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International East Timor Conference Held in Utrech

Press Release:

International East Timor Conference Held in Utrecht

For further information: Stichting Vrij Oost-Timor, tel. +31-30-2945438, fax +31-30-2721532, email vrijoosttimor@yahoo.com or ifet@etan.org

14 May 2000

Forty activists from nine European countries, the United States, and Indonesia came together in the Netherlands during the second weekend in May 2000, for the first international solidarity conference on East Timor since the referendum last August. The meeting was hosted by Vrij Oost-Timor, a new Utrecht-based solidarity group.

In addition to celebrating the end of Indonesia's 24-year occupation of East Timor, participants discussed the problems facing East Timor under the U.N. administration and as the newest nation of the twenty-first century emerges from occupation to independence.

Some issues from the occupation still cry out for the attention of people around the world. More than 100,000 East Timorese are still trapped in West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia after being forcibly relocated by the Indonesian military (TNI) and their militias last September. In addition, TNI and militia leaders responsible for crimes in East Timor during 1999 and the previous two decades continue to enjoy impunity. Conference attendees decided to continue and increase political activity in their home countries until these crises are resolved.

East Timor's new freedom has given birth to a rapidly evolving civil society, including more than 100 local NGOs and other grassroots initiatives. East Timorese people are reclaiming control over their own lives that was denied for centuries of colonization. The conference discussed ways for non-Timorese to support and participate in these initiatives, as well as to help the East Timorese gain human and material resources to develop their country.

In spite of East Timor's new freedom, the local people still cannot control their government, reconstruction or economic development. This was highlighted by the opening address of Ambassador Santa Clara Gomes, who represents Portugal (President of the European Union) in The Hague. The Ambassador cited reports from East Timor that many people are describing the U.N. and international aid agencies as "new colonizers."

Rens den Hollander, who just returned after nine weeks working in East Timor with Autonoom Centrum of Amsterdam to develop a local human rights center in Viqueque, elaborated on the problems caused by insensitive and inappropriate activity by international officials. In addition to the economic disparity between well-paid foreign workers and the 80%-unemployed East Timorese population, Ms. Hollander related numerous problems stemming from the fact that the East Timorese have little control over international activities in their country.

Four conference workshops discussed ways foreign supporters can work with East Timorese people to assist in development and democracy, monitor and critique foreign institutions, bring the perpetrators of crimes against East Timor to justice, and obtain educational resources and expertise for East Timorese civil society.

Many at the Utrecht meeting have worked for decades to support East Timorese human and political rights, and the end of the Indonesian occupation provides new opportunities and avenues for this work. After reassessing and reinvigorating their activities thus far, participants proposed that East Timorese and their supporters from around the world come together in East Timor for a conference later this year.

For further information: Stichting Vrij Oost-Timor, tel. +31-30-2945438, fax +31-30-2721532, email:vrijoosttimor@yahoo.com or ifet@etan.org

***********************************************************

Charles Scheiner, U.N. Representative International Federation for East Timor P.O. Box 1182, White Plains, New York 10602 USA Telephone:1-914-428-7299; fax:1-914-428-7383 hand:1-914-720-9205 Internet: cscheiner@igc.apc.org


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