WASHINGTON (September 7, 1999) -- "Our worst fears have become reality in East Timor," according to the Chairman of the Bishops' International Policy Committee, who today called on the U.S. government and the international community to act immediately to end the escalating violence in the tiny enclave in eastern Indonesia.
"The U.S. government must act now, including using appropriate and strong sanctions if necessary, to convince the Indonesian government to meet its responsibilities to stop the violence and ensure that the wishes of the East Timorese are respected," said Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark. "If Indonesia is not willing or able immediately to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of East Timor, then the United States should support the prompt deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force to establish order, protect the innocent, and ensure a peaceful transition to independence."
The territory of East Timor has been plunged into violence since Indonesian President Habibie announced in late January that the people would be given a choice between autonomy and independence. Bands of anti-independence militias rampaging throughout the territory, reportedly with the support -- or at least the acquiescence -- of the Indonesian military, have intensified their terror campaign since the announcement last week that the East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly for independence. Thousands have been forced to flee their homes to escape indiscriminate killings and other violence.
Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese half of the island of Timor in 1975 and annexed the area in 1976.
Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili, co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, fled his home in the capital before it was torched on Monday by armed militias. He has reportedly escaped to Australia.
"The attack on Bishop Belo's residence is just one example of the impunity with which these forces are operating," said Archbishop McCarrick, who had planned to stay the Bishop's residence during a visit to Dili last week which had to be cancelled.
"The people of East Timor have suffered terribly for many years," Archbishop McCarrick said. The international community must not permit the dawn of a new day be turned into yet another nightmare."