Whitlam role in ousting East Timor Catholic leader

Former prime minister Gough Whitlam, long condemned for his tacit approval of Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975, is said to have been instrumental in the removal of Church leader Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes.

The Australian reports today on a 2500-page report by the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. The report criticises Australia for failing to "use its international influence to try and block the invasion" and criticises Mr Whitlam personally for his appeasement policies.

Mr Whitlam continued to campaign on Indonesia's behalf after he left office, the report says. "Following a visit to Timor-Leste in 1982, on which he reported directly to president Suharto, he was instrumental in having Dom Martinho da Costa Lopes removed as the head of the Catholic Church in East Timor and later that year he appeared before the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation and petitioned to have the question of Timor-Leste removed from the UN agenda," the report says.

Monsignor Lopes had written to Australia in late 1981, warning of another impending famine. In March 1982, Mr Whitlam visited East Timor, and met with Monsignor Lopes, but publicly disputed his claims.

Meanwhile a separate report published in yesterday's Australian speaks of the 1981 "fence of legs" campaign, which rounded up civilians - young and old, sick and hungry - and made them march across the island.

Indonesian authorities admitted to only 70 being killed, while Monsignor Costa Lopes of East Timor's Catholic church said the death toll was closer to500.

Whitlam condemned for approval of 1975 invasion (The Australian 20/1/06)
Forced march ended in massacre (The Australian 19/1/06)

20 Jan 2006