Subject: Boston Globe/Bishop Belo: The Next Step For East Timor

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Boston Globe October 5, 2002


The next step for East Timor

By Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo

MY NATIVE East Timor became the 191st member of the United Nations last week. We reached this milestone after a 24-year war in our island nation that left few families unaffected. Justice and common sense dictate that positive lessons be drawn from these tragic events, not only for my people but for many others throughout the world.

In September 1999, East Timor was turned into an inferno. Indonesian forces and the militia groups they created were seeking to reverse the result of a free election held under the auspices of the United Nations in which the people of East Timor, a beautiful, mountainous island nation about the size of Connecticut, voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

The orgy of violence was orchestrated by the Indonesian Army. Militias went on the rampage, killing at least 1,000 people and perhaps more, among them many promising young leaders. Even before 1999, the combined effects of Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor had claimed the lives of one-third of our original population of less than 700,000.

East Timor was left a smoldering ruin after the independence vote, with hundreds of buildings razed, much infrastructure, and the meager possessions of most people destroyed. Hundreds of thousands were forcibly uprooted. Many were killed as they fled. Three years later, my people remain deeply traumatized.

The UN Security Council demanded that the perpetrators of the crimes of 1999 be brought to justice. With the recent acquittals in an Indonesian court of military and police officials charged with allowing the mass slaughter of parishioners and priests at a church in the town of Suai in September 1999, this has not happened. The Security Council must look for credible alternatives to achieve justice, and this should include an international tribunal.

Other forms of justice for the victims and their families have also been lacking. East Timorese who lost everything have received no compensation for the devastation that took place in 1999, which might have been averted had international peace keepers arrived earlier than they did. Nonetheless, it is critical to recognize that without the arrival of peacekeepers, our people would have faced annihilation. Still, the destruction could have been prevented, and was so huge that many places, especially in the countryside, remain devastated. Even before 1999, we were one of the poorest nations in the world.

I am grateful for the work of the United Nations in helping to reconstruct our country. But, as in Afghanistan, many homes are still shattered ruins, and disillusionment is spreading. To address this, the Timorese need help to rebuild, feed their families, and find ways to sustain themselves over the long term. With about 80 percent unemployed in East Timor, people should be put to work in reconstruction. Unemployment, especially among the young, breeds unrest. And what we need after all this tragedy is stability.

I hope that the United States and other nations can find ways to provide additional aid to East Timor. We appreciate what the United States has already done, applying tough pressure and providing logistical support to facilitate the entry of international peacekeeping troops in 1999; this rescued my people from doom. Moreover, visits to East Timor by US troop ships have not only helped in rebuilding schools and repairing massive damage to water systems, they also have helped protect us from further attack, sending a crucial signal of US support to those with hostile intent.

What will come next? In Indonesia, as elsewhere, what people perceive is of paramount importance. With recent moves to restore US military assistance to Indonesia as part of the war against terrorism, it must be ensured that those behind the 1999 atrocities do not believe they can resume violent acts in East Timor or commit crimes elsewhere with impunity. The future of my long-suffering people, and the people of Indonesia itself, depends upon the message the Indonesian Army hears from Washington.

Unfortunately, for many years the Indonesian military received nearly unquestioned support from the United States and many other nations. It is therefore imperative that the military receive the right signal now, an unmistakable sign of support for the human rights of ordinary citizens that should be sent to all abusive regimes.

In time, with the right combination of justice and Indonesian acceptance of East Timor's independence, there can be forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation.

Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo is the Roman Catholic bishop of Dili, East Timor. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

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