Subject: CNS: Violence may delay E. Timor ballot, says visiting U.S. bishop
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 12:13:08 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>


Violence may delay E. Timor ballot, says visiting U.S. bishop By Atika Shubert

Catholic News Service DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- Ongoing violence makes a planned August ballot on East Timor's independence unlikely, said a U.S. bishop during a trip to Indonesia as a board member of Catholic Relief Services.

"In times of escalating violence, and it gets worse day by day, there is less and less hope that the ballot will take place in August," said Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary, Ind., in an interview in Dili.

He said priests are called upon to speak out against violence wherever it occurs, and this might be interpreted as choosing political sides.

"There seems to be clearer and clearer evidence that the military is behind a lot of the violence against the people, and the intimidation is obvious," he said.

"Where priests have the knowledge that this is happening, priests must speak out. They see that the militias have to cease causing the violence. But how to vote in the ballot is up to the people," Bishop Melczek said.

"It's been a good visit and I'm impressed with the people," he said, "So many things in Indonesia have converged at once, the economic crisis and the political situation, that it has greatly increased the people's need, the number of people beneath the poverty line. CRS always gravitates to areas that are in most need of assistance, and that's why we have increased our programs here."

In little over a year, Indonesia has seen the authoritarian government of former President Suharto crumble under the weight of an economic collapse that, according to government statistics, has dragged more than 40 percent of the population under the poverty line.

Ethnic and religious tensions have flared across the island nation, just as disease and malnutrition are on the rise.

In the province of Ambon, more than 200 have died this year from fighting between Muslim and Christian communities.

As a consequence, Catholic Relief Services, the international relief and development agency of the U.S. bishops, has had to step delicately around political issues while still providing urgently needed relief, staffers said. CRS programs, such as food drives and village banking, are conducted under the guidance of committees attended by religious leaders of different faiths in a bid to overcome recent violence.

Michael Frank, CRS country representative for Indonesia, said that "instead of interfaith dialogue, this is interfaith action. We get religious leaders working together, not just talking."

Bishop Melczek attended one such committee session and praised the group's collaboration. "We had 20 leaders of different faiths, sharing the experience of working together with the people. It was a very fraternal spirit," the bishop said. However, in East Timor, violence has escalated since Indonesia announced its intention to hold a ballot on East Timorese independence, 23years after invading the former Portuguese colony. The United Nations plans to hold the ballot in late August, but a violent campaign by pro-Indonesia militias has displaced at least 50,000 people, nearly 7 percent of the population, according to estimates of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Church leaders, including Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili, have said it was unlikely that a free and fair vote could be held under conditions in which pro- Indonesia militias terrorized civilians. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and unilaterally annexed it the following year. Neither the Vatican nor the United Nations has recognized the annexation, and most countries still view Portugal as territorial administrator. In addition to disrupting the voting process, the militias have created conditions for widespread disease and malnutrition, which kills at least one refugee a day in some areas. "All along the road to Baucau, you could see children with distended stomachs and mothers unable to feed their babies," said Bishop Melczek, recalling a visit to the eastern part of the territory. "There is so much need for development, but there will be no development in East Timor until there is peace and security first. Our efforts will be in vain if there is no security," he said. In early July, pro-Indonesia militias attacked an aid convoy, including several church-affiliated organizations, attempting to deliver food and medicine to refugees. Bishop Melczek emphasized a need for church-sponsored reconciliation talks, bringing together "mortal enemies" to achieve peace before the ballot. "The world community, including CRS, will need to take a significant role in East Timor. We will continue to help, until the people of East Timor are able to bear more of the burden," he said.

Copyright c 1999 Catholic News Service/U.S. Catholic Conference

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