|Subject: Sunday Tribune: Irish Bishop returns from E
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 09:35:52 -0400
From: "East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Source: The Sunday Tribune Date: 11th July 199
TROCAIRE CHAIRMAN BISHOP JOHN KIRBY HAS JUST RETURNED FROM A SOLIDARITY VISIT TO EAST TIMOR ON BEHALF OF THE BISHOPS OF IRELAND. HE WRITES ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES THERE AND HIS DOUBTS ABOUT A FREE AND FAIR BALLOT ON THE COUNTRY'S FUTURE.
"All we want is a future"-East Timor student.
AFTER A brutal occupation that has spanned 25 years leading to the deaths of over 250,000 people, East Timor finally seemed to have a chance to decide on its own future. On May 5th 1999 an agreement was decided between Portugal, Indonesia and the UN to all allow the consultation process with the people on the political future of East Timor.
However, despite this agreement to hold a ballot,everyone I met in East Timor including Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Carlos Belo, said that nothing has changed. In fact things have detoriated despite the visible presence of the UN.
Civilian militias, supported and armed by Indonesia, are engaged in a systematic campaign to stop the ballot being held next month. I heard stories of widespread intimidation ranging from verbal intimidation ranging from verbal threats and warnings to physical assault and murder. The UN itself has come under attack and has been regularly forced to withdraw its personnel to the relative calm of the capital Dili.
Today no one is safe in East Timor. Almost everyone I met had a story to tell. One teacher spoke about teenagers finishing their final exams in secondary school collect their certificates. She said that every family in East Timor has lost at least one close relative.
Only last Sunday, an aid convoy bringing much needed relief to thousands of internally displaced people was attacked by a militia group armed with rocks, machetes and guns. A Trocaire partner organisation, Caritas East Timor, was part of the convoy and witnessed the brutal attack. One staff member was injured but was luckier than the others who are still unaccounted for.
What was truly frightening about visiting East Timor was to hear how well orchestrated the campaign of terror has been. Since last year, there has been a build-up of district level civilian militias who are backed by the Indonesian army.
Much needed resources for health and education are being diverted and invested in this campaign of terror undermining the consultation process. One school I visited was facing the prospect of not being able to reopened after the summer holidays because teacher salaries and student subsidies were being diverted to the military.
When I visited the town of Baucau, 70 kilometres to the east of Dili, Bishop Nascimento explained that the most acute impact of this situation is on health. Vital medical staff such as doctors and nurses were fleeing the country to escape the insecurity. Baucau has a population of 94,000 living in the town and hinterland. In an area where malaria and TB are rampant, the people have been left with only one government paid doctor.
Indonesia has a deliberate policy of making the people weak and dependent. Most of the professionals in East Timor including doctors, nurses and teachers are from Indonesia. Before the recent escalation in violence, only 18 of the 197 doctors in East Timor were Timorese and only 3% of teachers were East Timorese.
This policy is particularly apparent in the agricultural sector. The territory is dependent on Indonesia and its sea lanes for a supply of rice-the staple diet of the population. During my visit to Bishop Nascimento informed me that there is one month's supply of rice in the territory at the given time. To cut off these supply routes is a powerful threat hanging over the East Timorese population.
With teachers fleeing the country, 80% of the the 75 schools in the diocese of Baucau will not open at the beginning of the school year next month. The teachers are acutely aware that leaving so many young men unoccupied will put their lives at risk as many will be drawn into politics and become the target of the militias and the military.
My visit to East Timor was an act of solidarity from the Irish Church with Bishop Belo and the Catholic Church there. The people of East Timor have placed great in the church which is well respected voice for the oppressed and has struggled to promote peace through dialogue. The church is the only institution in East Timor where people gather in large numbers, offering physical protection from persecution, negotiations with the authorities and advocacy of human rights and values.
Priest and nuns have continually offered shelter and protection to the oppressed and more recently provided humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced. The church has played and will continue to play a central role in East Timor. Unfortunately though there are still many people who have taken refuge in the mountains and no organisation can reach them.
During my visit, the glaring weakness in the UN brokered agreement, which established the consultation process and ballot were starkly revealed. The deal gives responsibility for security to the Indonesians. Every Timorese I met despaired of this decision. For them, it was like the fox looking after the chickens.
Nobody believes the military will live up to its promises and implement the agreement. The government there is presenting one face to the international community while continuing to direct and support the militias undermining any hope of a free and fair ballot.
I leave East Timor very conscious that this is a critical time for the country. There must be a UN peacekeeping force deployed in the territory to ensure the peace and security of the people before the ballot on the political future of East Timor. This means that the UN must be presented, both monitoring and military personnel in all 13 districts and 63 sub-districts of East Timor to ensure the people feel secure enough to vote freely.
I feel that the international community has abandoned East Timor since the 1975 invasion. International support now for a free and fair ballot at this stage will not make up for past neglect, but will restore confidence in the democratic process and the rule of law. We must insist that Indonesia lives up to its obligations. The military must be disarmed before the ballot takes place and humanitarian organisations must have access to the internally displaced to provide for their basic needs.
The consultation which was initially scheduled for 8th August has already been delayed until 22 August. The ballot will have to be postponed if the atrocities continue.
I hope one day to return to a free East Timor. In the midst of all this terror and atrocity. I was continuously inspired by the courage, resilience and warmth of the East Timorese people. At this time we must walk in solidarity with them.
East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign Suite 16, Dame House 24-26 Dame Street Dublin 2 Telephone 00 353 1 671 9207/ 677 0253 /623 3148 Mobile 087 286 0122 Fax 00 353 1 671 9207 Timorese Community in Ireland 00 353 1 453 1462 web http://indigo.ie/~etisc/ Offices in: Dublin Belfast Laois Galway Claremorris