Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Making Them Indonesians: Child Transfers out of East Timor

Ch 1. The New Order in East Timor

Indonesia’s nation-building project in East Timor, as Richard Tanter (2001: 189, 194) has argued, was an expression of the fundamental character of New Order Indonesia. The project began, as the New Order had, with military force, and power and control was maintained by military intimidation and violence. However, New Order leaders recognised that the use of military force alone would not provide legitimacy for the incorporation of Portuguese Timor, just as military force alone had been insufficient to legitimise the New Order’s seizing power in Indonesia in 1965.

Part of the New Order’s success in and after 1965/66 can be attributed to the narratives and myths it generated to legitimise its authority and justify the treatment of its citizens, including the killing of many of them. The myth-making involved sophisticated use of ideology and propaganda, revisions of history and a ‘great show of commitment to legality’ (Bourchier 1996: 270). The New Order also believed that its generous development program would ensure its acceptance among its subjects. Like all such narratives, the narratives and myths of the New Order were grounded partly in reality but they also employed manipulation of the truth, over-simplification and, frequently, outright lies (Dunn 2003: 63). The techniques honed in 1965 were applied again in 1975 in Portuguese Timor.

The approach of New Order propagandists and military intelligence operators was to win the people of Portuguese Timor to accept integration; if they did not succeed, they would use force to dominate and control them. Therefore, to understand the situation of the East Timorese during the Indonesian occupation of their territory we need to have some understanding of how the New Order came to power, what it stood for and how it operated.

Integrating East Timor

Following the Second World War Indonesia was a leader among the decolonising nations. Its declaration of independence on 17 August 1945 and its struggle to free itself of its Dutch colonisers were significant for the rejection of colonialism worldwide (Reid 1974: 170). Yet within 30 years Indonesia had begun the project of colonising its tiny neighbour Portuguese Timor. The explanation for the change in Indonesia is found in the New Order and its military backers, who were firmly in control in Indonesia in 1975.

By the mid-1960s the first President of Indonesia, Sukarno, was leading a nation on the verge of economic collapse and in political chaos. Tensions finally erupted between the military and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), and the military emerged victorious (Ricklefs 2001: 284–341; Vickers 2005: 142–156). Possibly as many as half a million Indonesians were massacred between October 1965 and early 1966, mostly at the instigation of the armed forces and army-backed militias, and hundreds of thousands were jailed without trial (Elson 2001: 123–127; Cribb 2001: 233–235). In the following years the New Order regime, as it called itself, wrested power from Sukarno and General Suharto emerged as the new President. The New Order authorities adopted an anti-communist and pro-Western stance that focused on development.

Before 1975 Indonesia had shown little interest in Portuguese Timor, which is situated in the east of the Indonesian archipelago, 500 kilometres north of Australia. The Portuguese arrived there in 1520 and competed with the Netherlands for control of the island until 1912 when the Dutch and Portuguese agreed on its division. The western half became part of the Dutch East Indies and later independent Indonesia, and the eastern half, together with the small enclave of Oecussi in the west, became a Portuguese colony. After the Second World War, when most European nations began granting independence to their colonies, the authoritarian dictatorship in Portugal refused to begin such a process, and in 1960 the United Nations listed Portuguese Timor as a non-self-governing territory which had yet to be given the right to self-determination.1 As Indonesian leaders prepared for their own independence in 1945, many argued that Portuguese Timor should join a ‘Greater Indonesia’ (Indonesia Raya). The Indonesian proclamation of independence on 17 August 1945, however, covered only the territory that had been ruled by the Dutch (Reid 1974: 21–21; Vickers 2005: 138–139). When Indonesia later pressed its claim at the United Nations for sovereignty over West Irian, which it achieved in 1963, it argued that West Irian had rightly belonged with Indonesia since the proclamation of August 1945. In support of this, Indonesia submitted that it made no claim of sovereignty over Portuguese Timor (McDonald 1980: 191; Taylor 1999: 20).

Indonesia became concerned about Portuguese Timor when independence for the territory suddenly emerged as a possibility. A bloodless revolution in Portugal on 25 April 1974 finally brought the Portuguese colonial empire to an end. The Salazar/Caetano dictatorship was deposed by a radical leftist movement led by middle-ranking military officers. The following two years in Portugal were marked by political instability, with complicated power struggles between various factions, some more radically leftist than others, until forces for democracy won out on 25 November 1975. In April 1974 the new administration immediately began a process of decolonisation of its territories, including in its colony in Timor (Robinson 1979).

Portuguese Timor was less prepared for independence than the Portuguese colonies in Africa and it received little help from Portugal. Political parties were formed in May 1974 and they began talking about their future, including holding discussions with Indonesia. In August 1975 fighting broke out between the indigenous political parties and after several weeks the leftist-leaning Fretilin party gained control and expelled its rivals, many of whom fled across the border to seek safety in Indonesian West Timor. During the fighting the Portuguese administration moved to Atauro, a small island 30 kilometres to the north of Dili. Because of the political instability in Portugal, the Portuguese were unable to meet their decolonising obligations in Timor and never returned to take control (CAVR 2006: 3.3 No. 43, 3.7 Nos. 142–159; Dunn 2003: 1–65; Jolliffe 1978: 12–60).

Indonesia’s main concern was the possibility of a communist or otherwise non-sympathetic state controlled by the Fretilin party on its border and independence for the territory was, therefore, judged a threat to Indonesia’s national security. The public rhetoric from the New Order asserted that it respected the right of the people to self-determination and that it had no territorial ambitions, but in mid-1974 it began planning to incorporate Portuguese Timor into Indonesia. Lieutenant General Ali Murtopo, Special Assistant and close confidant of President Suharto (Alatas 2006: 29), set up a clandestine intelligence operation to manipulate the situation to achieve peaceful integration with Indonesia; if this failed the plan was to create a situation where Indonesia would be ‘invited’ by a section of the population to come in and ‘restore stability’ (Monk 2001: 185).

From early 1975, however, powerful factions within the Indonesian military decided to force the integration of Portuguese Timor, even though some senior military officials, such as Colonel Aloysius Sugiyanto, who worked in intelligence with Ali Murtopo in 1974/75, and Lieutenant General Hasnan Habib, the army chief of staff in 1975, did not agree with military intervention (Sukawarsini Djelantik 2003: 97).2 Major General Benny Murdani, who held several key positions in the main intelligence bodies, was the chief architect and driving force for the use of military force (CAVR 2006: 3.6 No. 116, 4.2 No. 34; Conboy 2003: 198, 206–234; Pour 1993: 386–7). When Fretilin gained control in Portuguese Timor in September 1975, the Indonesian military immediately began covert military incursions into the territory (CAVR 2006: 4.2 Nos. 31–34). With Fretilin’s declaration of independence on 28 November 1975, the military, fearing that the declaration might gain international recognition (Conboy 2003: 233), launched a combined military operation involving land, sea and air forces on 7 December 1975 (CAVR 2006: 3.10; Dunn 2003: 243-264). In 1976, on 17 July, Portuguese Timor was officially incorporated as the 27th province of Indonesia with the name Timor Timur (East Timor).

The majority of the population of East Timor did not accept integration and it was not recognised by the United Nations. Initially, yearly resolutions in the United Nations General Assembly strongly condemned Indonesia’s actions in East Timor, but they gradually weakened in their condemnation until the issue was removed from the General Assembly’s agenda in 1983 and other diplomatic channels were explored (Gunn 1997: 107, 112). Under Fretilin leadership, the East Timorese resisted the Indonesian occupation by military engagement until they were defeated. Fretilin leader Nicolao Lobato was killed on 31 December 1978 and on 26 March 1979 Indonesia declared that East Timor had been pacified (CAVR 2006 3.12 Nos. 312–320, 4.2 No. 43). Most of the 100,000, and possibly as many as 180,000, East Timorese who died during the occupation died during the period between 1975 and 1979 from hunger and disease (CAVR 2006 6.2.1 Nos. 36–37, 7.3.7 No. 50, 8.1 pp. 35, 39, 40). Thereafter the remaining East Timorese fighters reorganised under Xanana Gusmão, resisting integration by guerrilla warfare and a clandestine movement among the civilian population. During the 1990s support for independence grew among the younger generation in East Timor; their cause gathered support internationally and among activists in Indonesia, especially following the widespread news coverage of the massacre at Dili’s Santa Cruz cemetery on 12 November 1991 (CAVR 2006: 3.12 Nos. 387–396, 3.18 Nos. 475–486).

When President Suharto was forced to resign on 21 May 1998, many democratic changes followed in Indonesia. The new Indonesian president, BJ Habibie, agreed to a ballot in East Timor, which was organised by the United Nations on 30 August 1999. The special autonomy option offered by Indonesia was overwhelmingly rejected (Greenlees and Garran 2002; Martin 2001). In October 1999, the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) ended the New Order’s project in East Timor by revoking the 1976 law that had legitimised integration. On 20 May 2002, after a period of transitional administration by the United Nations, the territory became the independent nation of Timor-Leste, or East Timor.3

The Communist threat

The threat of communism and the fear of the resurgence of the PKI was the justification the New Order gave within Indonesia and internationally for annexing Portuguese Timor. Fear generated by the purging of communists in Indonesia in 1965 still haunted Indonesians and the New Order exploited this fear to mobilise their support for its intervention in Portuguese Timor. In 1968 in South Blitar, East Java, hundreds of PKI members had been killed (McDonald 1980: 61–62). Indonesian social scientist Dr Mochtar Mas’oad recalled that in 1978 military personnel justified their involvement in East Timor by claiming they had evidence that the South Blitar communists had moved to East Timor.4

The issue of communism in Portuguese Timor arose because of the possible influence of leftist politics in Portugal on the political process in the territory. During May 1974 three main political parties emerged in East Timor: the União Democratica Timorense (UDT), the Timorese Democratic Union, which proposed continued association with Portugal; Fretilin which demanded independence immediately; and Associacão Popular Democratica Timorense (Apodeti), the Timorese Popular Democratic Association, which proposed integration with Indonesia. Fretilin was socialist and stridently nationalist, in the vein of many newly decolonised nations after the Second World War (Jolliffe 1978: 325–338; Dunn 2003: 45–65; Klinken 1999). Not all Indonesians shared the New Order’s portrayal of Fretilin as communist, including the editor of one major Indonesian daily who described Fretilin’s rhetoric as no more radical than that which Indonesia had used in its fight against the Dutch (Siagian 1975). Sympathetic debate such as this ceased when the New Order began its incursions into Portuguese Timor and press restrictions were imposed.

Ben Anderson (1995: 139) concluded that while some decision-makers in the New Order must have believed in the communist threat scenario, New Order leaders understood that they could garner international support, in the context of the Cold War, for their plan to integrate Portuguese Timor by citing the communist threat. This was confirmed by Yusuf Wanandi, a member in 1975 of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Ali Murtopo’s think tank. In his testimony to the CAVR he said that the New Order’s intervention in East Timor was portrayed as an ‘heroic anti-communist crusade, joining it to the ideology and historical antecedents of the New Order regime…to attract Western support’ (CAVR 2006: 4.2 No.5). The West, particularly the United States, had supported Suharto and the New Order in 1965 in its destruction of the PKI (Roosa 2006: 176–201). Continuing Cold War fears among Western nations in 1975 led them to maintain Indonesia as an ally and not to thwart its decision to annex Portuguese Timor, rather than to defend the rights of the small, seemingly unsustainable territory. Indonesia was even more important to the West after South Vietnam fell to the Communists in April 1975. We now know from declassified Western intelligence sources (Simpson 2005; Dowson 2005; Monk 2001; CAVR 2006: 3.12 No.295) the extent to which the West was forthcoming in military, economic and political assistance.

The New Order regime suffered little international censure in 1965/66 for its elimination and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, many of whom were not closely associated with the PKI organisation or ideologically motivated (Cribb 2001: 234).5 Children and grandchildren of communists were stripped of their rights as citizens (Cribb 2001: 236–237). Aware that it could confidently assume that the world would again turn a blind eye to the massacre of ‘communists’ in Portuguese Timor, the New Order planned to annihilate Fretilin and remove its influence there. People who were identified as Fretilin leaders were executed immediately, even those who surrendered on offers of amnesty (CAVR 2006: 3.13 No. 324, Nos. 234–246, 8.4 p. 48; Simpson 2005). Between 1977 and 1979 most people hiding in the mountains looked to Fretilin for protection from the advancing Indonesian troops, although eventually the Indonesians proved too strong. This was a difficult period and presented a dilemma for the Fretilin leadership who bitterly disagreed over whether the people should surrender or stay in hiding to continue a popular struggle (CAVR 2006: 2.12 Nos. 286–302). The people also faced a difficult choice ‘between starvation in these remote areas or surrender to forces which they knew had tortured and killed large numbers of those who had entrusted themselves to their custody’ (CAVR 2006: 8.1 p. 38).

Those East Timorese who were captured or surrendered were imprisoned in camps and restricted from going out into the fields to gather and grow food (CAVR 2006: 7.3.4 Nos. 194–195, 8.1 pp. 39–40). The military also destroyed crops as they ousted people from an area (CAVR 2006: 3.12 Nos. 303–306, 8.1 p. 40) so that Fretilin sympathesisers could not make contact with fighters in the surrounding areas and supply them with food. The people were only allowed to venture out of the controlled areas once the military was certain Fretilin was no longer operating close by (CAVR 2006: 3.13 Nos. 321, 337). The military also prevented international agencies from delivering aid to the camps until it was sure Fretilin had been driven out of the area.6 Thus people already weakened by their experiences of fleeing military attacks continued to die in their thousands in these camps. Besides being unable to feed themselves, many people experienced arbitrary violence perpetrated by the Indonesian military. The East Timorese had to resort to many measures just to survive. They were pressured to inform on those among them who were members of Fretilin; men had to join auxiliary forces as civil guards (hansip) and fight with the Indonesians against their fellow East Timorese; captured Fretilin fighters had to stalk and kill their former comrades-in-arms; men and young boys had to work as soldiers’ helpers (tenaga bantuan operasi [TBO]); women and young girls were forced into prostitution; and parents often had to give up their children to soldiers if a soldier made such a demand. Those who co-operated received small amounts of food from the soldiers, which often meant the difference between life and death for them and their families.

The New Order was constructed on the blood of its own citizens and its political enemies (Cribb 2001: 236); the project in East Timor claimed an even greater proportion of lives of the total population. In both cases the military denied its central role in the deaths of thousands. Instead it maintained that it had saved the Indonesian nation from the imminent threat of communism. These lies were perpetuated by a successful propaganda campaign with 1965 that served as a model in East Timor in 1975, under Ali Murtopo who had probably been the inspiration for the 1965 campaign (Elson 2001: 124). A recent example of the continued denial of this brutal fact of history is the 2006 memoir of the New Order’s last Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, who described Indonesia’s diplomatic struggle for East Timor without a single reference to these deaths. Just as there was no place in the national discourse for the hundreds of thousands of rural peasants who were unjustly murdered and jailed in 1965/66, there was also no place for the more than 100,000 East Timorese who died between 1977 and 1979.

It was in the context of forcing the East Timorese to surrender that soldiers removed many children from East Timor. The Indonesian military, however, has never acknowledged its role in causing the disaster that led to the abandonment and dislocation of thousands of children.

Returning to the Indonesian family

To justify the integration of East Timor, New Order propagandists and myth-makers cleverly employed familial images and metaphors to bolster their claim that the territory belonged with Indonesia. These images and metaphors linked East Timor with Indonesian national mythology and evoked a generous, albeit patronising, attitude to the East Timorese: New Order officials argued that the East Timorese and Indonesians were ‘brothers’ who shared a common cultural, social, religious, economic and racial heritage; there was no gap between them as there had been between the European imperialists and their colonial subjects (Asvi 2004); the two had once belonged together but had been separated by the European colonisers (Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin 1991a: 367–368). The last of these ideas was based on the quasi-historical claim that the East Java-based kingdom of Majapahit had dominated the entire archipelago from the late 13th to the early 16th centuries (Department of Foreign Affairs and Department of Information 1980; Elson 2008: 73). The ‘brothers’ were, however, only those East Timorese who wanted to integrate with Indonesia. Indonesian intelligence agents organised these ‘brothers’ in a political alliance among Apodeti, UDT and two smaller political parties and coerced them to request integration.7

The East Timorese were referred to as the ‘child’ in the common metaphor of the ‘child who was lost and has now returned (si anak yang hilang telah kembali)’. Returning (home) meant that the child had reformed and taken its place in the family by accepting the terms of living in that family.8 The use of this metaphor to describe the East Timorese bears comparison with its application by the New Order to another group of outsiders – prisoners who had been declared fit to return to the family when in early December 1975, 1,300 second-rung communist leaders were released from detention, most of them without trial, after almost ten years.9 Admiral Sudomo, commander of the extra-constitutional body Security and Order Restoration Command (Kopkamtib) declared that they could be accepted back into the Indonesian family because they had demonstrated that they had returned to the right path and to Pancasila (Sinar Harapan 1975d, 1975e). New Order ideologues characteristically conceived of the Indonesian nation in terms of family: the various parts of the family should work together for the good of the whole; communal rather than individual values were important; and harmony and order expressed the true Indonesian character. The New Order had enshrined these ideals in the state Pancasila ideology. Thus the New Order, in claiming to uphold the sacred Pancasila, was able to stifle any dissent that might disrupt harmony and order and thereby remove any threat to its hegemony (Bourchier 1996: 234). The New Order reshaped the attitudes and behaviour of all Indonesians through the Pancasila indoctrination programs developed in the late 1970s (Bourchier 2001: 118; 1996: 74–85, 107–110, 116–127, 191–204). The ‘lost children’ – the East Timorese brothers ‘returning’ to the Indonesian fold and the released ex-communists returning to society – were welcome back in this Indonesian family because they accepted the Pancasila way. The society created by the New Order excluded the hundreds of thousands of Indonesians who had been massacred and imprisoned in the formation of this ‘New Order Family.’ In East Timor, those who rejected their place in the family by resisting integration would also be destroyed (Roosa 2006: 225) and many of their children would be removed to Indonesia.

Suharto’s understanding of his leadership was also encapsulated in this family metaphor. He was likened to a ‘father’ who guided the nation and was given the title ‘father of development’ (Elson 2001: 236; Shiraishi 1997: 9–11). As the benevolent patriarch, he maintained an interest in the welfare of disadvantaged members of society, war veterans, orphans, widows and the poor, and established personal foundations to provide for their care and help pay the school fees of their children. Suharto wrote in his autobiography that he established his foundations to mobilise non-government resources as the government had been unable to fulfil its responsibilities (Soeharto 1991: 243), although the President and his family also used the foundations for personal gain (Elson 2001: 252–253, 281, 295–296; Aditjondro 1998).

In the late 1970s one of his foundations organised for 61 young East Timorese orphans to be sent to Java to be cared for and educated. On 3 September 1977, 20 of these small children were taken to meet him at his family home in Cendana Street in Jakarta where he and his wife took time out of their busy schedules to host them. It was a highly symbolic meeting played out for the Indonesian media. The Minister of State, Sudharmono, and the governors of East Timor and Central Java were present. The governor of East Timor formally handed over the children to Supardjo Rustam, the governor of Central Java where the children were to live. The reporting of the meeting emphasised its family dimensions. The children were photographed in the Suhartos’ private home, surrounded by their personal possessions.

Ibu Tien Suharto serves drinks to visiting East Timorese children

Twenty East Timorese children at the home of the President and his wife on 3 September 1977.
© Antara, 5 September 1977

The President was reported as giving the children advice as a father would to his children. Ibu Tien, the President’s wife, helped them wash their hands and served them food. She was described as feeling a ‘motherly’ sadness for these little children, the youngest of whom was only four years old, who had to travel so far from their own environment to be cared for (Pelita 1977; Kompas 1977). This meeting with the children occurred shortly after Suharto had offered an amnesty to Fretilin during his state address on Independence Day, 16 August 1977. There were also calls for the East Timorese who had fled overseas to return home (Sinar Harapan 1977). Suharto symbolically extended the invitation to all East Timorese to be part of the Indonesian family through his overtures to this representative group of 20 small children. The children became, on behalf of East Timorese, putative members of his family and, by extension, of the Indonesian family. Petrus Kanisius, one of the children, recalled that after this meeting they were often referred to as the ‘President’s children’.10

Shaking hands

East Timorese children visit the Suharto’s home on 3 September 1977. The children are taught Javanese manners as they are greeted by (from left to right): President Suharto; Ibu Tien Suharto; the Minister of State, Sudharmono; the East Timor governor, Arnaldo dos Reis Araujo; and the governor’s wife.
Source: Berita Buana, 5 September 1977

The meeting between Suharto and the children carried other layers of meaning. Indonesia, like all colonisers, believed in its civilising mission to the East Timorese, referring to them as living in a situation of ‘extreme backwardness’ (Doy 1975; Merdeka 1975; Chaidir 1980: 12; Mubyarto et al. 1991: 58; Naipospos 2000; Madjiah 2002: 154). One published photograph showed the important Indonesian hosts participating, with some amusement detectable in their exchanged glances, in demonstrating to the children the correct, civilised, Javanese way of shaking hands in greeting.

The news reports noted that, even though it was the month of Ramadan, when Suharto’s household was fasting, the children were served food – a reminder to the East Timorese, most of whom were Catholics, that the Indonesian family included non-Muslims.

In another example of Indonesians appropriating their national mythology to include the East Timorese, they invited them to ‘return to the lap of Mother Earth (kembali ke pangkuan Ibu Pertiwi)’, a reference to the sacred unity of Indonesia (Merdeka 1975; Neonbasu 1996). Separatist groups in West Irian, Aceh, and South Sulawesi have often been depicted in terms of their relation to Indonesia, as returning to or trying to separate from ‘pangkuan Ibu Pertiwi’. The East Timorese orphans who were admitted into the intimacy of the first family were appropriated to symbolise the receiving of East Timor into the care and nurture and on the comforting lap of Mother Indonesia.

The President maintained a personal interest in the progress of development in East Timor and wanted the East Timorese to be happy and to accept integration in ‘heart and mind.’ In early June 1976 a group of 50 parliamentarians from the Provisional Government of East Timor arrived in Jakarta to request integration with Indonesia. This meeting was described as a joyous occasion where they greeted and hugged each other ‘like family members who spontaneously embrace after a long separation’ (Kompas 1976b). Suharto also wanted to hear from the 20 East Timorese children themselves that they liked visiting Jakarta and were happy about coming to live in Java. They had been coached to sing a song for him in Indonesian to that effect. Petrus Kanisius told me that of course they were excited about the visits to the wonderful attractions in Jakarta such as Indonesia in Miniature (Taman Mini) and about the delicious food laid out for them at the palace. However, when he left the concentration camp in Aileu, he and his family had thought that he was being sent to school in the ‘big city’ of Dili. Instead he and the other children were suddenly in Jakarta, overwhelmed by this huge city with its strange language and customs and having left Dili with no way of informing or farewelling their families. These ‘happy’ occasions ignored the fact that the request for integration by the members of the Provisional Government did not represent the free choice of the majority of East Timorese. As will be described in Chapter 3, most of the parents of the orphans brought to meet Suharto were victims of Indonesian military aggression. The public images of East Timorese happy with integration portrayed none of their suffering and loss, which was the reality that had to be submerged and forgotten.11 In the new colonial relationship in which the East Timorese now found themselves, they were cast as children who could easily be manipulated with material incentives (Nandy 1983: 11).

The President’s concern for these children was almost certainly exemplary and encouraged other Indonesians to take children to Indonesia. One Indonesian told me that after he saw the televised program of the East Timorese children meeting Suharto he decided to help. A few years later he collected a child from East Timor and brought her to an institution in Jakarta and paid for all her expenses for over 20 years.12 When Indonesia was criticised at the United Nations for the invasion in 1975, New Order leaders told the nation that the accusation was unjust and that this criticism was the price Indonesia had to bear for its genuine concern for the fate and suffering of the East Timorese (Sinar Harapan 1975f). Most Indonesians had no independent information about the invasion and rallied nationalistically in support of their government in the face of foreign criticism (Indonesian Observer 1975). Leaders made many appeals to Indonesians to help the poor and backward East Timorese (Beding 1975; Kompas 1975). The thousands of public servants and soldiers who went to East Timor in the early years to conduct the integration project witnessed many dislocated children; some of them responded to the needs of children by following Suharto’s example and taking a child home to Indonesia.

Legalising integration

In taking control in East Timor the New Order regime maintained that it was committed to a legal process.13 In 1975 it was aware that an outright invasion of East Timor would lead to international condemnation, so it staged a carefully manipulated drama to give integration a legal form. New Order officials claimed that they had a moral responsibility to respond to the request to integrate East Timor with Indonesia from the four parties that had regrouped in West Timor (Sinar Harapan 1975a; 1975b). On 22 September 1975 the four parties began to fight back against Fretilin, supported by the Indonesian military (Sinar Harapan 1975c). The coalition, supposedly representing the majority of the East Timorese, provided a quasi-legal basis for the New Order’s claim that the majority of East Timorese wanted integration.

The Indonesian military disguised and denied the leadership role of its troops in this military counter-attack on East Timor. Indonesian Special Forces troops trained and armed East Timorese recruits in West Timor; these partisans, as they were known, ‘led’ the counter-attack and the Indonesian soldiers who fought alongside them were supposedly ‘volunteers’ (CAVR 2006: 4.3 No. 79, 3.3.6 No. 116). To disguise the involvement of the Indonesian military, all identifying marks on vehicles and uniforms were removed and soldiers could not use their American-made weapons, but used others obtained from various sources (Conboy 2003: 224–225). Ostensibly the Indonesian ‘volunteers’ were helping the East Timorese, but the whole scenario was planned and executed by Indonesian intelligence and Special Forces. An anecdote from Colonel Dading Kalbuadi, who headed the Special Forces operation,14 highlights its colonial nature. When Major General Benny Murdani recruited him, Kalbuadi took up the challenge in swashbuckling style, imagining himself as some sort of modern day ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (Pour 1993: 387). Like the English officer who had dressed in Arab clothes and fought alongside Arabs against other Arabs backed by the Ottomans during the First World War, Kalbuadi would discard his Indonesian uniform and fight side by side with East Timorese against their compatriots. Even more striking in Kalbuadi’s comparison of himself with the famous adventurer is what it reveals about his mission. For both, the pretext was to support an independence struggle, but the primary motivation was the promotion of colonial interests.

A few weeks after the invasion, on 18 December 1975, the Provisional Government in East Timor (PGET) was hastily formed in Dili, with the East Timorese Arnaldo dos Reis Araujo appointed as governor. The PGET proceeded formally to request integration with Indonesia. In June 1976 a delegation of 50 East Timorese arrived in Jakarta to bring the integration request to President Suharto who, as we have seen, was profuse in his welcome of his ‘brothers’ from East Timor (Soekanto 1976: 652). On 17 July 1976 integration was formally ratified by the Indonesian parliament. The New Order deemed this an official and legally valid ‘expression of the will of the people’ and used it to deflect criticism and to reject calls to grant self-determination to the East Timorese (CAVR 2006: No. 83; Soejitno Hardjosoediro 1977; Nazaruddin Sjamsuddin 1991a: 385).

Once integration was ratified it meant that East Timor was treated in the same way as other provinces of Indonesia. The Indonesian military could operate openly in East Timor, no longer needing to disguise its presence there. Fretilin, which was fighting for the right to determine its own future, was relegated to the status of a ‘Gang of Security Disturbers’ (CAVR 2006: 4.2 No. 41), as other separatists groups in West Irian and Aceh were later designated. At the reception following the formal integration request in June 1976, the President offered to help the children who were orphaned by the conflict in East Timor. A few months later, on 26 October 1976, one of the President’s foundations, with the help of Kalbuadi, who had been appointed the military commander in East Timor, organised to bring the first group of young children from East Timor to Indonesia. The children were moved across an international border in an international conflict, but the quasi-legal process followed by the New Order led it to deem East Timor, legally and irrevocably, the 27th province of Indonesia.

A group of smiling adults greet a group of small children

Children sent to Indonesia by Suharto in 1976

Six children were sent by Dharmais Foundation to SOS-Kinderdorf in Bandung on 30 December 1976.
Source: ‘The Development of East Timor province’. Department of Information, Republic of Indonesia, 1977.

Development and education

Development (pembangunan) had a central role in Indonesian propaganda in East Timor, just as it had in New Order Indonesia. New Order authorities believed that development would return stability to Indonesia after the economic and social turmoil of the previous regime. They also deemed stability and security necessary conditions for implementing development and alleviating poverty (Elson 2001: 175). In 1975 Indonesia was flush with funds from the massive rise in the price of oil in 1973 and economic progress in Indonesia in the first decade of New Order rule, was impressive (Bourchier 1996: 179; Hill 1994: 54; Vatikiotis 1993: 34). The New Order’s treatment of East Timor differed from its treatment of other provinces in that the development budget outstripped spending elsewhere, six-fold in some cases, and was vastly more than Portugal had ever outlaid (Hal Hill 2000: 59, 229; Mackie and Ley 1998: 96). In all 13 district capitals new government offices were erected, usually in new towns situated in more accessible locations than the hilly positions of most East Timorese towns. The New Order regime believed that the development it brought would prove that Indonesia had no colonial intentions and, further, that the East Timorese would be grateful and would accept integration.

The East Timorese were deeply attracted by the development promised by the Indonesians, but there were many discrepancies and problems in its delivery. In the late 1980s Indonesian researchers from Gadjah Mada University found that many Indonesian officials harboured racist and discriminatory attitudes towards the East Timorese. Their research indicated that East Timorese felt largely excluded from any significant role in the administration and the decision-making process of their homeland. They also found that East Timorese were resentful because they were sidelined in economic activity, especially with increasing numbers of traders and entrepreneurs arriving from other islands (Mubyarto et al. 1991: 3–4, 53–60). In reality, by the mid-1990s the development budget had brought more benefits to Indonesians living in East Timor than to East Timorese. Half the budget was spent on the physical infrastructure and government apparatus needed to meet the security requirements of the military and the local administration, while health and education, priorities in the development plan, constituted only 7% of spending.15 In 1981 a group of East Timorese parliamentarians wrote to President Suharto complaining about the economic exploitation of East Timor by Indonesian officials and the misuse of development funds by military officers, but they received no response (CAVR 2006: 4.4 Nos. 156–157; Mubyarto et al. 1991: 60, 61, 67). The East Timorese economist Joao Mariano Saldanha concluded that development, as a consequence of problems associated with its delivery, did not achieve what the Indonesians had hoped, namely, that the East Timorese would begin to ‘think, understand, and act like Indonesians’ (Saldanha 1994: 30–31, 93, 115, 122).

Few voices within Indonesia and East Timor dared to criticise the military nature of the occupation. The Gadjah Mada researchers, whose work was commissioned by the regional government in East Timor to try to determine why the East Timorese were ‘uncooperative, apathetic and constantly suspicious’ towards Indonesians, referred to the excessive presence of the military in the province as an ‘overdose of military’. They also reported that the people to whom they spoke in the mid-to-late 1980s, especially students and youths, were ‘absolutely committed’ to freeing themselves from the ‘shackles of colonialism’. The researchers concluded that development was not enough to make people content with their situation. With the boldness that characterised their report, they warned that the oppression in East Timor could become a ‘new model of colonialism’ (Mubyarto et al. 1991: viii–ix, 43, 61). Their voices were not heeded, however, and their publication of their report was banned in Indonesia.

Education was not only an important dimension of the promised development in East Timor but also essential for facilitating integration of the territory. Since Indonesia achieved independence in 1945, the Indonesian government has viewed education as an important tool in national integration (Beeby 1979). As a developing nation it had little money for education, although that situation changed with the availability of oil money during the 1980s when one of the chief beneficiaries of the new oil wealth was education, particularly primary school education (Hill, Hal 2000: 59). Immediately after integration the Indonesians began building schools in East Timor and seconding teachers from Indonesia. They also sent students to Indonesia. East Timorese young people found the educational opportunities offered by the Indonesians deeply desirable, but to be eligible they had to demonstrate their support for integration.

The education that East Timorese received in Indonesia was meant to civilise them and to instill in them a sense of being Indonesians. As Australian historian David Day (2008: 6–10) argues, supplanting societies, after establishing legitimacy, strengthen claims of ownership over a supplanted territory by conducting a civilising mission of which education is central.16 Ashis Nandy (1983:xi–xii, 3, 11) asserts that a civilising mission is essential to colonialism, as physical integration will not succeed unless it is accompanied by colonisation in the psychological, cultural and social spheres.17 The education system set up in East Timor mirrored education in Indonesia (Mubyarto et al. 1991: 5; Arenas 1998). Schooling during the New Order was highly centralised and controlled, with a heavy emphasis on ideology and propaganda. The regime’s version of Pancasila ideology and morality was inculcated through special programs18 compulsory for students and public servants (Elson 2001: 228–229). Education was designed to ensure loyalty and obedience to the regime, and was no less alienating for many Indonesians than it was for East Timorese (Drake 1989: 71). Although education became much more accessible in East Timor, no attention was paid to the different circumstances of the newly incorporated territory. It was typical of education in a colonial setting, as described by Albert Memmi (1967: 97, 104), with a curriculum based on the language of the coloniser, full of the cultural ideas and symbols of the coloniser and a history as seen through the eyes of East Timor’s master.19

One of the unintended outcomes of colonial educational systems was to produce a new awareness of liberty and desire for freedom among the educated colonised (Carnoy 1974: 72). This outcome was evident in the experience of young East Timorese, whose education in Indonesia contributed to their political awareness and fanned their nationalism. Many of the students and youths who were sent to Indonesia used the less oppressive environment there to expand their clandestine networks and activities, including developing contacts with Indonesians resisting the New Order regime (Pinto 2001: 33, 38). Completion of their education also raised students’ hopes of obtaining better employment. The unavailability of jobs led to anger and rebellion and was partly responsible for the participation of youths in anti-integration demonstrations (Mubyarto et al. 1991: 55). There were other benefits of development that also stimulated the growth of East Timorese nationalism and the call for independence, including improved transport and opportunities to travel, as well as better communication technology, especially the telephone and internet, which broadened perspectives and contacts at national and global level for the growing educated class (Hill 2002: 49–50). As Anderson (1995: 145–146) noted, educated East Timorese became fluent in Indonesian but rejected being Indonesian. Education, development and repression combined in an ‘explosive mixture’ (to use Anderson’s phrase) that led to a deepening of nationalism, especially among young East Timorese.


The fact that East Timor had never been one of the Netherlands’ colonial possessions in the East Indies that later made up the Republic of Indonesia challenged the New Order regime to make a case for incorporation of the territory. In trying to achieve its political objectives, the New Order and its military backers employed the same techniques in East Timor that they had used to control Indonesian citizens after 1965. The continuing tension and violence in East Timor since becoming an independent nation in 2002 shows that there are deep divisions among the nation’s many different ethnic groups and classes. In 1975 Indonesians exploited these differences, offering incentives and support to Fretilin’s enemies in exchange for East Timorese acceptance of integration.

New Order rule in the territory left most East Timorese feeling excluded from any meaningful political and economic role in their homeland, despite its considerable physical development. It was Indonesian military violence, however, that united the East Timorese against a common enemy. East Timor’s status, as a non-self-governing territory according the United Nations’ determination, further kept alive the hope of a different future and stimulated the struggle of the resistance to Indonesian rule.

In the final analysis, the Indonesians were deceived by their belief in their own myths and their colonial attitude towards the East Timorese, whom they considered backward and primitive. The conditions of membership of the New Order Indonesian family were unattractive to the East Timorese who were not persuaded to give up their right to decide their own future.


1 East Timor was removed from this list after the United Nations organised the referendum on independence on 30 August 1999.

2 Aloysius Sugiyanto (interview, Jakarta, 21 August 2006).

3 Timor-Leste is now the official Portuguese-language name for the territory. The English form of the name, East Timor, is used throughout this text. The Indonesians called their province Timor Timur, which is also translated in English as East Timor.

4 Dr Mochtar Mas’oad (conversation, Leiden, 22 September 2005).

5 US aid and business flowed into Indonesia after the New Order destroyed the communists (Roosa 2006: 197).

6 The International Committee of the Red Cross was not given permission to start operating until late 1979 (CAVR 2006: 8.1 pp. 38–40).

7 The two smaller political parties were Kota and Trabalistha. Party leaders who had fled to West Timor after the inter-party fighting had been received there on condition that they requested integration with Indonesia, which they did on 7 September 1975 (CAVR 2006: 3.7 Nos. 160–161). They also signed the ‘Balibo declaration’ on 30 November 1975, a few days after the declaration of independence by Fretilin on 28 November 1975 (CAVR 2006: 3.9 Nos. 213, 214). Balibo is situated in East Timor on the border with Indonesia.

8 For example Situmorang (1989); sometimes the expression is anak merantau, referring to the tradition, especially in Sumatra, of sons travelling far from home. The lost child theme in Indonesian literature resonates with the biblical parable of the prodigal son (Hoekema 2005). After 1999, one Indonesian author described the loss of East Timor as the ‘departure of the lost child’ (Madjiah 2002).

9 They were classified Group (Golongan) B, middle-level leaders of organisations with communist affiliations.

10 Staff at several childcare institutions also told me that these children were referred to in this way.

11 This brings to mind Milan Kundera’s totalitarian ‘angel-fanatics’ who are ‘so convinced of their world’s significance that they are ready to hang anyone not willing to share their joy’ (Kundera 1980: 20).

12 Robert Samara (telephone conversation, Jakarta, 19 January 2004).

13 The New Order leaders used this tactic in legitimising their takeover in 1965 (Bourchier 1996: 270, 271).

14 Operation Flamboyan prepared for the invasion, which was called Operation Seroja.

15 Carey (1996: 17) derived these figures from Saldanha’s statistics.

16 Day employs the term ‘supplanting’ in an attempt to find a concept that accounts for the various manifestations of oppression of a weak group by a powerful one. A supplanting society moves onto the land of another with the intention of making that land its own.

17 Many nationalists from the colonised world have argued similarly that political and economic exploitation by the coloniser could not have been achieved without cultural domination of the colonised; see, for example, Kallaway (1984a: 9) and Thiong’o (1993: 442).

18 Pendidikan Moral Pancasila (PMP), Pancasila Moral Education, and P-4 (guidelines for the practice of Pancasila).

19 This function of education is generally true for any minority or dominated group in relation to the power-holders, such as blacks in South Africa and African-Americans in the United States (Kallaway 1984b; Marks and Trapido 1987; Carnoy 1974: 3).

Cite this chapter as: van Klinken, Helene. 2011. 'The New Order in East Timor'. In Making Them Indonesians: Child Transfers out of East Timor. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. Pp. 1-19.

Making Them Indonesians: Child Transfers out of East Timor

   by Helene van Klinken