Joint Statement on the Forthcoming Popular Consultation in East Timor

11 August 1999

Bischof Karl Lehmann, President of the Council of the German Bishops’ Conference and the President of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Präses Manfred Kock

DBK_Banner-125-100After many years of refusal, the Government of Indonesia finally agreed to a popular consultation which will allow the East Timorese to decide on their affiliation to Indonesia or their independence. We appreciate this development very much. The referendum is based on an agreement signed by Indonesia and Portugal in New York on 5 May 1999 through the intermediary of the United Nations. We regard this agreement as a great success of international diplomacy which will hopefully bring peace and freedom to the people of East Timor.

However, we are sharing the deep concern of many faithful of our Churches that the initially very promising peace process in East Timor – which is occupied by Indonesia – will come to a standstill. Dreadful acts of violence of pro-Indonesian militias are more and more threatening this process and might even bring about the failure of the referendum on the future of East Timor. This agreement on the popular consultation gave our Catholic and Protestant partners in East Timor and even ourselves new hope that the conflict, which has been going on since the Indonesian invasion of 1975, would come to an end soon. Approximately 200,000 people have been the victims of this conflict.

The head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), Ian Martin, has also expressed his alarming concerns that the mission might fail. Due to severe security problems, the polling day had to be postponed two times and is now being scheduled for 30 August 1999. Therefore, everything has to be done that the people of East Timor will be given the opportunity to decide freely on their future.

We are frightened at hearing reports on the afore-mentioned militia groups having been equipped with arms by the Indonesian side and having received support of other kinds as well, a fact that actually enabled them to commit the enormous number of their monstrous crimes. During the period since last May alone, hundreds of people have lost their lives. According to information given by East Timorese organisations, already more than 50,000 people have been displaced from their villages or have been severely intimidated into fleeing their homes, with all these attacks and intimidation happening before the very eyes of the Indonesian security forces. Now many of them are living in refugee camps under disastrous social and hygienic conditions. Their situation is even growing worse because relief agencies are often denied being admitted to them.

We strongly appeal to the Government of Indonesia to fulfil its obligations as provided for by the agreement. This means especially to ensure the security and safety of the East Timorese population before and during the popular consultation to be conducted by UNAMET. This includes disarming the militia groups, the prerequisite of a registration in time of all East Timorese people who are entitled to participate in the popular consultation process.

We request from the Federal Government of Germany to utilise its connections with the Government of Indonesia, especially with its President B. J. Habibie, towards urging it to assume its responsibility for ensuring the security of the East Timorese people. We also urgently appeal to our Government to plead with the United Nations and the other multilateral organisations, especially in view of the present situation in Indonesia, for their assistance to make the respect of human rights a criterion of co-operation and support.

We recognise and strongly support the many years’ efforts to foster peace made by the Catholic Church in East Timor and by their Protestant sisters and brothers. We encourage Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo (Dili), Peace Nobel Prize Winner in 1996, and Bishop Basilio do Nascimento (Baucau) not to cease making their efforts for justice and peace; in the same way we encourage our Protestant partners in East Timor.

We express our thanks to the Church relief agencies – to the Diakonisches Werk, to Missio-Aachen and to Misereor – for the service they render in co-operation with Watch Indonesia, e.g. by deploying observers. We consider it a courageous and active witness to solidarity with the East Timorese people, many of whom have become victims of violence.

We appeal to the German Christians and communities – especially during their divine services on the eve of the popular consultation, on Sunday, 29 August 1999 – to pray for the people in East Timor and to remember them in their intercessions.

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