Subject: Washington Post/Carlos Ximenes Belo: Terror in West Timor

The Washington Post Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Editorials and Opinion

Terror in West Timor

By Carlos Ximenes Belo

One year ago, my land was on fire, set ablaze, our people cruelly displaced, by elements of the Indonesian army. The army and its militia cohorts were bent on overturning the results of the U.N.-sponsored election held on Aug. 30, 1999, in which nearly 80 percent of the registered voters of East Timor opted for independence after nearly a quarter-century of Indonesian occupation. Before and after the ballot, many were killed and maimed. Finally, international peacekeepers arrived on Sept. 20, after most of East Timor had been destroyed and more than 250,000 forcibly moved by army and militias across the border into Indonesian territory in West Timor. Now, a year after the arrival of the international force, many East Timorese refugees in West Timor are severely imperiled with a new crisis. Help is needed, before it is too late.

Since Indonesian troops invaded in 1975, the world has been far too slow in responding to East Timor's plight: One must remember that of our original population of less than 700,000, perhaps more than 200,000 perished from the combined effects of Indonesia's occupation. Peacekeepers should have arrived much earlier than they did. But had foreign troops not intervened at all, my people would have faced annihilation. We in East Timor are immensely grateful for this, all the more so for the fact that the Indonesian military withdrew its troops from East Timor.

But once the withdrawal took place, international pressure on the Indonesian military seemed to soften. To be sure, the United States and other nations pushed to enable the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to return more than 150,000 people to East Timor. At the same time, the military received the clear impression that because of Indonesia's strategic importance, the United States and other nations would not push too hard and ultimately would support Indonesia. Perhaps as a result, in the past several months, repatriations have virtually stopped, and an estimated 120,000 remain trapped in refugee camps in West Timor. The overwhelming majority want to return to East Timor.

Now, with the tragic killings of three U.N. refugee workers, including one American, last month by a militia mob that could not have operated without the connivance of Indonesian army elements, the situation of the refugees in West Timor has reached a crisis point. Because of the killing of their colleagues, U.N. aid workers and others were forced to depart, leaving the refugees without protection: They are effectively held hostage by the militias that have terrorized the camps during the past year. The Jesuit Refugee Service states that the refugees are "more alone than ever." There are deep worries about food supply and distribution and medical care. Moreover, there is also the danger that refugees will be forcibly resettled in other parts of Indonesia. This must not be allowed to happen.

Even after repeated promises that the militias would be disarmed, U.N. observers were threatened last week. It is time for the militias to be expelled from West Timor so that the remaining refugees can safely return home to East Timor. But this will not happen without steady international pressure on Indonesia.

This is not the only problem that must be addressed. Well inside East Timor's own borders, many people no longer sleep in their own homes for fear of attacks by militia groups that have been infiltrating the area with Indonesian army support. International peacekeepers should remove the militias or, better yet, the United States should insist that the militias withdraw from East Timor on their own. After all, it is widely believed that the current round of militia violence has been led by the Kopassus, Indonesian special forces units that once were trained by the United States. Killings in Aceh and the Moluccas and the rise of militias in Irian Jaya are also matters of grave concern.

Last year, the Pentagon used its influence with the Indonesian military to help bring about withdrawal of its forces from East Timor, something that for more than two decades was said to be impossible. The strong words of Defense Secretary William Cohen in Jakarta last month and the visit of U.S. Marines to East Timor was a valuable sign of support. But the United States and other world powers must not waver in the weeks and months ahead. Voices in Indonesia have complained bitterly about foreign pressure. It should be recalled, however, that U.S. Senate threats to cut aid to Indonesia's Dutch colonial rulers, coupled with action by the U.N. Security Council, helped bring about Indonesian independence in 1949. Now it is in the interest of everyone, not least Indonesia itself, for the Timor tragedy to come to and end once and for all, and for the rule of law to be established in the rest of Indonesia beyond Timor.

The writer is the Roman Catholic bishop of Dili, East Timor. He was awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.


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