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Senator Harkin (D-IA), September 8, 1999

EAST TIMOR -- (Senate - September 08, 1999)

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Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I thank Senator GORTON for permitting me at this time to speak as in morning business before they get on with the important business of the Interior appropriations bill. I want to take this time because I was unable to be here earlier when Senator FEINGOLD, Senator REED, I think, and Senator BOXER spoke on the issue of East Timor. I want to take a few minutes to share with my colleagues what I saw during my recent trip to East Timor with a delegation that included Senator REED of Rhode Island and Congressman MCGOVERN of Massachusetts. We were in East Timor on August 20 and 21, just a little over 2 weeks ago. The purpose of our trip was to assess the conditions in East Timor leading up to the August 30 referendum.

It was a trip that in some ways was uplifting but at the end--I could smell it in the air--I had a foreboding of things to come. On the first day we traveled to the capital of East Timor, Dili and spent the night there. The next day, under the auspices of the United Nations, we took a helicopter to Maliana, and then from Maliana to Suai before returning to Jakarta. What was so uplifting about it was to see so many people willing to risk their lives to be able to vote; people whose homes were burned down, their lives threatened, families threatened, and yet they were going to vote.

When the vote was taken, over 98 percent of those registered came out to vote. Mr. President, 78 percent of the people of East Timor voted for independence and not to stay with Indonesia, a clear-cut victory for independence and, I can say from firsthand meetings with U.N. and U.S. officials as well as with people on the ground in East Timor, that had it not been for the open assaults by the militias and intimidation and threats, that 78 percent probably would have been about 90 percent for independence.

When I left East Timor, Senator REED and Congressman MCGOVERN and I all called on the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force immediately to East Timor, either on the day of the vote or the day after the vote.

We all had a sense of what might come if there was not a stable force on the ground to prevent the violence from happening in the first place.

Upon returning to Jakarta, we met an hour and a half with President Habibie of Indonesia, and I will have more to say about that in a minute. We conveyed to him our concerns with the security situation in East Timor. He assured us time and time again in the hour-and-a-half meeting that Indonesia would maintain order in East Timor. I was there with Congressman MCGOVERN and with U.S. Ambassador Roy. President Habibie assured us the Indonesian Army would maintain peace, harmony and law and order after the vote was taken.

My fears of what would happen have been confirmed in the most horrific manner. As we have all witnessed on CNN and in the newspapers over the past several days, the militias have gone on a killing rampage acting on the orders and with the assistance of the Indonesian military and the Indonesian police forces.

I must tell my colleagues, when we were in Maliana, for example, a couple days before we were there, the militias had put on street demonstrations right in front of the U.N. compound armed to the teeth with guns. Amongst these militias were the Indonesian military and the Indonesian police in clear violation of the agreement they had signed with Portugal and the United Nations on May 5, 1999. Every U.N. observer with whom I spoke, every single one without exception, said the militias were backed by and armed by the Indonesian military and that the military and the civilian police were supporting the militias openly.

Now that these militias have gone on a rampage, one must ask, where is the Indonesian military and where is the Indonesian police? The Indonesian military had 10,000 to 15,000 military people there. They could have stopped it. They either chose not to or they are actively supporting this murderous rampage. Either is unacceptable.

They are attacking unarmed civilians. They are rounding up refugees,

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putting them in trucks, and trucking them to unknown destinations. They are tearing families apart. Just as we saw in Kosovo, the same thing is happening in East Timor. Husbands are separated from wives, parents separated from their children and carted off in trucks into the back country, and no one knows what is happening to them. The same thing is happening as happened in Kosovo.

When we were in East Timor, we spent an evening with Bishop Belo, the Catholic bishop of East Timor. I will point out a bit of history.

East Timor for the last I think it was 400-some years was under Portuguese domination. About 200 years ago, Portugal formally annexed East Timor. It was a colony of Portugal up to 1975 when Portugal left. Indonesia brutally invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the next year. The United Nations has never recognized Indonesia's annexation of East Timor.

Through the years since then, the East Timorese have suffered mightily. Over 200,000 East Timorese, it is estimated, were brutally slaughtered by the Indonesian military over these years. But they persisted. They persisted in wanting their independence. In 1991, sadly, East Timor got worldwide attention when Indonesian troops opened fire on mourners who were at a funeral for an independence supporter in Dili. It was a big funeral. There were 200 men, women, and children slaughtered by the Indonesian military in 1991.

Through all of this, Bishop Belo, East Timorese by birth and upbringing, ordained a Catholic priest in Portugal, came back to East Timor, elevated by Pope John Paul II to be a bishop.

Two years ago on June 18, Bishop Belo was in Washington and said a mass of peace and reconciliation at St. Peter's Church. A number of us were there that morning. That was the first time I had the occasion to meet Bishop Belo.

Of course, the year before that, in 1996, Bishop Belo and Jose Ramos Horta jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their peaceful resistance through the years to the Indonesian takeover of East Timor. A year after that, Bishop Belo was here and said mass at St. Peter's, as I said, and we were there.

It was for me a very touching moment, to spend an evening in Bishop Belo's home in Dili with Senator REED and Congressman MCGOVERN, to have dinner in his home and talk with him about what was happening in East Timor and to hear him pour out his heart about how many people had died and the suffering of the East Timorese people and his hopes and his prayers. We held hands around the table and he led us in a prayer that, regardless of what the outcome of the vote would be, East Timorese would not kill each other and that the Indonesian military would quietly leave.

I am saddened to say that 3 days ago the militias entered the compound of Bishop Belo and burned his house down, the very house in which we had dinner not more than two weeks ago. He was able to escape and is now in Australia.

We sat in Bishop Belo's dining room and saw all the mementos he had. He had a picture of himself shaking hands and being greeted by President Clinton, a bust of President Kennedy that was given to him by Representative PATRICK KENNEDY who visited there a few years ago, a signed picture from President Bush who had met with him, and, of course, his Nobel Peace Prize. Now that house has been reduced to ashes.

There were several thousand East Timorese in his compound being protected by the church. Eyewitnesses saw the militias killing people and some were being put on trucks--this is where the families were separated--and taken out into the countryside.

On Monday, I spoke with Jose Ramos Horta, his corecipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He said in the 500-year history of East Timor, the church has never been attacked. There have been wars and there has been fighting, but the church has never been attacked. He even said that when the Japanese took over East Timor during World War II they never attacked the church.

As bad as that is, I have an even sadder story to tell.

We went to the community of Suai, which is in the southwestern part of East Timor, because we had heard there were about 1,500 people who had taken up refuge in a church compound. This was now 9 days before the vote. We wanted to go there and see for ourselves. So Senator REED, Congressman MCGOVERN, and I went there.

Truly, there were 1,500 people in this compound.

The buhpati, as he is called, the mayor, the person who runs the city, had cut off the water. It was very hot, and he had cut off the water to these people. Who were these people? These were people who had been driven from their homes because the militias feared that they were going to vote for independence. Men, women, children, families, all gathered in this churchyard, had their water cut off.

Then the U.N. tried to get through a truckload of food. They wouldn't even let the food get through. The two priests who were protecting these people were Father Hilario and Father Francisco. This is a picture I had taken with them at the church compound. Father Hilario and Father Francisco, two of the nicest individuals you ever want to meet, both Catholic priests, only doing their job protecting people. They weren't speaking out for independence or anything like that. They were simply doing their job as the parish priests.

I learned this morning that yesterday the militias entered their house, took these two priests out and killed them, 2 weeks after we saw them. Unarmed, they were. Militias took them out and brutally killed them. That is what is happening in East Timor today.

We have a responsibility that goes back 23 years. When Indonesia first invaded East Timor in 1975, the United States took the position that we supported Indonesia. I was at that time a Member of the House of Representatives and, with other Members of the House, introduced a resolution condemning Indonesia for their brutal invasion of East Timor at that time. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands, almost 200,000 East Timorese lost their lives to the brutality of the Indonesian military. Through it all, they maintained their cohesion. They maintained their peaceful resistance. On August 30, 98 percent of the registered voters came out to vote in the face of machetes and bullets and threats. Despite being driven from their homes and having their homes burned down; they voted 78 percent for independence.

If we stand for anything, we should stand for the right of self-determination and independence when people exercise their right to vote. That is what we stand for as Americans. That is our philosophical foundation.

It was a free and fair vote, even though the militias were intimidating people.

I ask unanimous consent for 5 more minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. HARKIN. It seems to me that for the bastion of democracy, those of us in this country who believe so deeply in the right of the secret ballot, the right of people to be able to vote for their futures, to see this happen and for us to stand back and do nothing is shameful. We ought to be on the front lines of asking the United Nations to go in there with a peacekeeping force now.

I had asked the United Nations and the Clinton administration to put pressure on the U.N. to send a peacekeeping force to East Timor on the day of the vote or the day after the vote. If we had done that, we wouldn't have had these killings that have gone on. We could have had a little bit of preventive action. But, no, we didn't do it. We said we had to wait until the Indonesians asked us to come in. It is clear that the Government of Indonesia is not going to keep law and order there. It is clear from every eyewitness account we have that the Indonesian military is behind the militias and their brutal attacks on innocent civilians. So now it is incumbent upon the world community to answer the call to go to East Timor to restore peace and stability.

I will shortly be introducing a resolution to that effect that basically congratulates the East Timorese on their vote, condemns the violence, and calls upon our U.N. Ambassador to seek the United Nations Security Council's immediate authorization to deploy an international force to East Timor to restore peace and stability.

Already Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Philippines have all said they will contribute forces. Today, we learned that China has basically said they are open minded on this issue. Well, now is the time for the United States to take some leadership.

I call upon President Clinton to be forceful in calling upon the United Nations to send an international force immediately to East Timor, and we should contribute to this force. We should not shirk our responsibilities in this matter either.

To do nothing now would be to fly in the face of everything for which this great country stands for. We were one of those actively encouraging the Indonesians, the Portuguese, the United Nations, and the East Timorese to reach this agreement to allow this vote. We supplied funding and observers for the vote. The Carter Center was actively involved in East Timor, ensuring it would be a free and fair vote and counting the ballots. If we now walk away, if we now say, well, we can't do anything unless Indonesia invites us in to a place that they annexed with brutal force 23 years ago then we are less of an America than we have been in the past.

I am deeply saddened by the death of these two priests. I didn't know them well, but I spent some time with them, spoke with them, asked them about what they were doing, asked them about the conditions in their parishes. They were gentle souls just doing their job as shepherds of their flocks, yet taken out and brutally murdered.

Lastly, I understand that by tomorrow, the United Nations will remove the 212 people they have there now. I am again asking the President to call upon Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, to not pull out our U.N. people who are there. If we do, we will have no eyes and no ears; we will have no presence at all in East Timor, and the killing rampages we have witnessed over the last several days will only mushroom.

I hope the U.N. will keep its people there. I hope the United States will put every ounce of our leadership behind the United Nations to send an international force there within the next 48 hours. If we do, we can save thousands of lives. And we can restore peace and stability. We can tell the rest of the world that when you have a free and fair and open election under U.N. auspices, we are not going to let thugs and murderers take it away from you. That is the kind of America I think we ought to be.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The time of the Senator has expired.

Return to Congressional Action on East Timor: Statements, etc.

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