|Congressional Letter to Albright on East Timor Massacre
April 12, 1999
The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Dear Secretary Albright:
Events have once again forced us to share with you our grave concerns over the fate of the people of East Timor. Within the last few days ongoing paramilitary violence has escalated to crisis levels. In one town alone, Mauboke, west of the capital of Dili, a number of civilians have been reported killed by paramilitary mercenaries backed up by the Indonesian military (ABRI). Bishop Belo reported on Wednesday morning that some 25 civilians have been killed in a church in Liquica.
It is both tragic and unnecessary that the situation has reached such crisis proportions that East Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao felt compelled to announce an end to the months-old unilateral cease fire by Falintil (the East Timorese resistance army) to allow his people to defend themselves against attacks. The U.S. can and must use its influence to help bring about an end to this horrible and escalating violence, by insisting that the Indonesian government shut down the paramilitaries and end their actions immediately.
Madame Secretary, as you know, the state of the U.N.-sponsored talks between Indonesia and Portugal have yielded tremendous progress since last summer, when President Habibie first announced a proposed autonomy plan for East Timor. On January 27 of this year, he further surprised the international community when he acknowledged demands for self-determination by offering a "second option," that will allow the people of East Timor their independence if the majority reject the autonomy plan. It is widely believed that after 23 years of brutal military occupation, the East Timorese people, if allowed a free and fair vote, would do just that. In March, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Portugal and Indonesia agreed that there would not be a true referendum, but a U.N.-organized ballot to determine rejection or acceptance of the autonomy plan.
We believe this progress is now in jeopardy due in large part to hesitation in the international community to effectively pressure the Indonesian government to take the simple but necessary steps needed to end the violence in East Timor.
You laid out these steps after your recent meetings in Jakarta, where you spoke with both government officials and Xanana Gusmao. At that time you called on the Indonesian government to halt ABRI's distribution of weapons to the militias, and to take back those weapons already distributed. You also expressed support for an international presence in East Timor, in advance of a negotiated agreement, to reduce violence. We applaud these sound recommendations, but they need to be implemented.
Within the last week, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas reiterated the Indonesian government's refusal to allow U.N. or other permanent international monitors access to East Timor, claiming that they would "cause" unrest. Late last week, Major-General Adam Damiri stated that ABRI is still capable of maintaining security in the territory, despite evidence to the contrary. While the Gadapaksi, Halilintar, Mahidi, Besi Merah Putih, and other paramilitary groups continue to terrorize civilians, unconstrained, Xanana Gusmao and Bishops Belo and Nascimento continue to struggle for reconciliation with the paramilitary leaders. These units are not only reportedly supported by the Indonesian military, it appears they will be threatened by it if they cease to perform their horrific duties. Recently appointed Portuguese envoy to Indonesia Ana Gomes reports that "the situation is extremely serious. [The ballot] will be impossible because at this moment people will not feel free to vote." And UN official Francesc Vendrell has noted that "a UN electoral or political presence will be required in East Timor very soon." In addition, Xanana Gusmao has stated that if the UN goes into East Timor, he would resume a cease fire.
Since late November of last year when many civilians were killed in Alas and thousands fled to more populated areas from along the West Timor border, human rights conditions in East Timor have severely deteriorated. Civilians are killed, beaten and tortured every day, and over 10,000 internal refugees seek sanctuary in private homes, churches and schools in Dili, Suai and other areas, aggravating a shortage of food, medicine and medical personnel. Until now, neither the civilian population nor Falintil have retaliated. There is a window of opportunity to stem off further violence, but it may close soon. There is still time for the international community, particularly the United States, to help to stop the violence.
In light of Assistant Secretary Stanley Roth's trip to the region this week, we urge the administration to insist that the Indonesian government take the following steps:
* Disarm and disband the paramilitaries
* Allow International monitors, whose presence will help alleviate tensions, into East Timor.
Your speedy action on this critical matter is urgently needed and will be much appreciated.