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US-Indonesia-East Timor (1965-2002)


Project: History of US Interventions

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September 30, 1965

       A small group of Indonesian junior military officers loyal to left-wing nationalist President Ahmed Sukarno kidnaps and kills six senior army generals and announces the creation of a revolutionary council to rule the country. The officers, led by one of Sukarno's bodyguards, Colonel Untung, claim the killings were necessary to thwart an imminent, CIA-backed coup against the Sukarno government. This event is known as the “September 30 Affair.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 7/10/1999; Pacific Affairs, Summer 1985; States News Service, 5/19/1990] Interestingly, Indonesian General Suharto, who will take control of Jakarta the following day (see October 1, 1965), had foreknowledge of the attacks but did nothing to stop them. [Sydney Morning Herald, 7/1999 cited in World Socialist Website, 7/19/1999 Sources: Abdul Latief] Prior to this event, tension between Indonesia and the West were on the rise. Sukarno had earlier threatened to nationalize US oil assets. [Sydney Morning Herald, 7/10/1999]
People and organizations involved: Abdul Latief, Ahmed Sukarno, Suharto

October 1, 1965

       Indonesian General Suharto takes control of Jakarta one day after a group of junior military officers killed six senior army generals (see September 30, 1965). Suharto claims the killings were part of a Communist plan to take over Indonesia. For the next five months, he oversees the slaughter of between 500,000 and 1 million people, many of them targeted because of their affiliation with the PKI, Indonesia's Communist party. [States News Service, 5/19/1990; Pacific Affairs, Summer 1985; Sydney Morning Herald, 7/10/1999; Sydney Morning Herald, 7/1999 cited in World Socialist Website, 7/19/1999] During this period, Suharto is backed by the US, Britain, and Australia. The US embassy in Indonesia provides the Indonesian army with a list compiled by the CIA consisting of the names of thousands of Communist Party leaders who the Indonesian military hunts down and executes. [States News Service, 5/19/1990; Sydney Morning Herald, 7/10/1999 Sources: US Government documents relating to US-Indonesia relations from 1965 to 1967, Unnamed former CIA officials and US diplomats]
People and organizations involved: Suharto, Ahmed Sukarno


       During the 24-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor (see December 7, 1976), the UN passes a number of resolutions condemning the invasion and occupation. However, it is unable to enforce them without the support of the US, British, Australian and Portuguese governments, which repeatedly abstain from voting on the resolutions, while some of them continue to sell arms to Indonesia. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US ambassador to the UN during the administration of Gerald Ford, later admits in his memoirs: “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook [with regard to East Timor]. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” [Pilger, John. Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy; Mercury News, 9/16/2002; Scott 1998; Pacific News Service, 5/20/2002]
People and organizations involved: Daniel Patrick Moynihan

December 6, 1975

       US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger meet with Indonesian president Suharto in Jakarta and give him tacit approval to invade and annex East Timor. Suharto complains that the integration of East Timor into Indonesia is being resisted by Communist sympathizers. According to declassified US Government documents, Suharto tells Ford and Kissinger, “We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action.” Ford responds, “We will understand and will not press you on the issue.” Kissinger then advises Suharto not to take action until he and the president have returned to Washington. “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly.” Kissinger explains. “We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens, happens after we return.” [CNN, 12/7/2001; Pilger, John. Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy.; BBC, 12/7/2001 Sources: Embassy Jakarta Telegram 1579 to Secretary State, 6 December 1975] The following day, Indonesia invades East Timor (see December 7, 1976)
People and organizations involved: Henry A. Kissinger, Suharto, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

December 7, 1976

       Indonesia invades and occupies the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. An estimated 200,000 people—roughly one-third of the country's population—will be killed in the violence and famine that follow. [Sojourner's Magazine, 9/1994; BBC, n.d.; Extra! 11/1993; Pilger, John. Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy.] The invasion was tacitly approved in advance by US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the day before during a meeting with Suharto.(see December 6, 1975)
People and organizations involved: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Suharto, Henry A. Kissinger

November 12, 1991

       Thousands of Timorese attend the funeral of Sebastian Gomez, a Timorese youth, who was shot dead in the Catholic church of San Antonio de Motael by East Timorese agents under the direction of the Indonesian government the month before. When the funeral procession arrives at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, the US-trained elite Kopassus military unit appears and immediately opens fire on the crowd with its American-made M-16s. The massacre is caught on film and broadcast worldwide on television by Max Stahl. [Pilger, John. Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy; Observer, 9/19/1999; Inter Press Service, 7/8/2004] Witnessing the massacre are two American journalists, Amy Goodman of WBAI / Pacifica radio and Allan Nairn, a reporter for New Yorker magazine. Nairn will later recount in his February 27, 1992 testimony to Congress: “... as we stood there watching as the soldiers marched into our face, the inconceivable thing began to happen. The soldiers rounded the corner, never breaking stride, raised their rifles and fired in unison into the crowd. Timorese were backpedaling, gasping, trying to flee, but in seconds they were cut down by the hail of fire. People fell, stunned and shivering, bleeding in the road, and the Indonesian soldiers kept on shooting. I saw the soldiers aiming and shooting people in the back, leaping bodies to hunt down those who were still standing. They executed schoolgirls, young men, old Timorese, the street was wet with blood and the bodies were everywhere.” [US Congress, 2/27/1992 Sources: Amy Goodman, Allan Nairn] In 1992, an investigation performed by the Portuguese solidarity group, A Paz e Possivel em Timor-Leste, will report the casualties: 271 killed, 278 Wounded, 103 Hospitalized, and 270 “disappeared.” [East Timor Action Network, n.d.] After the massacre, the US will continue to provide aid to the Indonesian military under a covert program codenamed “Iron Balance.” The training is in military expertise that can “only be used internally against civilians, such as urban guerrilla warfare, surveillance, counter-intelligence, sniper marksmanship and ‘psychological operations.’ ” [Observer, 9/19/1999 Sources: Pentagon documents]
People and organizations involved: Amy Goodman, Sebastian Gomez, Allan Nairn

August 1999

       East Timorese head for the polls and vote overwhelmingly (78.5 percent) for independence. Turnout is estimated at 99 percent, despite there having been intense intimidation from Indonesian troops to discourage voting. Angered by the vote, the Indonesian military-backed, anti-independence militias launch a terror campaign across East Timor, creating approximately 200,000 to 300,000 refugees. The UN evacuates, leaving the East Timorese at the mercy of the Indonesian forces. [BBC, 9/4/1999; BBC, 11/5/1999; Pilger, John. Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy; BBC timeline]

October 20, 1999

       The Indonesian legislature ratifies the East Timorese referendum vote (see August 1999) allowing East Timor to officially become an independent nation. [Pilger, John. Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy; BBC, 10/20/1999]

May 19, 2002

       East Timor officially becomes an independent state. [BBC timeline; BBC, 5/19/2002]

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