Subject: IHT: Bishop Belo: Much done but much still to do in East Timor

International Herald Tribune Friday, August 30, 2002

Much done but much still to do

Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo

East Timor

DILI, East Timor Almost three years ago, hard-liners in the Indonesian army and the militias they supported in East Timor killed at least a thousand people as they sought to reverse the result of the self-determination referendum held by the United Nations on Aug. 30, 1999. The people of East Timor had voted overwhelmingly for independence.

The inferno of killing and destruction came after 24 years of conflict and the tragic loss of more than 200,000 lives - one-third of East Timor's original population. Indonesia invaded the territory in 1975. Few families have been unaffected by this terrible legacy. In the days after the referendum, East Timor was all but destroyed.

As I returned from a recent pastoral visit to the countryside and isolated border villages that were among the chief victims of the 1999 violence, the voices of my people echoed in my ears with questions I could not answer. When will we have justice? When will we find work? When will our towns be rebuilt? What will we eat if the harvest fails? And, perhaps most insistently, will we be safe now?

There are no simple answers, but much must be done in response to these cries for help.

East Timorese are grateful for the assistance they have received, starting with the excellent work by the International Committee of the Red Cross since 1975. International peacekeepers rescued us from annihilation. The United Nations and others have made tremendous contributions toward rehabilitating East Timor. But justice for the victims has been elusive.

Rapists, arsonists and murderers walk free, while the innocent live with their trauma. That trauma, and the people's sense of victimization, were revived with the recent acquittals in Jakarta of Indonesian police and military charged with allowing atrocities to take place. Among the worst of them was the mass slaughter of a congregation and three priests in a Catholic church in Suai in September 1999. An international tribunal is needed to provide justice for the victims of such crimes against humanity.

The psychological trauma of this injustice is only compounded by economic hardship. Firm steps must be taken to address these conditions. Much of the countryside remains in ruins, with approximately 70 to 80 percent of the population unemployed. Far more needs to be done to foster economic development and local agriculture. Most East Timorese have less than adequate food, housing and health facilities, and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Food, health, education and employment opportunities must be improved.

Buildings in East Timor that were badly damaged in 1999 must be renovated soon or they will rot in the tropical heat. People should be provided materials to complete these tasks, with job training carefully geared to possibilities in the private sector. Subsidizing on-the-job training will foster a good atmosphere for businesses working in reconstruction.

Such possibilities should be pursued energetically, because unemployment, especially among the young, breeds instability.

A nationwide consultation should be held so that people can discuss how to exploit the potential to grow valuable spices, herbs and other agricultural products. We must ensure that East Timorese are properly compensated for their work and resources.

The issue of long-term security is of prime importance. As the United States resumes relations with the Indonesian military and police, we must be mindful of the lessons of the past. U.S. forces made invaluable efforts in supporting the international peacekeepers in 1999. Since then, visits to East Timor by U.S. troop ships have helped in reconstruction. The intermittent American presence has played an important symbolic role in shielding us. But what will happen in the months and years ahead? Will the Indonesian army, elements of which remain embittered by East Timor's independence, become emboldened by a renewal of U.S. assistance, and sponsor acts of subversion that could cause further suffering in our land? Which message from the United States will Indonesian forces actually perceive, and what conclusions will they draw? Will America support justice for the victims in East Timor?

Many governments gave largely unquestioning support to the Indonesian military during its occupation of East Timor. The very least these governments can do now is provide maximum help to promote reconstruction and development. They must strongly support a process leading to genuine justice, and work to guarantee protection for East Timor so that the violence of the past does not repeat itself.

The souls of the victims demand no less.

The writer, a Nobel peace laureate and Roman Catholic bishop based in Dili, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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