Churches in solidarity with East Timor’s population

Evangelical Church in Germany, EKD-Bulletin 04/1999
Observing the referendum and statements

ekd_logo_1The Evangelical Church in Germany, together with the Roman Catholic Church, had agreed to and supported the dispatch of 9 people to observe the referendum in East Timor on 30. August 1999. The applicant and sponsor of this measure was the non-governmental organisation (NRO) “Watch Indonesia”, resident in Germany, which prepared the participants for this important peace-keeping mission with a 6-day intensive course, and had taken on the responsibility for its execution. The training was an essential part of the measures for a proper preparation. The necessary finances for the preparation and execution were made available on the Protestant side by the EKD’s Social Service Agency and on the Catholic side by Misereor and missio.

The EKD Council Chairman Präses Manfred Kock, in a joint press statement with the Chairman of the catholic German Bishops’ Conference Bishop Karl Lehmann, expressed his pleasure that the Indonesian government had at last agreed to a referendum as a preliminary to a pacification of the unresolved and tense situation in East Timor which has existed since the invasion by the Indonesians in December 1975. At the same time, he expressed his deep anxiety that the peace process which had started so promisingly could come to a standstill and the referendum be cancelled. The peace efforts of the Catholic and the Evangelical Churches in East Timor were expressly praised, the Christians there were encouraged to maintain their efforts for peace and the Christians in Germany were called on to pray for the people in East Timor.

Volker Stapke, the leader of the German delegation to observe the referendum, could eventually report that in spite of the many attempts to cause trouble by pro-Indonesian militia, the referendum went off fairly peacefully and a high percentage were able to vote. Over 90% of those entitled to vote took part in the poll, and 78.5% voted for independence, 21.5 % for autonomy. After the results were announced on 3. September 1999 by the UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, violence broke out in East Timor. The international community was badly prepared for this situation, which poses many questions with regard to future UN missions.

Bishop Dr.h.c. Rolf Koppe, director of Section III Ecumenical Relations and Ministry Abroad, EKD Church Office, wrote to the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, on 8. September 1999, to urge the dispatch of armed peace troops to end the murders. He pointed to the opportunity to exert influence on the Indonesian government due to the traditionally friendly relations between Germany and Indonesia.

In another joint press statement on 9. September 1999, Präses Manfred Kock, EKD, and Bishop Lehmann, expressed their deep shock at the nation-wide acts of violence perpetrated by the pro-Indonesian militia against the defenceless population of East Timor. They urged the immediate dispatch of an (armed) peace force to disarm the murderous militia, to provide humanitarian aid for the traumatised population and to return refugees and displaced people to their homes. They further called on the German government to do all in their power to influence the Indonesian government to clear the way to peace and to realise the rights of the people in East Timor. At the same time, they expressed their solidarity with the oppressed and tormented population as well as their concern for the church workers.

By the beginning of October 1999, the church aid agencies, on the Protestant side the Emergency Relief of the EKD’s Social Service Agency in cooperation with ACT (Action by Churches Together, the joint aid agency of the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva), had worked out an aid concept for East Timor. Jim Mason and Inge Lempp were sent to East Timor to analyse the requirements. The member churches of the EKD were asked to provide generous funds for the aid plan for East Timor. <>

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