Canadian Church Leaders Witness East Timor Unrest

Friday, October 16 1998

Ottawa (CCCB) — A delegation of Church representatives from Canada have just returned from an East Timor fact finding tour where they witnessed first hand the current unrest in the country.

The Canadian group comprised Msgr. Peter Schonenbach,  General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops;  Rt. Rev. Bill Phipps, Moderator of the United Church of Canada; Ms. Louise Chernetz, of the Anglican Church of Canada; and Ms. Bern Jagunos, co-director of the Canada-Asia Working Group, an inter-church coalition on Asian concerns.

The members of the delegation were on the streets of Dili, the capital of East Timor, on October 12 where the streets were flooded with massive crowds of protesters in one of the largest public demonstrations to take place there in recent times.

The protest was in reaction to Governor Habilio’s directive that all public employees must support the “autonomy” plan or face dismissal. The “autonomy” plan equates the continuous integration of East Timor within Indonesia. The delegation noted, however, that there appears to be great popular support for a referendum leading to independent self-rule. The protestors were also in the streets because of the lack of commitment on the part of President Habibie to implement the changes promised in the May “reformation”.

The delegation was happy to report on a new reality in East Timor, enabling room for discussion and freedom of assembly. However, the military presence continues to be very evident and a transparent withdrawal plan is not in place.

The Canadian delegation is to meet with Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and the Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, Mr. Raymond Chan in the very near future.  Their report will include the following recommendations:

While in East Timor, the delegation met with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Bishop Belo, Arlindo Marcal, Moderator of the Protestant Churches in East Timor, the Commander of the Indonesian military in East Timor, the chief of police and local government authorities, as well as Church, student and NGO groups.

For more information, please contact:

Msgr. Peter Schonenbach (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Mary Frances Denis (United Church of Canada) 416-231-5931

Louise Chenetz (Anglican Church of Canada) 204-661-5778

Bern Jagunos (Canada-Asia Working Group) 416-465-8826