Subject: NYT/Op-Ed: A Day of Reckoning in East Timor
Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1999 02:07:09 EDT

The New York Times August 24, 1999

A Day of Reckoning in East Timor


DILI, East Timor -- After nearly a quarter of a century of tragedy, the people of East Timor will vote next Monday on whether to remain part of Indonesia or become independent. I pray that the United States and other nations will do whatever possible to persuade Indonesian forces to allow this choice to be made freely, and, if independence is the result, to accept it without retaliating with violence.

Diplomatic intervention may be the only hope there is to avert a new blood bath in my native land, an area the size of Connecticut near northern Australia. First, civil war between Timorese groups erupted in August 1975, as Portugal was planning to withdraw after centuries of colonial rule. Then the Indonesian military intervened a few months later. By 1980, 200,000 or more of East Timor's population of less than 700,000 may have perished from massacres, disease and famine.

More recently, over the past six months, hundreds of people have been killed, most of them young people whose only crime was their desire to be free from Indonesian rule. They died at the hands of armed groups created by Indonesian army elements who oppose independence for East Timor, despite President B. J. Habibie's offer in January to allow the people of East Timor to vote on their future.

It is no secret that most East Timorese oppose continued Indonesian rule. If not, there would be no need to wage a campaign of violence and coercion to prevent free elections from taking place. I had hoped that observers from the United Nations Assistance Mission for East Timor would bring an end to such violence. But some of the mission's employees have been attacked as well.

Thousands of people displaced by such violence have taken refuge in churches throughout East Timor, but even here they are not safe. In April, scores of people were brutally killed by armed militias at a church in the town of Liquica. Sadly, this was only the beginning of a series of assaults. Only the other day, a food convoy organized by a Timorese nun to feed some of the many displaced people was destroyed. Houses of villagers were burned, young mothers were threatened, the hands of young people in one village slashed, all to intimidate people from voting. In other places, the military has distributed guns to allies to force people to vote the "right" way.

I have appealed for reconciliation with Indonesian forces and their Timorese allies. I have emphasized that the rights of all must be guaranteed. All along I have made clear that the church is there for everyone and is not to be used by any political faction. Yet I have concluded that only international pressure on Indonesia's army can end the violence.

Indonesia's generals, who have longstanding ties to Washington, should be made to understand that Indonesia will not receive any military assistance or the loans the country so badly needs unless the army ends its campaign of violence. And Indonesian authorities must permit the entry of international peacekeepers. After all the suffering they have endured, the people of East Timor deserve no less.

Carlos Ximenes Belo, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dili, East Timor, received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

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