesian army months before the actual coup; that Western governments did not initially believe the PKI was involved, but encouraged the army to attack the PKI regardless; that Canada’s government was one of those that did nothing to deter the mass killings – even with an estimate by the Indonesian ambassador in early 1966 that half a million people were already dead; and that the restoration of foreign aid to the new military regime of General Suharto was designed to anchor Indonesia into the Western side in the Cold War rather than aiming at humanitarian relief. Canada was a minor but well-informed player. Like other Western governments, it was pleased to see the Indonesian army take power, and indifferent to the enormous death toll that aided that path to power.
Many accounts depict the coup attempt of October 1, 1965, as a surprise that caught Western governments unaware. But in fact, coup talk had been around for some time. In June 1965, for instance, the prime minister of Malaysia informed diplomats from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that that Indonesia’s ambassador, a noted anti-communist, had told him that the army planned to get Sukarno out of the country and have him held hostage while it destroyed the PKI. PM Tunku Abdul Rahman said his information was that the Indonesian army “had decided time had come for drastic action to save country from Communist take-over. Army leaders were plotting to get Soekarno out of country and to hold him ‘if necessary at pistol point’ while army suppressed Communists and established pro-Western Govt.” The Tunku thought that the story might be fabricated, but also suspected the hand of the United States behind the army’s alleged plans.
When, as September turned to October, soldiers led by Lt.-Col. Untung struck at the army command, capturing and killing top generals, General Suharto was quick to blame the PKI. Army-orchestrated massacres began soon after. The evidence shows that the “Old Commonwealth countries” put little faith in the claim that Untung’s coup was masterminded by the PKI. “As far as Brits could learn,” a Canadian diplomat in London wrote after meeting the responsible official at the Foreign Office, “Untung himself was not Communist and there was no firm evidence that Sep. 30 movement was inspired by Communists.” The British official reportedly told his Canadian counterpart: “Although it was tempting to believe that army would take advantage of present opportunity as excuse to deliver really crushing blow to Communists, unfortunately there were signs already that this was not likely to happen…” The hopes of the British Foreign Office, in other words, lay parallel to those of the US State department as already revealed in US documents – that the army would seize the chance to destroy the PKI. Their fears were that the army lacked the resolve or the capacity to carry out this task.
In information-gathering about the coup, Canada’s mission in Tokyo similarly learned that the Japanese government assessment was also that there was no PKI involvement. “There was no evidence of sufficient prior planning to indicate organized effort by PKI,” a report stated. In a subsequent report, Japanese officials expressed a “low opinion of [the Indonesian army’s] admin[istrative] capacity and honesty” and predicted that they thought the army would do a poor job of governing Indonesia.
Increasingly in the final months of 1965, the army command took the reins of government and encouraged violence against PKI members and others. By January 1966, the army-dominated government in Jakarta was ready to ask for foreign aid. The Canadian response to an Indonesian request to resume aid, which Canada had ended in 1964, was cautious to a fault. Ottawa planned to consult its major allies before acting, but noted that aid “might provide a means by which Indonesia could be drawn back into corporate international life.” Short-term relief, delivered ideally through the United Nations and its specialized agencies, might help ensure that the new regime in Jakarta would be pro-Western.
What is striking in Canadian embassy reporting from Jakarta in the last months of 1965 and the early months of 1966 is the lack of attention to killings engulfing parts of the country. One embassy report opened with a declaration that the major challenges in Indonesian domestic affairs were led by high prices and inflation. Ironically, it took the Indonesian ambassador to Canada to put an estimate of the death toll of record. In his last call in Ottawa before being recalled to Jakarta, Ambassador L.N. Palar, speaking with “great frankness,” said that half a million people might have been killed by January 1966. Palar was one of the most respected members of Indonesia’s diplomatic corps – he had led the insurgent Indonesian independence delegation at the UN in the 1940s and then Indonesia’s UN delegation and been ambassador in Washington. His views, therefore, carried weight. His estimate was that the official estimate of 87,000 dead “was on the conservative side; speaking personally he would not be surprised if the tally came closer to 500,000.”
This death toll did not alter Canadian views. Indeed, the Canadian ambassador in Jakarta, like US colleagues, lamented the “passivity of [the] generals” in the face of President Sukarno’s efforts to remain in office. Canada, like its allies, hoped that the army would be more ruthless and seize power sooner rather than later.
Days later, Indonesian generals forced Sukarno to sign the “11 March 1966 order” in which he handed real power to General Suharto. A representative was dispatched to stress to the British ambassador that the transfer of power was “gentlemanly” rather than brutal, and that “it would greatly help the Generals if this view could be taken abroad, rather than a renewed impression of lawless violence.” Britain’s man in Jakarta duly made that recommendation.
In sum, the Canadian documents add to the weight of evidence that 1965 was an international story, as well as an Indonesian tragedy. Western governments were not surprised by events. They did not look on passively – instead, they encouraged the army to finish off its PKI rivals. They carefully used levers such as diplomatic pressure and foreign aid to support the result they desired: a military regime in Indonesia. And if that meant thousands killed, this was not bad news to the West, but simply the cost of bringing about the intended end of a pro-Western, army-governed Indonesia.
In 1983, an Australian newspaper reported that Indonesian forces had used incendiary devices in bombing runs over East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that they invaded and occupied in 1975. This was the height of a brutal counter-insurgency war which, human rights groups said, claimed as many as 200,000 Timorese lives.
After the report in The Age, Australian officials denied the story. Yet Timorese leaders and human rights groups continued to insist that the Indonesian armed forces had used napalm in bombing runs.
After East Timor gained its independence, eyewitness testimony delivered at the new country’s truth and reconciliation commission again repeated the allegations about napalm use. A version known as opalm was reportedly purchased from the Soviet Union and used in bombing runs by American-supplied aircraft. The story is summarized by Clinton Fernandes in his online Companion to East Timor.
The Indonesian government promptly denied the use of napalm.
This week, the Australian media began to report another discovery by Clinton Fernandes: newly declassified Australian documents from 1983 confirmed that napalm was used, Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade was aware, and Australia’s government did nothing.
In research on contemporary history, corroborating sources can be important. A look at new Canadian government documents confirms the use of opalm, confirms that the Indonesian and Australian governments were aware, and also shows that Canada’s department of foreign affairs knew — and chose not to act on the information or share it with members of the Canadian parliament.
The relevant Canadian documents, declassified at my request, appear below. Thanks to Jamie Bowbrick for research assistance with these documents.
1) Canadian diplomat J. Scott sent a personal and confidential letter from Jakarta to the Department of External Affairs in Ottawa on 10 Oct. 1983, reporting that “reliable sources confirm that bombing runs with napalm and cluster bombs began on September 23.” In general, “reliable sources” in Canadian embassy reporting from Jakarta included the Indonesian foreign ministry, military sources, and/or the Jakarta-based CSIS think-tank, close key figures in the Indonesian regime.
2) Canadian embassy in Canberra, telegram to Canadian Department of External Affairs, 3 Nov. 1983. The Australian Department of External Affairs informed Canadian diplomats that allegations in The Age of napalm use were true – and that in fact napalm had been used, and Australian officials were aware of this. The chemical used was opalm, “a more virulent form of napalm.”
3) Canadian Department of External Affairs response to napalm reports, confidential letter to embassy in Jakarta, 15 Nov. 1983. The DEA first learned of napalm from the embassy in Jakarta, and then confirmed it with other sources. Presumably this means Australian counterparts: although the United States government was aware of napalm use, there is nothing on the DEA file to indicate that US sources shared this intelligence with Canada.
4) Canadian embassy in Jakarta to Department of External Affairs, 22 Nov. 1983. A full report on current situation in East Timor which confirms “air strikes including napalm bombing” (page 2 of this lengthy report).
5) A briefing note for Canadian members of parliament issued in early 1984 (the first public document following the reports on napalm) made no mention of the “air strikes including napalm bombing” and instead defended Canada’s UN vote on the side of Indonesia.
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