DILI, East Timor—In the wake of a vote for independence, Indonesian military are on a genocidal rampage in East Timor that has killed thousands.
Catholics, who led the push for independence in East Timor, are targeted in killing that is pushing the casualties of ongoing war in the South Pacific nation to more than 200,000.
Archbishop Jean Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, told Vatican Radio that the Holy See supports an international peacekeeping force to protect the people of the island.
Violence was already escalating before the outcome of the vote was announced Sept. 4. But when the “independence” decision was announced, it erupted into a firestorm. Indonesia called for martial law and issued a “shoot to kill” order against anyone who violates the military curfew, according to U.S. congressional sources.
The situation was grim in East Timor. Despite the declaration of martial law, massacres of the Timorese continued to be reported. In a parish in Suari, Jesuit Father Tarsicius Dewanto and two diocesan priests were killed, while at least 100 faithful hid in the church. In Baucau, Bishop do Nascimento received a machete chop to his arm and had to flee to the mountains, according to the ZENIT news agency. Since then, his episcopal see, like that in Dili, has been burned and pillaged.
The anti-independence militias have also sacked and burned the Salesian Don Bosco center and several parishes in Ermera and Mantutto. Several missionaries are also missing.
Sister Esmeralda de Araujo, a Timorese religious, told the Misna news agency, “When the people from the U.N. go, they will kill us all. The world is talking and we are dying. This is a hell, and I want to shout to everyone to save us, but it seems that nobody hears us.”
According to Jesuit Father Ignatius Ismartono, consultant to the Indonesian Bishops' Conference, cited by the Fides agency, the attacks against the Church reveal the Indonesian army's desire to separate the Church from the people. Ninety percent of the population in this former Portuguese colony is Catholic.
Another priest, Father Sarto Pandaya, told Fides that the military is seeking a “cleansing” of the island. “The police ordered us to leave our installations where refugees had been hidden to avoid attacks.” The priest claims this was a cover for their plan to throw these people out of the territory. The Jesuits had harbored more than 2,000 people in St. Joseph School in Dili, and they were sent away to the island of Atambua by the authorities.
The militias are also impeding humanitarian aid. Pat Mandayana, an investigator for the University of East Timor, told Fides that Father Tan Soe, who runs a farm in Dare, had to kill most of the animals to feed the people who arrived. “Now they need not only securi- ty, but food,” Mandayana asserted.
In Dili, the pro-independence neighborhoods have been ravaged and looted. Fides quoted a resident: “Dili is a ghost town, in the hands of the military.” Various sources say that the militia has assassinated several independence activists, including the man who would probably have been elected president, Xanana Gusmao.
Cardinal Edward Clancy, primate of Australia, was among those who called for an international peacekeeping force to step in.
“If we simply stand by and do nothing it will leave a scar on our reputation and history that will never heal,” he wrote in a letter to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
“Pro-Indonesian military appear to have gone mad; they are roaming the streets hunting down independence supporters,” reported one missionary quoted in by Fides news agency.
“They are furious because this will mean they lose all their privileges. Now they have nothing to lose, so they crazily attack anything and everything. The paramilitary are … all out of control.”
In the vote, in which 99% of the eligible population participated, 80% voted for independence.
The territory had been annexed in 1976 by Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. Those involved in the current campaign of burning, killing and terror were estimated to be fewer than 200, according to U.S. congressional sources.
Bishop Carlos Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili, who has been the target of violent attacks in the past for his pro-independence stance in East Timor, was safely escorted by Indonesian army troops to Baucau.
Soon after the ballot was announced Sept. 4, Bishop Belo had called on all East Timorese people to forgive each other.
“Let us forget the bitterness of life and past dark days,” the Nobel Prize laureate said. “Gaze the future that is full of promises, hope and challenges.”
In the United States, Church and political leaders were dismayed by the plight of East Timor's Catholics.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia, said in a statement, “I ask that all the faithful take a moment to pray for peace to be restored in East Timor.”
He added, “I pray that the Indonesian government will respect the wishes of the East Timorese people and allow them to freely pursue independence.”
In Washington, D.C., Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., called for an armed peacekeeping force to step in to protect the people under attack by the militias.
Smith is chairman of the subcommittee on international operations and human rights. In a Sept. 8 statement, he said, “It is imperative that we move swiftly and decisively to support the flourishing democracy in East Timor, lest it be quashed by those who want to maintain the status quo. … The violence must be stopped, and it must be stopped now.”
The Root Causes
Western observers familiar with the situation say that the current violence is an example of Indonesia fulfilling a bloody promise.
Dan Murphy, a physician who had worked in a clinic in East Timor, spoke about the situation there with the Register.
Register: How recently were you in East Timor?
I was there from Nov. 15 of last year up until about a month ago when the Indonesian government told me I was no longer welcome.
The situation there now is so horrible that it's hard to say what might even be left [later]. They voted for independence very dramatically, very courageously. But since then they've been pretty much abandoned and thousands of people are being killed.
Is the conflict happening along religious lines? Is it Muslim Indonesia vs. Christian East Timor?
That's one important factor. For a country to be able to go in and carry out genocide, they have to be able to somehow justify it in their own minds and they need some pretty powerful rationalization. Religion provides that. If you can dehumanize the other side or make them seem so reprehensible, then it's much easier for you to go in and carry out genocide.
What do your contacts tell you about what's going on there now?
The situation is urgent and immediate. It has really spiraled down into complete chaos with pretty much random killings and, as I said, not just hundreds. Thousands of people are dying right now. I just got off the phone with the Carmelite sisters that I worked with at the clinic. They were afraid to even talk on the phone. They're cowering in fear. The clinic has been attacked. And they said, “We're right on the top of the bullet at this moment,” which means they're under threat.
What needs to happen for genocide to end?
It's really sad because the international community, without asking Timor, set up this process. It's a tremendous responsibility that the U.N. and the international community has placed upon themselves. They essentially said to Timor, “We will deliver you to the promised land, have faith in us. Just give us your future and we will bring you to the place of justice.” And here's what it's led to. And Indonesia said if they lose the vote they will execute everyone. And that's what they're doing now.
Is there any way to resolve this short of declaring war on Indonesia?
A lot of things haven't been done that could have been done such as withdrawing international monetary funds, withdrawing World Bank funds, cutting off military aid, cutting off joint intelligence, joint maneuvers. Those things haven't been done. They could be. But Indonesia, of course, is the fourth largest nation on earth, 200 million people, very rich in resources, many of which the United States and other Western countries are involved in.
So there are powerful disincentives for taking a hard line here.
What it means is, Timor is expendable.
How many people are on East Timor?
Some 800,000 people. I would say there could easily be casualty numbers as high as 50,0000 to 100,000 people killed. If nobody comes to stop this, it will go on.
Who are the people in these militias? Are these official soldiers of the Indonesian government?
The Indonesian military formed these militias and most of it was by intimidation, press-ganged, bribes. But now they've taken over executing all of this by themselves, because all the journalists have left. There's no one left to observe, so the military itself just does it. It's all automatic weapon fire.
There are no more of these old-fashioned homemade guns. These are military weapons that are in use. They just executed one of the main [independence] leaders; we just received word that he was killed. Basically they go for leadership but indiscriminately they also take out anyone else they happen to come across. And bodies are lining the roads. It's about as bad as you can imagine.
And of course the East Timorese are essentially defenseless?
There is a group of guerrillas, but they've all voluntarily put themselves in restricted areas. They're extremely frustrated, but their leader, who was in prison in Jakarta, still wants them to hold off because there are probably 30,000 fully armed Indonesian troops there who, if these guerrillas tried to break out to help their own people, I'm sure they would just be set upon. I'm sure this is what Indonesia wants.
They would be set upon massive amounts of military force and many of them would be wiped out.