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U.S. approved E. Timor invasion: documents

Elections held this year have paved the way for East Timor's independence  

By CNN's Grant Holloway

WASHINGTON -- Despite public denials, the United States knew about and approved the invasion of East Timor in 1975 by Indonesia, an action that resulted in as many as 200,000 deaths in the former Portuguese colony.

Previously secret documents show the then U.S. president Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discussed the impending action with Indonesia's president Suharto in Jakarta on December 6, 1975 -- one day before the invasion took place.

The documents were released by the privately run National Security Archive and were obtained under the U.S.'s Freedom of Information Act.

Former president Suharto had earlier told Ford and Kissinger that Portugal had "lost control" of East Timor, which lies in the far east of the Indonesian archipelago and immediately to the north of Australia.

Suharto suggested to Ford and Kissinger that the majority of Timorese political parties wanted to integrate with Indonesia but such a move was being opposed by a communist-leaning independence movement called Fretilin.

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"We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action," the documents reveal Suharto saying.

"We will understand and will not press you on the issue," Ford replied, according to the State Department record of the conversation.

Kissinger then suggested Indonesia delay any action in Timor until he and Ford had returned to the U.S. so they could better manage any adverse public or political reaction.

"It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly," Kissinger told Suharto. "We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return.

"We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned," the former secretary of state said.

The Indonesian invasion was also tacitly supported at the time by the then Australian Labor government of Gough Whitlam, despite a U.S.-backed United Nations resolution the following week condemning the move.

The invasion sparked 25 years of tumultuous and bloody rule only brought to an end by the intervention of an Australian-led United Nations peacekeeping force in late 1999.

Kissinger denies substantive talks on the issue

East Timor is currently administered by the U.N. but will become fully independent next year.

Ford's current chief of staff, Penny Circle, said the former president had no comment and Kissinger also did not respond to requests for comment, Reuters news service reports Friday.

In a March 19, 1999, interview Kissinger denied having held substantive talks with Suharto on the invasion plan, saying: "We were told at the airport as we left Jakarta that either that day or the next day they intended to take East Timor."

"And it happened in a year when southeast Asia, Indochina had collapsed. So it wasn't a question of approval but of not being able to do anything about it," he said at that time.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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