Credibility of UN at Stake in E. Timor, Activist Says

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Washington ( - A leading East Timorese pro-independence activist and Nobel peace laureate Wednesday called on the Clinton administration to condemn the state-sanctioned "ethnic cleansing and genocide" in East Timor, where, he said, government-led militias are killing defenseless civilians and forcing tens of thousands from their homes. He also said the proposed withdrawal of UN officials will only clear the way for further slaughter by Indonesian armed forces.

Jose Ramos-Horta, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel peace prize, called on the United States at a Washington press conference to "end its longstanding support for the Indonesian military and to provide leadership at the United Nations to stop the bloodbath in East Timor, with or without Indonesian approval."

The credibility of the United Nations also is at stake, Ramos-Horta said.

"I don't believe the U.N. will survive this tragedy," he said.

If the U.N. pulls out, it will clear the way for the Indonesian armed forces to "consummate the genocide" of the East Timorese, he said.

"In the next few days tens of thousands of East Timorese will die," he said.

The United States led a massive military action to protect the civilian population of Kosovo, even though Kosovo was an internationally-recognized province of Serbia, Ramos-Horta said. The least it could do for East Timor, which has been under illegal occupation by Indonesia since 1975, would be to unequivocally call for the withdrawal of Indonesian forces from the island, and withhold economic and military aid if it refused to comply.

Ramos-Horta condemned a continuing reluctance on the part of the U.S. government to utilize its significant influence over Indonesian President B.J. Habibie - especially through military assistance and billions of dollars of U.S. and multilateral assistance to Indonesia - to withdraw his security forces and restore calm.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he has drawn up plans for the evacuation of U.N. staff in East Timor, even as reports of mass killings emerged from refugees arriving in Australia. The U.N. said it was investigating reports that 100 people had been massacred in a church at Suai, on the south coast of East Timor.

While declining to define the struggle in East Timor as one between warring religious factions, Ramos-Horta noted that during the brutal Japanese occupation of the island during World War II, no priests were killed or bishops attacked. Today the churches and clergy are conspicuous targets of attack, he said.

"Even the churches are no protection to anyone," he said.

Almost 80 percent of the overwhelmingly-Catholic East Timorese voted August 30 for independence from Indonesia. Since then the territory has been consumed by rising violence at the hands of marauding bands of militias, which Ramos-Horta and other eyewitnesses said are trained and led by U.S.-trained and financed elite units of the Indonesian armed forces.

Tens of thousands of East Timorese have fled their homes over the past week and many others were heading into West Timor to escape the vicious backlash of burning, shootings and killings unleashed by opponents of last week's landslide referendum for independence, United Nations officials report.

East Timor's spiritual leader, Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo, a winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, fled the territory Tuesday on an evacuation flight to Darwin, Australia, after his home in Dili was torched by pro-Indonesian mobs.