Subject: CNS: Belo urges postponement of independence vote
Date: Fri, 04 Jun 1999 17:41:06 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

ETIMOR-BELO Jun-2-1999 (550 words) xxxi

East Timorese bishop urges postponement of independence vote By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Dili, East Timor, said the Aug. 8 vote on the territory's independence from Indonesia should be postponed unless peace is quickly restored to the island.

The bishop said the current Indonesian military strategy is to eliminate anyone who might vote for independence.

''They burn the houses, they kill the young people. As a result, the numbers of people supporting independence are diminishing. There is no working justice system, while houses are being burned and people are being killed in Dili; there is not even an attempt to bring anyone to justice, to imprison those responsible or anything else,'' he said.

''Everyone is very afraid. The resistance is not appearing in Dili anymore, because it is too dangerous, there is no security. Under these circumstances, you cannot have a referendum in peace and freedom,'' he said.

The bishop made his remarks in a statement released May 31 through his biographer, Arnold Kohen, who is a consultant for the International Justice and Peace Office of the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington.

Bishop Belo said it was unlikely that a free and fair vote could be held under current conditions.

He said Indonesian President B.J. Habibie and the armed forces commander must be told to disarm the pro-integration militias before the referendum can go forward.

''Otherwise it is better not to have a referendum,'' he said.

''The Indonesians know that they will lose the referendum if people are free to vote. This is why they have developed a strategy to make a free vote impossible,'' he said.

Bishop Belo also accused Indonesia of infiltrating militia groups with more than 1,000 soldiers and secret service agents in an attempt to disrupt the upcoming election. He called for the immediate deployment of an international military force.

''They are infiltrating everywhere,'' he said of the Indonesian agents.

''When you hear about militia attacks, they (Indonesians) are always part of the militia groups. They push the militias, they give the orders and they themselves shoot,'' Bishop Belo said.

''It is necessary that there be an international military force here. A police force by itself is insufficient. This military force must be present in all villages and administrative posts,'' the bishop emphasized.

On May 16 Bishop Belo promised to remain neutral on the vote, but he has also cautioned that violence will continue until more U.N. security units are brought in.

Five western districts are already under the control of the military, including Liquisa, Ainaro, Ermera, Oecussi, the bishop said.

In the city of Aileu ''the entire population is being threatened with death unless they vote autonomy'' within Indonesia, as opposed to independence, he said. ''People are being told that either they vote for autonomy or they will be killed.''

He also accused Indonesia of withholding salaries of civil servants until they have signed documents stating their support of integration with Indonesia.

Indonesia invaded East Timor, a predominantly Catholic former Portuguese colony, in 1975 and unilaterally annexed it the following year.

Neither the Vatican nor the United Nations has recognized the annexation, and most countries still view Portugal as territorial administrator.

After 23 years of a military campaign against the East Timorese guerrilla separatist movement, Indonesia agreed in May to hold a U.N.-monitored ballot that will determine independence or continued integration.

Back to June Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99