INTERNATIONAL indignation about the brutal Soviet occupation of Afghanistan continues to be voiced and reported, and in some manner it is recalled almost every week in speeches and discussions and exchanges. This is as it should be —wherever and whenever anything of this kind happens.
It is shocking, therefore, to be reminded that there is a place in the world w here an unprovoked military aggression took place six years ago, vv here the resultant occupation continues with attendant horrors. and very little, comparatively, is said or heard about it.
Catholics, perhaps, should be especially concerned and certainly aware — because this place, East Timor, at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago is said to be about 40 per cent Catholic. Indonesia invaded and annexed it on December 7, 1975. At that time, it was still a colony of Portugal. But it was being prepared for independence as part of Portugal•s decolonisation programme, and civil war had broken out between rival factions.
There was a fairly considerable international row about the invasion at the time, although some often powerful voices were strangely muted. At all events, the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council called on Indonesia to withdraw "without delay". But the invading army —just like the Soviet Army in similar circumstances in Afghanistan — did not budge an inch. By July, 1976, Indonesia had incorporated East Timor as its 27th province. At the end of that year. the General Assembly uttered again, rejecting this claim of incorporation: once more it called on Indonesia to withdraw, Since then — apart from a slight flurry of sparse news at the beginning of this year. and another last month prompted by a television programme — astonishingly little about East Timor has appeared in the international press. But this does not mean that nothing has been going on there. In fact, resistance to the Indonesian occupation was, at first anyway, extremely fierce. To overcome this, Indonesia began a major offensive early in 1977. According to reports, there was heavy bombardment over most parts of the remote and arid island. Incendiary weapons laid waste the cultivated areas of what was already one of the poorest places in that part of the world. The principal armed resistance to the Indonesian onslaught came from guerrillas of Fretilin (Front for the Liberation of East Timor) an extreme Left-wing organisation associated with similar bodies in African former colonies of Portugal. such as MPLA in Angola and Frelimo in Mozambique. It has been alleged that the political alignment of the resistance caused some Western countries. but especially the United States, to encourage the original invasion.
However this may be, estimates made public at the beginning of this year in both the United States and Europe put the number of people who had died in East Timor since the invasion
— mostly from disease or starvation — at 100,000. More than twice that many are said to have been made homeless. International Red Cross (1CRC) staff are quoted by Catholic sources as describing conditions in East Timor as among the worst they have ever seen. "worse than in Biafra or Bangladesh-. The same Catholic sources say that thousands have been imprisoned and scores executed for refusing
to accept the Indonesian occupation. A report by IFOR (International Fellowship of Reconciliation), an organisation based in the Netherlands, says: "If occuring in a more politically sensitive area, the human consequences of this war — well over a sixth of the population dead and the social structure of East Timor torn to shreds — would clearly have provoked international
outcry. The heavy bombardments. combined with indiscriminate killing of tens of thousands (according to US House hearings) caused over a hundred thousand people to take refuge in already poor mountainous regions. Food production ceased, with resulting widespread famine end disease. The wholesale death of a similar proportion of the population in Communist Cambodia captivated Western press attention for the better part of a year.
An emergency relief operation started towards the end of 1979. was brought to an end atthe beginning of this year. The United States channeled nearly 12 million dollars worth of emergency aid into the territory through Catholic Relief Services and contributed a further 1.8 million dollars to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Indonesia itself poured in development money. in an apparent effort to win international acceptance of its
Over the last year. as throughout the period since the invasion, news from East Timor has been scarce, and the occupation authorities have severely restricted Press activities. But reports from Catholic sources indicate that guerrillas are still entrenched in the mountains: the people support them. in spite of a brisk programme, sell financed, to educate. cajole or compel them into acceptance of an Indonesian identity.
In the midst ofthe chaos, 29 priests, five brothers and thirty sisters — mostly Timorese, but some Port uguese. Spanish and Italian — "struagle to keep their people alive and together". as one local Catholic publication put it: and they report that they are instructing large numbers of converts "animated by a sincere desire to join a religion that has loyally stayed with the poor."