TRAGEDY IN EAST TIMOR
HON. LUIS V. GUTIERREZ (Extensions of Remarks - September 29, 1999)
[Page: E1987] ---
HON. LUIS V. GUTIERREZ OF ILLINOIS IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 1999
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Mr. Speaker, on September 4, 1999, U.N. officials announced the results of a U.N.-sponsored referendum of voters in East Timor. 78.5 percent of the voters rejected an Indonesian government plan for East Timor to receive a special autonomy arrangement within Indonesia. This result, which effectively called for independence, sparked a rampage of killings and other acts of terror by East Timorese paramilitary groups supported by the Indonesian Army.
One of my constituents, Mr. Michael Rhoades of Chicago, went to East Timor to serve as a United Nations accredited observer of the August 30 referendum. He participated with the International Federation for East Timor (IFET) Observer Project as a photojournalist. I submit a copy of a recent letter from Mr. Rhoades dated September 25, 1999. He was an eyewitness to the horrors that took place in East Timor.
I urge my colleagues to cosponsor H.R. 2809. This bill will impose an immediate suspension of assistance to Indonesia until the results of the August 30, 1999, vote in East Timor have been implemented.
I send this letter out of desperation, writing from Australia where I've been for a few weeks courtesy of an Australian Air Force evacuation flight from Dili, East Timor. Two weeks ago I flew from Darwin (our evac destination) to Sydney, sitting frustrated and sad now as I wait to fly back into Timor. It is difficult to write this because there is so much to say, because these have been some of the most heartbreaking weeks of my life, feeling absolutely powerless as politicians bow and curtsy through shallow condemnations of the Indonesian massacre in East Timor.
I was in East Timor as an election/human rights observer with the International Federation for East Timor's observer project (IFET-OP). We were (I add proudly) the largest observer group in Timor, at one time numbering almost 150 participants with small teams dispersed in villages and cities throughout the country. Our mandate was to document human rights abuses and election rule violations during the August 30 popular consultation, as well as the periods immediately preceding and following.
During my stay in Timor I saw time and again the blurring between ranks of military, police, and militia personnel. I heard stories from refugees sheltering in churches who'd been told that if the vote was for independence their village would be slaughtered. I heard soldiers scream to a family cowering behind the front wall of their home that they'd be back to kill them in the night. I helped try to save a young man (younger than me) dying from machete wounds, ghost-walking bleeding from his shoulder, arms, and gut--bone and intestines pressing through split flesh.
I saw this younger-than-me man wrapped in soaked-through bloody sheets as we helped him into our truck. He remained absolutely silent while his sister and father screamed his pain and part of our team sped him off to the only medical clinic still functioning in Dili. I saw him (in-head) as we dodged military and militia patrols trying to get (quick and nonchalant) back home. I see him as I write this letter, I see him as I remember hearing that he was dead.
I see this younger-than-me man as Indonesia stalls for time and our leaders huff and sigh for the cameras and their respective constituencies. I see this dead boy, and my friends left behind in East Timor.
I fear (am terrified) for the life of Gaspar da Costa whose house we rented in the mountain village of Maubisse, and who went behind that house to quietly cry while we went inside to hurridly pack after telling him we were evacuating, leaving his town for the ``safety'' of Dili; ``and what happens to my family?'' he asked as we swapped our integrity for our skins. And I snapped pictures of Gaspar and his brothers and wife and daughters to document in advance the barbarism of the Indonesian government, preferring to photograph the da Costas while still alive, hugging Gaspar with everything in me when we left, feeling (though not wanting to believe) that I was hugging a dead man.
And through the cacophony of U.N. sabre rattling I hear Father Mateus, the priest of Maubisse, who assured me that he was not a hero but who absolutely was. And though the East Timorese soil is wet with the blood of thousands far braver than me, I am particularly in awe of Father Mateus who sheltered refugees in his church and who stood up to the local police and militia heads, saying boldly that he did not trust them because he had been shown time after time that he could not trust them. The last I heard of Father Mateus, his name was at the top of the local militia deathlist. Selfless to the point of bullheadedness Father Mateus declared that there had not yet been a priest martyred for East Timor (because at the time there had not been) and he was prepared to be the first.
I remember the horror in the Maubisse polling center the afternoon of the vote when certain militia members and military officers had whispered to the local Timorese polling staff that they'd kill them all in their homes that night. I remember that they slept in the polling center (Maubisse's schoolhouse) on the floor with no blankets, using deconstructed cardboard voting booths as mats. I remember leaving them there when we went home to dinner and a bed at Gaspar's because we were forbidden by our mandate to stay with them through the night. I remember walking up to the school at sunrise the next morning as we'd promised, to see if all was ok, and finding everyone across the road in the church for morning mass. I remember the terror still sharp in their faces as mass finished and they dragged along on tired-of-it feet back to their refuge in the school. And there were the folks who wound their way round to us between the mass and their refuge and shook our hands because they mistakenly thought that we had made the vote possible when it was them--the East Timorese--coming out to vote in mind-blowing numbers that made the vote. And there was the old woman who came up to us and shook our hands and kissed them and said, ``friend.''
I remember my friend Meta who shouted my name and came up to hug me when our team walked through the gates of IFET's Dili HQ after we'd evacuated Maubisse. Meta who was so proud to introduce me to his father. Meta my friend, who is running; who went to hide in the hills. Who I hope with every part of me is still alive, as I do Gaspar and his family and Father Mateus and the brothers and refugees in his church ..... and here I feel like I'm being selective and truly I wish that no Timorese were being slaughtered. But that now is an impossibility, estimates put the death toll in the high thousands or tens of thousands and the longer that we U.N. member states stall, the greater the number of East Timorese being massacred or forcibly ``relocated'' and the greater our collective shame.
When I originally drafted this letter for a few small U.S. newsweeklies, Indonesia had just conceded to allow a U.N. peacekeeping force into East Timor. I, among others, did not trust them. They would stall for time. And in that time there would be more slaughter. It is a week later now and much of this U.N. force is in the region, working with
an Indonesian military which continues to be uncooperative and brutal. Airdropped food is providing a minimum of sustenance for hundreds of thousands of refugees slowly starving in the Timorese hills, but the Jakarta-driven massacre continues as stories of mass-killings during the past few weeks come forward through eye-witness testimonials, as refugees forced into West Timorese camps are terrorized and murdered, and as the militia masses its Indonesian-military-backed forces along the western side of the Indonesia-East Timor border (as it now can be called). The Australian media reported that Interfet peacekeepers chased three TNI trucks (TNI being the acronym of the Indonesian military) through the streets of Dili Thursday, TNI trucks which were loaded with troops who fired three bursts from automatic rifles, trying hard to shatter any remnants of the peace which they were tasked with restoring.
Originally this letter was a call to action. Now, I hope, it acts as a call to continue that action. Unflinching vigilance and continued humanitarian action will be absolute necessities in the coming months, not only in East Timor but also for the hundreds of thousands of refugees forced into military convoys or onto boats headed to West Timor and other Indonesian islands. (Recent reports speak of a near total absences of males between the ages of 16 and 50 in the refugee camps and convoys.) And at home in the United States there are bills in both the House and the Senate (HR. 2809 and S. 1568) which would `lock-in' the temporary bans on military and financial assistance to Indonesia. These bills also set conditions (including a safe and secure environment in East Timor, full humanitarian assistance, and the return of all refugees), which Indonesia must meet before this assistance can resume. I write this letter in the hopes that you will read it and be incensed, that you will read it and want to pressure our government to act, to continue to act. The United States government carries much of the blame for this slaughter in East Timor, as they have sat by for twenty-four years while Indonesia--third largest global market for U.S. weapons and consumer goods; home to a bargain-priced, easily-exploitable labor force; and our viciously anti-Communist Cold War ally--carried out its sadistic policies against the East Timorese population, as they (the U.S. government--and we citizens by extension) turned a blind-eye and an approving nod to the invasion. I write this letter as a plea, an agonized cry from across the Pacific, to ask that you pressure our representatives in Washington to act. Please pressure them to act.
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