|Subject: CNS: E Timor should be priority
for Washington, says biographer
East Timor should be priority for Washington, says biographer By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Protecting East Timor from Indonesia and further militia violence should be a priority of the Bush administration, said the biographer of Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of East Timor.
The biographer, Arnold Kohen, who is also a consultant to the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, said President Bush should send a clear signal to Indonesia that any attempts to disrupt East Timor's fledgling democracy will not be tolerated.
``The Bush administration needs to send a signal to the Indonesian military that the United States is not walking away from East Timor,'' Kohen said during a May 31 speech at a Washington bookstore.
Kohen, who was in East Timor in March, noted that the United States is operating a small diplomatic mission in East Timor and providing a nominal amount of development aid. But the Bush administration's commitment to the mission and providing long-term aid was not clear, he said.
Current political turmoil in Indonesia was of particular concern for East Timor watchers, Kohen said. The likely successor to Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, should he be ousted as a result of a corruption scandal, would be Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has aligned herself with hard-line military leaders.
``While Megawati has refused to meet with East Timorese leaders, she embraces some of the militia leaders who were responsible for most of the violence in 1999'' in East Timor, Kohen said.
``If a new president comes in and doesn't receive strong signals from Washington that East Timor is an important issue for the United States, there could be trouble,'' Kohen said.
Saying that the Catholic Church was East Timor's only constituency, Kohen appealed to the bishops of the United States to influence the Bush administration on East Timor.
``The Bush administration has made it clear that they are pursuing a Catholic strategy. If they receive strong signals from the U.S. bishops that East Timor should be protected, maybe they'll listen,'' he said.
Kohen said East Timor was slowly rebuilding from the destruction that followed the 1999 U.N.-sponsored referendum on independence from Indonesia.
East Timor descended into anarchy and violence in the weeks following the referendum. More than 1,000 people were reported killed, most of the island's infrastructure was destroyed by retreating Indonesian troops and militias, and about 120,000 East Timorese were forced into neighboring West Timor.
About 60,000 East Timorese remain in militia-controlled refugee camps in West Timor, Kohen said.
``About one-third of these would indeed like to go back, but are being terrorized into staying,'' Kohen said.
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