The situation in East Timor has sharply deteriorated in recent months, with hundreds killed in paramilitary violence aimed at disrupting the United Nations-sponsored referendum. In a June 10 statement, Archbishop McCarrick, chairman of the USCC International Policy Committee, said:
Thus far this year, the people of East Timor have experienced a level of violence not seen since the 1970s when Indonesian forces invaded and annexed that territory. Rampaging groups of armed militias have committed numerous atrocities upon mostly unarmed, pro-independence communities and individuals... On April 6, dozens of people were shot and hacked to death at the Catholic church in Liquiηa, a massacre Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of Dili has likened to that at the Santa Cruz Cemetery in 1991... Throughout the territory, armed members of the dozen or so local militias that have sprung up in the months after B.J. Habibie became president of Indonesia a year ago have waged a relentless campaign of intimidation and violence directed at those thought to favor independence...
Over 40,000 East Timorese have fled their homes and farms, raising again the spectre of hunger that devastated much of the island in the late 1970s. While some of the internally displaced persons are in centers assisted by the Church's Caritas workers, many are without any help and need the protection and relief that could be provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, if allowed to enter in sufficient numbers.
Increased international pressure is urgently needed to address this situation, both in terms of efforts to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches those in dire need, and pressure to end paramilitary violence and allow for free and fair voting under UN auspices. UN monitors have been attacked in recent days by forces seeking to derail the referendum, scheduled initially for Sunday, August 8, which is to enable the people to vote for autonomy or independence. The UN, which will conduct the consultation, has begun deploying its personnel that will prepare for and monitor the vote; but the violence has continued. Unless it is brought under control and the militias disbanded, the conditions essential for a fair and free vote will be seriously lacking.
REQUESTED ACTION: On June 30, the U.S. Senate voted 98-0 on a resolution calling for intensified U.S. pressure to disarm and disband the militias in East Timor and for other measures such as giving full access to humanitarian organizations. It added that the extent of efforts by Indonesia to fulfill these points should be taken into account in determining U.S. votes on any loan or financial assistance to Indonesia. A similar effort is underway in the House, led by Reps. Hall,McGovern, Smith and Wolf. PLEASE CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES URGING THEIR SUPPORT FOR THIS AND OTHERS EFFORTS ON EAST TIMOR IN THE WEEKS AHEAD.