spacer Nun's challenge to Downer: act now to stop Timor bloodshed

By John Zubrzycki
The Australian 9 April 1999

When Sydney nun, Sister Susan Connelly took her vows 37 years ago, remaining silent on political controversies was not one of them.

Having witnessed at first hand the suffering of the East Timorese, the 53-year-old nun from the Sisters of St Joseph, has challenged Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to "be a man" and end his Government's procrastination on East Timor.

"Be a man and stand up and do something about this or there will be a great deal more bloodshed," Sister Connelly said, referring to the violence being unleashed by pro-Indonesia militias in the former Portugese territory. Despite the sacrifices made by Timorese helping Australian soldiers during World War II, the Government had "betrayed on our part all that Anzac has stood for. It has betrayed the ideals of fairness, comradeship and courage", she said.

Calling on Australia to become immediately involved in an international peacekeeping force for the territory, Sister Connolly said this was "our chance to live up to that ideal".

A member of the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies, in western Sydney, Sister Connolly has been involved in a literacy program in East Timor for the past four years. The program, is aimed at keeping Tetun, Timor's main indigenous language, alive.

Through her own visits and reports from local teachers, she claimed she had evidence of direct involvement of the Indonesian army in atrocities being committed against independence supporters.

"We keep hearing stories that when the (pro-integrationist) militias go into a village; it's often ABRI (Indonesian army) soldiers who direct them," she said.

On Wednesday, Mr Downer criticised Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao's call to arms against the militias, saying that "violence begets violence".

"Maybe he is a lovely family man, but for an Australian foreign minister to come out and lecture Timorese about violence is inhuman," she said.

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