Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

East Timor - Still Exploited, Persecuted

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

East Timor - Still Exploited, Persecuted

Article excerpt

THE most powerful nations of the world pledged a commitment to human rights in Tokyo at the recent G-7 meeting. But not far away, in East Timor, the former Portuguese colony, one of this century's more serious cases of human rights abuse continue. For most of the 18 years of Indonesian occupation, world leaders have turned their backs on the East Timorese; if that does not change, the world may soon witness the disappearance of these peoples.

The latest Amnesty International report for East Timor, released in February 1993, cites continued "political killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, political imprisonment, and the use of death penalty" throughout the territory. Since Indonesia's occupation of East Timor in 1975, following the withdrawal of Portuguese colonial troops, more than 200,000 East Timorese - a third of the population - have been killed.

Encouraging steps, but hardly enough, have recently been taken by the United States government. Last November, despite objections by the Bush administration, Congress cut military education and training funds for Indonesia. Yet this action was taken only after Western journalists witnessed a massacre of 270 East Timorese at a cemetery in Dili in November 1991.

President Clinton's support of a UN resolution expressing concern for human rights abuses in East Timor is a welcome shift in American policy. But these steps can be undermined if the Pentagon is allowed to sell military assistance to Indonesia, which it is trying to do under the foreign military sales program for 1994.

On June 30, in a bipartisan effort, 43 US senators sent a letter to Mr. Clinton urging him to keep "an eye toward facilitating serious negotiations at the United Nations that might alter the unacceptable status quo" in East Timor. The senators reaffirm an earlier (November 1991) Senate resolution supporting "the right of self-determination of the East Timorese people." They also stated that any negotiations on East Timor's future should include East Timorese representatives.

These requests are important given recent events on the ground: The Indonesian government continues its policy of ethnically diluting East Timor through a campaign of resettlement.

Adding to this are more than 10 UN resolutions condemning Indonesia's occupation of East Timor and recognizing the country's right to self-determination.

In May, Xanana Gusmao, leader of the East Timorese resistance who was thrown in jail last year, stated in a defense plea, "In my opinion, it {East Timor's invasion} has the same standing as the advance of the Iraqi troops in Kuwait, the same dimension as the advance of Russian tanks into Kabul, the same character as the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia."

Mr. Gusmao's trial, called by the government of Portugal "farcical and illegitimate," has come to symbolize Indonesia's disregard for human rights. …

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