BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor  home February news

"the presence of the international peace-keeping force under U.N. auspices will be badly needed in East Timor for the foreseeable future to guard against border attacks by militias and Indonesian forces, and to ensure that these forces do not unleash further violence or undertake other actions to prevent East Timor from recovering. My people have been traumatized by the conflict of the past 25 years, and urgently need to live in peace." Bishop Belo

The Florida Catholic

Orlando, Florida

February 22, 2001

Bishop: 'Mr. President, please continue peacekeeping efforts'

FC Editor's note: The following is a Feb. 12 letter written by Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Dili, East Timor, to President George W. Bush. Bishop Belo was awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, the only Catholic bishop ever to receive the honor.

His Excellency
Mr. George W. Bush

The White House
Washington, D.C.

My best greetings

Allow me to congratulate you on your assumption of office. I wish you well, especially as I understand that you are a religious man of strong moral convictions and an individual of compassion. Mr. President, you, more than most, are in a position to be a force for good in the world. Here I would make a few suggestions about the way in which the power and prestige of the United States may be directed that would be of great help to my people in East Timor.

You are no doubt aware of the untold suffering East Timor has experienced since 1975, and it has taken all the spiritual strength that my God-fearing people have been able to summon. In the first five years after Indonesian troops invaded, about one third of our original population of less than 700,000 -- perhaps more than 200,000 people -- perished from the combined effects of Indonesia's occupation. A heartbreaking situation continued over the years. In 1991, hundreds of East Timorese, primarily young people, were
massacred after Indonesians troops opened fire in the Santa Cruz cemetery in our capital city. We were hit by still more tragedy in 1999. First, elements of the Indonesian army and its local militia cohorts killed many East Timorese supporters of independence in the months leading up to a United Nations-sponsored election held on Aug. 30, 1999. Then, when nearly 80 percent of the registered voters of East Timor opted for independence after nearly a quarter-century of Indonesian occupation, army and militias unleashed an orgy of violence. Before and after the ballot, thousands were killed, including priests, nuns and seminarians, and many homes and
buildings were razed.

International peace keepers arrived on Sept. 20, 1999, but only after weeks of wanton destruction, displacement and murder. More than 250,000 East Timorese were moved by army and militias across the border into Indonesian territory in West Timor. The peace keepers were our salvation: without them, East Timor faced obliteration. Soon after the arrival of the peace keepers, the Indonesian military withdrew its troops from East Timor, and a United Nations administration later arrived to create a transition to independence. At the time, it was widely reported that the Pentagon used its influence with the Indonesian military to help bring about withdrawal of its forces from East Timor, something that for more than two decades was said to be impossible.

I was encouraged to learn that you spoke favorably of the international peace keeping effort in East Timor during one of the debates in your campaign to become President of the United States. Your statement on this matter strongly implied that you would support the continuation of this mission. In fact, the presence of the international peace-keeping force under U.N. auspices will be badly needed in East Timor for the foreseeable future to guard against border attacks by militias and Indonesian forces, and to ensure that these forces do not unleash further violence or undertake other actions to prevent East Timor from recovering.

My people have been traumatized by the conflict of the past 25 years, and urgently need to live in peace. But they face terrible problems. At least 65,000, and possibly as many as 100,000 East Timorese, remain in refugee camps in West Timor. With the tragic killings last September of three U.N. refugee workers, including Carlos Caceres, an American with family members in Florida, by a militia mob that could not have operated without the connivance of Indonesian army elements that carried out the murders as
Indonesian security forces stood by, the situation of the refugees in West Timor returned to world notice. Because of the killing of their colleagues, U.N. aid workers and others were forced to depart, leaving the refugees without protection: they have effectively been held hostage by the militias that have terrorized the camps during the past year. In the absence of international aid workers, the East Timorese in the camps in West Timor are more alone than ever, as one of the few international agencies still operating in West Timor, the Jesuit Refugee Service (which has done remarkable work under extremely difficult conditions) has made clear.

Some in the refugee camps in West Timor are members of militias who participated in the destruction of East Timor, in addition to their family members and others who once worked for the former Indonesian administration in East Timor: Because of these complicated circumstances, some in the refugee camps want to remain in Indonesia. However, others wish to return home to East Timor, but have been subjected to intimidation and other forms of pressure. Some are in receipt of Indonesian pensions that under present rules they would forfeit if they return to East Timor. The refugees in West Timor should be allowed to choose whether or not they wish to return home without further delay, and must be allowed to receive the pensions they have earned wherever they choose to live.

In West Timor, the militia continue to hold sway in the refugee camps. They are often to be sighted in villages close to the border with East Timor. And they still occasionally launch attacks across the border After repeated promises that the militias would be disarmed, this has not happened. It is time for the militias to be disarmed and disbanded. The Indonesian army and their cohorts must end violence against East Timor and the refugees in West Timor once and for all. Any campaign of subversion against East Timor must end. At the same time, most of East Timor's infrastructure, destroyed by departing Indonesian troops and their local allies in late 1999, has yet to be rebuilt. We hope that reconstruction proceeds more rapidly, and that East Timorese, who now have very high rate of unemployment, are engaged in this work, so that our community may truly regenerate. And bread alone is not
sufficient: if there is to be reconciliation, we must have an orderly way for our people to find justice for the terrible crimes that have been committed against them.

Efforts by the United States could help in the search for solutions. I look forward to meeting with you in Washington in the near future. In the meantime, I will remember you in my prayers. I wish you Godspeed in the enormous tasks that you face.

Dili, East Timor, February 12th 2001

Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, S.D.B.
Bishop of Dili, East Timor

See these items on militias, refugees and displaced persons :

Mar 8 FEER: Searching For Closure: the fate of those missing in ETimor  Article
"In the meantime, the Missing Persons Unit is struggling to make itself better known in East Timor. Its three officials are fanning out through East Timor to encourage local government administrators and village leaders to gather material to plug into the database. In early February, the unit received a major boost when Bishop Belo, the Catholic church's leading official in East Timor, endorsed its work and requested that all church officials in East Timor cooperate." Stewart Taggart

Feb 26 IHRN Urges Continued Ban on U.S. Aid to Indonesian Military  Release
"The Indonesian military and government must respect international law in its actions. In addition, the U.S. government should work to guarantee the safety of, and assistance to, the nearly one million refugees and displaced persons who have fled violence across the archipelago." Octovianus Mote, a West Papuan journalist

Feb 19 NTTX: Indon reporters: At this time Timor Lorosae is a nation that's safe  News from WTimor
"The conclusion is that Timor Lorosae is now a safe country, especially in Dili, and not some joke so that there is no reason for Timor Lorosae people in refuge to be afraid to go home except for those whose hands are "bloody," because their fear really exists inside themselves wherever they go." NTT Ekspres

Feb 12 ETO: Political Movements and Parties: pro-autonomy  Report
"The Indonesian Government often claims that it has disarmed the militias and that it wants normal relations with independent East Timor, but its actions and statements, as outlined [below], show that these intentions are either not felt by all concerned or simply not genuine."  East Timor Observatory

Feb 12 OTL: Movimentos e partidos Pró autonomia: evolução desde o referendo  Report
"O Governo indonésio proclama frequentemente que desarmou as milícias e que quer manter relações normais com Timor Leste independente; os actos e declarações acima reportados mostram que este sentimento está ainda longe de ser geral ou autêntico." Observatório Timor Leste

Jan 27 ETAN/IHRN: Rights groups urge continued suspension of military ties with Indonesia  Release
"Approximately 100,000 East Timorese remain virtual hostages in West Timor, 15 months after TNI and its paramilitaries forced them there. Removing the TNI-supported militias from squalid refugee camps would allow many to return to East Timor, which is expected to become independent within a year. The TNI has been unwilling or unable to disarm the militia or to separate them from the refugees." East Timor Action Network/ U.S. (ETAN) & Indonesia Human Rights Network (IHRN)

Jan 20 OTL: Refugiados: Quantos são? Quantos querem voltar para Timor Leste?  Report
"Mais de 250.000 habitantes de Timor Leste, a maioria timorenses mas também um número indeterminado de indonésios, ‘refugiaram-se’ ou foram empurrados para a Indonésia após o voto a favor da independência. Quinze meses depois, entre cerca de 157.585 e 60.000 continuam em Timor Ocidental. Quanto mais elevado é o número, maiores são as ajudas (alimentares e monetárias), e isso interessa aos intermediários, milícias, militares e outros dirigentes civis, locais e nacionais. ... Interesses políticos e económicos impedem uma contagem credível dos refugiados. As autoridades indonésias aceitaram a presença das agências humanitárias internacionais para receber as ajudas, mas pouco fizeram para o desmantelamento das milícias, que continuam a controlar os refugiados e os regressos, em estreita colaboração com militares indonésios e partilhando com eles os direitos de passagem exigidos aos que querem voltar para Timor Leste." Observatório Timor Leste

Jan 20 ETO: Refugees: How many? How many want to return to East Timor?  Report
"In the course of the violent backlash that swept East Timor after the vote for independence, over 250,000 of its inhabitants – mostly Timorese but also a number of Indonesians - were either forced across the border into Indonesian West Timor, or fled there for safety. 15 months later, between 157,585 and 60,000 are still in West Timor. The greater their number, the more food and financial aid donated. This benefits the intermediaries, who include militias, military and civilian authorities, both local and national. ... Political and financial interests are getting in the way of a credible census of the refugees. While the Indonesian authorities agreed to the presence of international humanitarian agencies in order to receive their aid, Jakarta has done little to disband the militia gangs that still control the refugees and repatriation, and collaborate closely with Indonesian soldiers, sharing with them the rights of passage demanded from those wishing to return to East Timor." East Timor Observatory

Jan 6 AFP: Bishops say many East Timorese refugees want to go home  News
"We have the impression that many of the refugees want to go back to East Timor ... We reaffirm our support for efforts by the Indonesian government to provide security for the refugees, to facilitate their return and to monitor anyone who is exploiting the refugees' suffering for their political and economic benefits" joint statement by Timorese Bishops Carlos Ximenes Belo, Mario do Carmo Lemos, [ETimor] Petrus Turang and Pain Ratu [WTimor]

Dec 7 2000 CapT: Village Women of East Timor have great hope
"Nearly everyone in Ainaro was forced from their homes following the referendum. Many fled to the mountains while others were coerced into refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor. Those who fled took no more than the clothes on their backs, blankets, tarps and cooking pots. In Ainaro, militia members looted and burned, leaving nothing behind. Women were specifically targeted in many ways -- they were separated from husbands and sons, harassed and often raped. In the refugee camps -- which are mostly populated by women and children -- living conditions are terrible, with food shortages, poor sanitation and rampant disease." Jen Laakso

Dec 2 2000 CCET: Christian churches call for justice and peace in East Timor  Statement
"Since the beginning of the year [2000] many of the refugees forcibly expelled from East to West Timor, have returned. However, according to the United Nations, over 100,000 remain in refugee camps, many in situations of squalor and fear. Many families have been separated, and there are reports of children being taken to orphanages in Java and elsewhere. Credible accounts refer to ongoing intimidation from elements of the militia forces which devastated the physical infrastructure of East Timor last year. ...  Recalling UN Security Council Resolutions 1272 and 1319, we call for the immediate and safe return or resettlement of these refugees ... In order to expedite this process, * We urge the disarmament and separation of militia elements from the refugees in the camps. * We call for children, who have been separated from their families to be reunited with their parents." Christian Consultation on East Timor (statement signed by 36 Christian organisations and churches)

Sept 27 1999 Noam Chomsky: East Timor Retrospective - An overview and lessons  Analysis
"Braving violence and threats, almost the entire population voted, many emerging from hiding to do so. Close to 80% chose independence. Then followed the latest phase of TNI atrocities in an effort to reverse the outcome by slaughter and expulsion, while reducing much of the country to ashes. Within two weeks more than 10,000 might have been killed, according to Bishop Carlos Filipe Belo, the Nobel Peace laureate who was driven from his country under a hail of bullets, his house burned down and the refugees sheltering there dispatched to an uncertain fate." Noam Chomsky

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