Summarized by Kent Larsen
Church's Aid To Timor Is A Drop In Bucket
Kent Larsen 4May00 N1
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The LDS Church's aid for the relief of
refugees from East Timor comes at a critical time. After Indonesia
bowed to International pressure and granted the area's population a
referendum, leading to the country's vote for independence,
pro-Indonesian militias went on a rampage, driving more than 150,000
people into neighboring West Timor.
But, in an odd political change, the LDS Church is working with the
Indonesian government to aid these refugees, mainly because of the
same major change in the government of Indonesia that led to the
independence of East Timor and to President Gordon B. Hinckley's
visit with Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid in January.
The changes came with the fall of long-time Indonesian dictator
Suharto, who resigned May 21, 1998. It was under Suharto's rule that
Indonesia invaded and took over East Timor, a former Portuguese
colony that had recently gained independence, in 1975. East Timor had
been ruled by Portugal for 450 years, and unlike much of Indonesia,
was predominantly Catholic.
His regime was widely considered oppressive, and the LDS Church's
missionary program was somewhat hindered during his regime. According
to the 1999-2000 Deseret News Church Almanac, the Indonesian Mission,
first established in 1970, was closed twice in response to government
restrictions on proselyting, difficulty getting visas and internal
Indonesian religious conflicts. The mission was last reopened in 1995.
The East Timorese rebelled against Indonesian rule and an active
resistance movement developed. Indonesian oppression led to the
deaths of more than 200,000 East Timorese. The Nobel Peace Prize was
awarded in 1996 to Catholic Bishop and native Timorese Carlos Ximenes
Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta for efforts to peacefully win Independence
for the Timorese. This increased International pressure on the
Indonesian government, led by the government of Portugal, East
Timor's colonial patron.
Following the referendum in favor of Independence, however,
pro-Indonesia militias, believed to be supported by conservative
elements of the Indonesian military, went on a rampage, driving
thousands from their homes. The situation led to intervention from
the United Nations, which established an International peacekeeping
force for the country, led by Australia.
However, the peacekeeping effort has been severely underfunded. The
fighting last year destroyed much of the country's housing and its
agricultural economy. Indonesia pulled its civil servants from the
country, purportedly because of the violence, but leaving the country
without police, teachers and essential services.
The U.N.'s efforts have made modest progress, opening some schools
and providing emergency medical and dental facilities, mostly through
non-profit agencies. But 80% of East Timor's workforce have no jobs,
and the country still has no police force, courts, no reliable water,
power or transportation.
Yet in this desperate situation, the countries and agencies that
promised more than $500 million late last year have delivered only
$40 million. And the U.N. recently stopped providing some assistance
to refugees as of March 31st because it doesn't have the resources.
To make matters worse, violence still erupts from time to time, most
recently this past Sunday, according to the Associated Press.
So the LDS Church's aid comes at a critical time. Unfortunately, it
is only a drop in the bucket compared to the need.