Subject: Bishop Belo's Letter to President Bush

Bishop Belo's Letter to President Bush

The Florida Catholic, (Orlando, Florida), 
February 22, 2001

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

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. USA

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 Timormust 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

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