Civil war fears in East Timor

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CARLOS BELO, the Roman Catholic bishop who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in East Timor, said yesterday that the occupied territory should wait at least 10 years for a vote on its independence from Indonesia, amid growing anxieties about civil war.

"Only through a plebiscite can we know who is for Indonesia, and who is against Indonesia,'' Monsignor Belo said at his home in the East Timorese capital, Dili. He said that a period of between 10 and 15 years would be necessary for a reconciliation between pro-independence guerrillas and armed militias who support full integration with Indonesia. In the past few weeks, the latter have launched violent attacks on villages, creating thousands of refugees.

Despite continuing denials by the government of Jakarta and senior army officers, the bishop said that the militias were being armed by the Indonesian military. "There are some civilians who have arms to threaten the people," he said. "Naturally, it is coming from the army. It is better to fight with diplomacy, with intelligence, with discussion, rather than fighting with guns."

East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975, and annexed a year later in a brutal occupation which has cost up to 200,000 lives. Jakarta had always resisted international calls for its withdrawal until an unexpected announcement last week, when the government said it might give the territory its independence next year.

The announcement has raised fears of a repeat of 1975 when the territory's Portuguese administration suddenly quit their colony after a coup in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. Pro-Jakarta groups, funded and armed by Indonesia, fought skirmishes with the majority pro-independence forces. The fighting was used as a pretext for the invasion by Indonesia.