The people of East Timor continue to struggle under rule by Indonesia, according to Bishop Melvin Talbert of the San Francisco Area in a United Methodist news release September 2, 1997. Bishop Talbert led a 10-member delegation to East Timor and Indonesia as president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. from August 17 to 29, 1997.
"I was saddened by what I experienced in East Timor," Bishop Talbert said. "It is clear to me that the people are living under severe oppression because of the invasion of East Timor by the [Indonesian] government 20 years ago and because of the constant pressure of the military."
Last year the world took notice of East Timor when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two East Timorese--Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo and exiled activist Jose Ramos Horta. In granting this prestigious award to Bishop Belo and Mr. Ramos Horta, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee cited "their work toward a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor," and expressed hopes "that this award will spur efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict in East Timor based on the people's right to self-determination."
The current conflict in East Timor may be traced to the 1975 Indonesian invasion of this former Portuguese colony. It was reported that in the first few months after the invasion, 60,000 East Timorese died; subsequently almost one-third of East Timor's estimated 600,000 native inhabitants died from violence, starvation, and disease. Countless thousands have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, raped, executed, or have disappeared. Partially because East Timor was closed off to foreign presence until 1989, these events went largely unreported by the mainstream media in North America.
On November 12, 1991, Indonesian troops attacked hundreds of peaceful demonstrators at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor. Western journalists who witnessed this tragedy brought international attention to the situation of East Timor and stimulated efforts to bring about a just resolution to the problem.
General Conference Resolution on East Timor
The 1996 General Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a resolution on East Timor, stating:
The United Methodist Church, its members, local churches, annual conferences, central conference, and agencies:
1. Deplore the continuing occupation of East Timor and the resultant abuse of human rights and climate of oppression.
2. Support the witness of the Christian Church of East Timor and the Roman Catholic Church, and other groups, in their commitment to human rights, peace, and restoration of the East Timorese national identity.
3. Support the rights of the East Timorese to self-determination and call for the full participation of the East Timorese people in a just resolution of the political status of East Timor.
4. Urge the United Nations to intensify efforts to resolve the political status of East Timor.
5. Support the East Timorese people and the East Timorese churches who struggle for justice, dignity, freedom from fear, and the preservation of their ethnic and cultural identity.
6. Celebrate the membership of the Christian Church of East Timor in the World Council of Churches and its participation in ecumenical bodies in order that this East Timorese church may have an independent voice.
7. Encourage, in the spirit of partnership, the Indonesian churches and the Communion of Churches in Indonesia to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed in East Timor.
8. Call on the United States government to cease military aid, including military training, and the sale of arms to Indonesia as long as it continues its de facto military occupation of East Timor.
Peace with Justice Educator on East Timor
In view of the above resolution calling on the general boards and agencies of the church to utilize their resources for mission education about the crisis in East Timor, the General Board of Global Ministries contracted one of its missionaries to work as a Peace with Justice Educator focusing on East Timor. She is seconded to the National Council of Churches U.S.A. Southern Asia Office, and works in cooperation with the Asia Pacific Center for Justice and Peace in Washington, D.C.
The Peace with Justice Educator's job includes:
1. Providing administrative and logistical support for the NCCC East Timor Working Group, particularly in relation to the National Faith-Based Strategy Retreat on East Timor to be held October 31 to November 2, 1997, in Baltimore, Maryland.
2. Assisting in coordinating and developing an interdenominational education and advocacy network on East Timor.
3. Working with appropriate denominational and ecumenical staff to collect, produce, and distribute effective educational materials about East Timor.
1998-99 Ecumenical Mission Study on Indonesia
See also: New World Outlook mission study issue on Indonesia (May-June 1998)
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