Pilger Commentary

From: apakabar@igc.apc.org
Date: Sat Mar 12 1994 - 06:28:00 EST

/* Written 10:12 pm Mar 12, 1994 by Matebian.News@f101.n612.z90.pegasus.oz.au in igc:reg.easttimor */
/* ---------- "GENOCIDE ON OUR DOORSTEP" ---------- */
FROM: peg:etra or etra@peg.apc.org
SOURCE: The Sydney Morning Herald
DATE: 10 Marh 1994
BYLINE: Margot Date and David Langsam
NEWSGROUP: reg.easttimor


John Pilger's Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy is
advertised as "The film Paul Keating doesn't want you to
see", and for good reason.

This documentary is not going to please Indonesia, our close
neighbour, which is accused by being responsible for the
death of 200,000 East Timorese civillians since its forces
invaded in 1975.

Significantly, it is the first time that the history of the
occupation of East Timor has been pieced together in a
feature-length documentary, exposing a genocide on our
doorstep. When the film has its Australian premiere in
Sydney tonight, it will reveal for the first time to many
australian what has happen so close to home.

Pilger is here to promote it by speaking before screeings at
the Mandolin and Valhalla cinemas.

Pilger and his partner, David Munro, searched the world for
archival footage and with a cameraman, Max Stahl, and a
voluntary aid worker, slipped into East Timor late last year
to undertake secret filming. They went in pretending to be
travel to be travel agents and left with the film strapped
to their backs and legs.

In the film, senior diplomats state clearly that the
Whitlam Government knew that the 1975 invasion by Indonesia
was goind to take place and when it did, did nothing.

The film's most visually shocking moment is not Max Stahl's
footage of a young man dying in the Dili cemetery in
November 1991, but Foreign Minister Gareth Evan's 1989
propaganda video in which he and his Indonesian counterpart
Ali Alatas, in a jet above Timor, toast the successful
redistribution of East Timor's resouce wealth with the
signing of the Timor Gap Oil Treaty.

Pilger said in Sydney this week that it was his favourite
scene in the film. "It says the most about the betrayal of
the Timorese people".

Thousands of feet below the foreign ministers in their jet,
the blood-soaked island has lost about a third of its
population, an estimate made not by Pilger but by
Australia's former Consul to East Timor, James Dunn, and the
Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, which in November
1993 said:"...at least 200,000 East Timorese have died from
causes directly or indirectly attributable to integration by
Indonesia". The Portuguese President calls it genocide.

Although the film has already been shown on British
television, Pilger preferred a cinema release here and in
the United States because of his increasing belief in the
power of film in the cinema.

"In the US, it's very difficult for foreign films to break a
virtual embargo that exists on network television, whereas
there is an extensive network of independent cinemas across
the States, "Pilger said. The film will be released there in
about a month in 157 independent cinemas.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Australian cinemas in
Pilger's mind is that documentaries are actually screened in
them. He is presently considering offers from Australian
television networks and said the television version of the
film would eventually be screened.

Pilger said he was satisfied with the film. Of the 12 major
films he has made with Munro, including Cambodia Year Zero
and Heroes, this one demanded the most planning.

"It took a long time to plan our secret filming (in East
Timor), how we would do it, how we would get others in, and
to trawl the world for archive film...We tapped into this
extraordidnary network that has kept alive the issue of
East Timor in many countries, particularly Australia", he

The Australian producer Gil Scrine is also the distributor
here, and according to Pilger, he contributed enormously to
the success of the film.

After the meticulous planning, Pilger interviewed diplomats
and politicians from all sides of the picture, from Australia
to Portugal and Indonesia, plus Timorese exiles and people
still in Timor. They all spoke openly but Pilger said that was
because he worked on the basic journalistic practice of
asking questions that he though the audience would ask.

So much material was gathered that he will reissue his book
Distant Voices in May, with nearly 100 pages about East

After the deaths of six foreign newsmen in 1975, East Timor
was closed to outsiders until 1989 and has been off limits
to journalists.

Pilger said he and Munro, Stahl and the aid worker never
really felt they were in physical danger while in East Timor
late last year, but were worried that they would be caught
and their film confiscated.

"I feld that of the four os us who went, that David Munro
and I would probably be caught. That wouldn't be a bad
thing," Pilger said. "If we were caught that would distract
from the others.

"So we went in with four of us, at different times, assuming
that perhaps half os us would be caught and that one or two
cameras would be successful. In the end all of us got in and

Pilger's career has taken him to the world's trouble spots,
including Africa, the Middle East, India and Cambodia, but
he said he had never been to a place where the atmosphere as
so oppressive.

"It's very strange. It is like walking across a giant grave.
There are crosses everywhere."

He had been told that you could tell an East Timorese
person - child or adult - anywhere because they don't smile,
but thought it was just something people said. He found out
it was true.

He said that despite their country being militarised by the
Indonesians, the people have a combination of fear, courage
and defiance.

When Amelia Gusmao, the wife of the imprisoned resistance
leader, Xanana Gusmao, finally was forced into exile from
East Timor, young schoolchildren materialised out of nowhere
and lined the road to honour her. Then they disappeard

To do that in a country where there is so much overt
oppression is an extraordinary act of courage and
organisation similar, I imagine, to many European countries
that were occupied during World War II," Pilger said.

The Dili massacred took place in 1991 after young people
organised a peaceful demonstration in honour of one of their
friends who had been killed.

Claims in the film, that survivors of the massacre were
later killed by Indonesian troops, have drawn criticism from
Senator Evans and the Prime Minister, doing nothing to
improve Pilger's frosty relationship with the Australian

His response to their criticism is that he hopes members of
the Government watch this film.

"They have had a lot to say about it without having seen a
single frame," he said.

"Any light shone on the issue of Timor poses a real threat
to politicians in the Australian Government because East
Timor (has been) the Achilles heel of Australian foreign
policy over many years.

"It's indefensible. They know it is indefensible. They know
that the Timorese could have been helped, lives could have
been saved without endangering relationship with the
Indonesian. But they chose to remain silent.

"They also chose to sign a treaty over East Timor's oil and
gas with the Indonesians, effectively to steal the resources
of another country."

After the television debut of the film in England, a special
telephone reaction line received 4,000 calls a minute
through the night and the Australian High Commission was
inundated with abusive calls.

Pilger hopes Australian who see the film will be angry and

"I think what isn't generally known is Australia's moral
debt to the Timrese, going back to World War II," Pilger

Alustralia's relations with the Indonesian Government, the
East Timor people and the riches reaped from oil and gas
reserves are brought into sharp focus by the story of Arthur
(Steve) Stevenson, Celestino dos Anjos and Operation

A veteran of the World War II mission, Stevenson told Pilger
that Australians were saved by the East Timorese when they
parachuted in to stop the Japanese building airfileds for
attacks on Australia, just 600km away. Forty Australian
commandos were killed in the operation but 40,000 Timorese
were killed, mainly in Japanese retribution. Stevenson spent
years organising an Australian service medal to be awarded
to his comrade, Celestino dos Anjos, recognising the

In 1983, along with his son's pregant wife, Celestino was
forced to dig his hown grave by the suharto forces in
Kraras, the Village of the Widows, where nearly 300 people
were killed.

Pilger said when local audience think of this and see
Senator Evans and Ali Alatas toasting each other as they fly
over East Timor with its mass graves, they will then
understand the nature of the betrayal.

--- FD 1.99c
 * Origin: Mate-Bian News (90:612/101)