Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Must Stop Acquiescing in East Timor Oppression

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

U.S. Must Stop Acquiescing in East Timor Oppression

Article excerpt

President Suharto of Indonesia must have reckoned that the world would soon forget about his occupation of East Timor. It is a small faraway place, half an island 300 miles north of Australia. Distant governments would surely conclude that there was no practical way to make him disgorge his conquest.

But 21 years later the world has not forgotten East Timor. Realpolitik has been outbalanced, in enough people's minds, by outrage at the continuing savagery of the Indonesian occupation.

Now the issue has been given new weight by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, the most important internal voice of the Timorese people, and Jose Ramos Horta, exile spokesman for the independence movement. The Nobel Committee said the award should "spur efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict based on the people's right to self-determination." Belo has called for a referendum in East Timor, conducted by the United Nations, to see whether its people want independence or incorporation in Indonesia. But Suharto has been unyielding in opposition to any such expression of political identity by the East Timorese, and there is no reason to think he will change his mind. What, then, can the outside world do? It is a difficult question. But the situation of the East Timorese is so grim that we can at least hope to ameliorate it as we press for the freedom they deserve. In the first years of the occupation as many as 200,000 people - a third of the population - died in conflict or of starvation or disease. More recently, protests have brought massacres by Indonesian security forces. This year visitors have reported all the apparatus of a police state: torture, eavesdropping, pervasive fear. "The occupation has involved unspeakable atrocities," The Financial Times of London said. And according to recent reports, there are now moves that make the East Timorese feel even more overwhelmed. More than 100,000 people from elsewhere in Indonesia have settled in East Timor, acquiring land and filling public jobs. Most of them are Muslims, in a largely Roman Catholic land. …

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