WASHINGTON (September 10, 1999) -- In a strongly worded letter to President Clinton delivered late Thursday, the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference called for the immediate creation and deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, "with or without the acquiescence of Jakarta."
"We have been overly concerned not to offend the Indonesian authorities who, by all accounts, are themselves unable to control the murderous bands in East Timor, but have been fully successful in preventing the essential deployment of an international peacekeeping force," said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston. "A peacekeeping force must be sent to the region, with or without the acquiescence of Jakarta."
While generally condemning the random violence in East Timor, Bishop Fiorenza voiced particular concern for the "bloody persecution" experienced by the Catholic Church in the region. At least four priests and an equal number of women religious have been killed in recent days, and as many as 11 other priests and many of the Church's Caritas workers have been reported killed. In addition, one of the territory's Bishops, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili, has been evacuated to Australia, and another, Bishop Basilio Do Nacimento of Baucau, was injured and has fled into hiding. The residences of both Bishops have been burned.
Bishop Fiorenza, speaking on behalf of the Bishops of the United States, called on the U.S. government to fulfill its leadership responsibility in winning the immediate adoption of a U.N. resolution creating an international peacekeeping force.
"I pray that you will be guided to take the actions necessary to save the lives of the suffering people of East Timor who, by committing themselves to the democratic process, placed their trust in the great democracies of the world," Bishop Fiorenza said. "We cannot betray them."
NOTE: The full text of Bishop Fiorenza's letter to President Clinton is attached.