Letter to Minister Lloyd Axworthy: A plea to stop the violence in East Timor

Sunday, April 11 1999

The Hon. Lloyd Axworthy
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Via fax: 613 996 3443

Dear Mr. Minister,

We are writing to express our concern regarding the recent escalation of violence in East Timor. As we are sure you are aware, there are reports of 17 civilians being killed by paramilitary groups on Monday, April 5 and a further 40 civilians being killed on Tuesday, April 6. Both incidents took place in Liquisa. We are particularly troubled by the fact that the most recent killings took place even as people sought refuge and safety in church buildings. As well, the reports are indicating that Indonesian troops stood by while the violence was taking place.

When we met with you after our ecumenical delegation visited East Timor, we spoke to you about the importance of international presence in the region, in order to control levels of violence. We also spoke about our partners’ wishes for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Indonesian military. This call has been echoed around the world by others concerned about the situation in East Timor.

The recent tragedy in Liquisa is a vivid demonstration of urgent need for steps such as these. In a Roundtable on East Timor, held by the Centre for Foreign Policy Development in February, similar recommendations were made by a group of NGO’s, government representatives and East Timorese delegates.

We are aware that other countries are also watching the events in East Timor closely and are contemplating how to take action. We are also aware that negotiations on East Timor are taking place within the UN context, and that the outcomes are not yet clear. Even still, this recent escalation suggests that steps need to be taken immediately to ensure that the situation does not further destabilize.

We found that Canada was well respected in East Timor, and we urge you and the Government of Canada to take action to respond to this recent violence by:

  • expressing to Indonesia Canada’s concern regarding the recent violence and killings in Liquisa
  • urging President Habibie and General Wiranto to stop the military from attacking or participating in attacks against civilians as well as arming or assisting paramilitary groups
  • pursuing options to establish an international presence in the region as soon as possible

Canada is active in a number of fora, such as  the UN Security Council and the UN Commission on Human Rights , in which it can press for action on East Timor. We hope that the Canadian delegations in both places will make an effort to address the conflict in East Timor and Indonesia’s role there.  We recognize the support which Canada is already providing to the East Timorese through CIDA programs and other initiatives, but we have heard time and again from our partners that violence and conflict are impediments to development.

We look forward to your response on this urgent matter.


Monsignor Peter Schonenbach P.H.
General Secretary,
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Right Rev. Bill Phipps
United Church of Canada

cc: John Donaghy, Director, Southeast Asia Division