Subject: CNS: Prelate urges international action for peaceful East Timor vote
Date: Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:30:34 +0000
From: "John M. Miller" <>

MCCARRICK-TIMOR Jun-11-1999 (620 words) xxxn

Prelate urges international action for peaceful East Timor vote By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The international community needs to take decisive action to see that bloodshed in East Timor comes to an end so that the people's upcoming vote on autonomy or independence from Indonesia can be peaceful, said the chairman of the U.S bishops' International Policy Committee.

As East Timor residents prepare for an Aug. 8 vote, Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., said, there needs to be greater diplomatic pressure put on the Indonesian government. He urged the U.S. government to "take the necessary steps, including consideration of maintaining a resident diplomatic presence in the territory throughout this period."

East Timor has been immersed in violence since late January when Indonesian President B.J. Habibie announced there would be a vote for East Timor's people to choose whether to remain part of Indonesia with special autonomy or become an independent state. At U.N. headquarters in New York May 5, the Indonesian and Portuguese foreign ministers formally signed the agreement on the autonomy plan.

But since Habibie's announcement, the Indonesian military has waged a relentless campaign of intimidation and violence against those favoring independence for the predominantly Catholic former Portuguese colony that was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and then unilaterally annexed by that nation the next year.

"Thus far this year, the people of East Timor have experienced a level of violence not seen since the 1970s," said Archbishop McCarrick in a June 10 statement. "Estimates of people killed in recent weeks range from well over 300 to as many as 1,000. Over 40,000 East Timorese have fled their homes and farms, raising again the specter of hunger that devastated much of the island in the late 1970s."

Unless the violence is brought under control, Archbishop McCarrick said, "the conditions for a fair and free vote will be seriously lacking."

Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Dili, East Timor, has said that the Aug. 8 vote should be postponed unless peace is quickly restored to the island, saying it was unlikely that a free and fair vote could be held under current conditions.

However, if the vote is carried out as scheduled, all Catholic voters should go to the polls to exercise their voting right, he told UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

A postponement of the vote seems likely, if not inevitable, according to Archbishop McCarrick, but he also warned that a delay of more than a few months could cause even greater civil strife on the island and cause the plan to come undone "if forces opposed to the plan come to power as a result of (June 7 general) elections in Indonesia."

He called on the United Nations, which has begun sending personnel to East Timor who will monitor the vote, to increase its presence there and also to review its mandate that U.N. personnel will not carry side arms and are not allowed to offer direct protection to people under attack.

He also urged the United States and other governments to apply direct pressure on the Indonesian military, which has been widely cited for organizing, arming and inciting many of its paramilitary mobs.

"It is beyond question that the Indonesian government has failed in its responsibility to maintain order and provide security for the people," the archbishop said.

"The window of opportunity for effective diplomatic action is exceedingly narrow," he said, adding that the U.S. bishops join with the bishops of East Timor and "all the church and people of that troubled land in praying that this year will mark the true beginning of lasting peace, in which the rights and dignity of all will be respected." END

06/11/1999 4:07 PM ET Copyright c 1999 Catholic News Service/U.S. Catholic Conference CNS-06-11-99 0410pET

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