‘Britain should bear some responsibility for Timor Leste’

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TIMOR LESTE ‘Britain should bear some responsibility for Timor Leste’

July 21, 2009 | TL07615.1559

LONDON (UCAN) — As the 10th anniversary of the
UN-sponsored referendum for Timor Leste’s
independence approaches, a yearlong campaign by a
Catholic agency to raise awareness of the country
in Britain is reaching its climax.

On Aug. 30, 1999, the people of Timor Leste voted
overwhelmingly to sever ties with Indonesia,
which had occupied their land for 25 years
following the withdrawal of former colonial
ruler, Portugal. During Indonesian rule, up to
200,000 East Timorese are reported to have died
due to famine, the independence struggle and reprisals.

After the independence vote, pro-Jakarta militia
went on a rampage that left hundreds dead.

Britain must bear some responsibility for the
tragedies, says Progressio, an international
Catholic advocacy and development agency. This is
because Britain sold a total of £287.75 million
(US$475 million) of arms to Indonesia during the occupation period.

Since independence, says Progressio, Timor Leste
has been wracked by poverty with today about half
the population unemployed and 45 per cent living
on less than US$1 a day. Moreover, there is
continuing violence between political and ethnic rivals.

Britain has given £1 million to the World Bank
Trust Fund for the overwhelmingly Catholic
country but recently announced it had no further
plans to contribute. It funds other programs and
agencies in the area, but Progressio says in a
recent statement that “even the most optimistic
estimates suggest this is less than 10 per cent
of what the UK earned in arms sales.”

It went on: “We are now asking the UK government
to acknowledge its role in the occupation and
repression of the East Timorese people by funding
comprehensive capacity-building and rehabilitation programs.”

For the past year, Progressio has been running a
campaign to persuade Britain to do more for Timor
Leste. It campaigns in schools and among parishes
and youth groups. It is also lobbying members of
parliament directly as well as supporting a
petition organized by activists in Timor Leste
which will be presented to visiting dignitaries
at the anniversary celebrations.

Progressio’s most recent project was an
exhibition of photographs of Timor Leste held at
the Houses of Parliament just before MPs left for
their summer recess, opened on July 6. The newly
appointed Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of
Westminster attended the event.

“The exhibition was staged in a hall which all
MPs must pass through on their way in and out of
the Chamber,” said Progressio spokesman Jo
Barrett. “It attracted a lot of attention … we
are confident that it met with a good response.”

At the exhibition, Progressio presented the
Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis, an MP, with
hundreds of messages from the British public
calling for justice for Timor Leste.

Lewis praised the campaign and said it was
“incredibly important” to recognize the important
contribution faith played in solving some of the world’s worst problems.

He also praised the testimony of Zequito de
Oliveiro, an East Timorese, who spoke movingly at
the launch of the deaths of family members,
including two brothers, in the violence.

Progressio was founded in 1940 as the Sword of
the Spirit, in response to the silence of the
Church hierarchy to the rise of fascism. In the
1950s, it started providing information to people
inside and outside the Church about international
affairs. In 1965, it changed its name to the
Catholic Institute for International Relations
(CIIR) and set up an overseas volunteer program.

It is still legally known as the CIIR but in 2006
changed its name to Progressio after Pope Paul
VI’s 1967 encyclical “Populorum Progressio” (On
the Development of Peoples) — to reflect its
dual mission of recruiting development workers
and advocacy on behalf of developing nations.

At the height of political violence in 2006,
Sister Guilhermina Marcal helped care for about
23,000 people sheltering in the grounds of the
Canossian Convent at Balide in Dili. Today, that
number stands at about 1,400. Sister Guilhermina
campaigns for those who have been displaced by
violence, saying they will never be able to
return home without financial and emotional
support. Dili, 2008. — Photo by Progressio (www.progressio.org.uk)

A salt worker uses a bamboo tube to pour seawater
through a clay filter to make salt crystals. This
is the first step in a long and labor intensive
process, which brings whole families to the salt
flats each day from 4 am. With unemployment at 50
per cent, many Timorese have to take what little
work they can get. Liquica province, Timor Leste,
2008. — Photo by Progressio (www.progressio.org.uk)

Antonio da Silva of Timor Leste, a staunch critic
of independence, lost part of his left ear when
men opposed to his political views attacked him.
Their prosecution stands in stark contrast to
today’s situation in the country that sees many criminals go
free. Dili, 2008. — Photo by Progressio (www.progressio.org.uk)

Unemployed with five children to care for, Jose
Menezes Nunes Serrao survived an attempted beheading in April 1999 when
pro-Indonesia militiamen attacked a local parish church in
Timor Leste. Today, he campaigns for the Indonesian authorities
to reveal the location of the unmarked mass
graves of up to 200 people who died in the
attack. Liquica, Timor Leste, 2008. —
Photo by Progressio (www.progressio.org.uk)


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