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1999 NCC News Archives

East Timorese Church Leader Calls For Safe Repatriation Of Refugees, International Tribunal To Bring Killers To Justice

CWS $1 Million Appeal Will Assist Refugees in West Timor

 

Sept. 28, 1999, NEW YORK ---- As a United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping force begins to restore peace in East Timor, East Timorese church leader the Rev. Arlindo Marcal is calling for the safe repatriation of refugees, for pressure to be put on the Indonesian government to ratify the independence vote in East Timor and for an international tribunal to bring killers to justice.

Meanwhile, Church World Service, the humanitarian response ministry of the National Council of Churches already operational in Indonesia with a food-for-work program in Sulawesi, is seeking $1 million to provide emergency relief to refugees who were forcibly removed from their homes by Indonesian militias. An estimated 214,000 internally displaced people are being sheltered in 31 camps in West Timor. A CWS assessment team suspects there are many more refugees who cannot yet be counted because of inaccessibility and lack of security.

The Rev. Marcal (pronounced Mar-sahl) is Moderator of the Christian Church of East Timor, that country's Protestant ecumenical council. He spoke by phone on Friday (Sept. 24) from Toronto, where he is studying, to church leaders and reporters. Although he left East Timor in July and has had to watch the tragic situation unfold from afar, he anticipated the potential for violence and met with churches in West Timor before his departure to ask them to assist and protect East Timorese people. He said he may return sooner than the one year he was supposed to be in Toronto given the turmoil that has left his country destroyed and left people without churches and church leaders.

The Rev. Marcal stressed the prophetic role the church has played and continues to play in East Timor. "The church has not been active in political issues, but in human rights issues," he said. "It is the only institution left that has continued to defend and support the people." The Rev. Marcal was among the first Protestant church leaders to call for a referendum on East Timorese self-determination.

The Rev. Marcal also encouraged church leaders here in the U.S. to use their prophetic position to give moral and economic support to the East Timorese as they begin to rebuild. "Your support in this difficult situation is very important. It will help us to feel not alone. We hope you will help us to rebuild our churches in East Timor."

While international relief agencies have been unable to work in East Timor, CWS staff in Indonesia, working with the Church of Kupang, is currently assessing the situation in West Timor. CWS will begin its response by providing tents, blankets, medicine, food and bedding for 3,000 families (9,000 people). CWS may also supply hygiene and health kits as needed.

CWS is also prepared to support other efforts of the Action by Churches Together (ACT) International network and may expand this appeal as longer-term recovery and rehabilitation efforts become clearer.

Contributions may be sent to Church World Service, Attn. East Timor Violence, 28606 Phillips Street, PO Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Telephone: 1-800-297-1516, ext. 222. For more information and updates and/or to make an on-line contribution, go to: http://www.churchworldservice.org

Meanwhile, the NCC continues to advocate for the UN to maintain a presence in East Timor to deter further killings, torture and rampage. Church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, have been among those killed and driven from their homes and the Rev. Marcal knew many of them. Yet the closest to him personally was the Rev. Francisco de Vasconcelos Ximenes, head of the Christian Church in East Timor, who died on September 10 after being shot by militia members on the road to Baucau. He had been sheltering approximately 100 refugees in Hosana Church, Dili, and a group had decided to leave Dili because they feared for their safety. The Rev. Ximenes had guided an NCC delegation to East Timor more than two years ago.

Of the Rev. Ximenes, the Rev. Marcal said, "He was one of our leaders, one of our good pastors. He was preparing to be the next moderator. I am very sad of (his death)." Yet the Rev. Ximenes' death proves that "although we are a small minority, we also sacrificed for the independence of East Timor," according to the Rev. Marcal.

The Rev. Marcal expressed hope even in the midst of many such deaths and what he and many of his countrypeople see as their "betrayal by the United Nations and international community" as they were reassured they could vote freely but then abandoned when violence ensued. His hope remains, he said, because he can finally see independence on the horizon after 500 years of colonization followed by years of Indonesian occupation.

That is, if the Indonesian government and parliament will recognize East Timorese independence. The Rev. Marcal said this is one of the issues the United States government and the international community need to be addressing right now, along with the safe repatriation of refugees as soon as possible and supporting an international tribunal to try militia members who killed and rampaged following the independence vote.

He said a peacekeeping force also needs to be poised on the border between East and West Timor as well as within East Timor because people in West Timor and Indonesia "continue to fear for their safety and their lives."

Although East Timor will "face a lot of problems to establish democracy, justice and peace," the Rev. Marcal said, "independence is the beginning of our lives. Now we start our real life."

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