World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
E-mail: media


1 September 1999


The World Council of Churches is likely to ask the United Nations to continue its presence in East Timor following the independence referendum held there this week. "Our immediate fears are that if the situation is left as it is, one cannot expect the Indonesian military to keep peace in the region," said Clement John of the WCC's International Relations staff. He said the WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva August 24 - September 3, was expected to ask general secretary Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser to make the request of UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

A WCC member church, the Christian Church in East Timor favoured independence from Indonesia, John told a press briefing in Geneva the day after the former Portuguese colony held the referendum on separating from Indonesia. However, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia had not taken a position on the issue, he said.

After a recent visit to the region, an ecumenical team of women from the WCC and the Christian Conference of Asia expressed concern about violence -- particularly violence against women -- and about the use of intimidation to "silence whole communities" trying to address political situations.

Aruna Gnanadason of the WCC's Justice, Peace, and Creation team, who visited East Timor in June with the ecumenical group, said that the women of the region were banding together, even across religious lines, to challenge what she called the "systemic" rape of women in East Timor.

John also explained growing concern about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in predominantly Muslim Indonesia. "This is a region where Christians and Muslims have lived for centuries in peace," he said, "and now there are new tensions between the communities." If the increasing influence of Islam on the nation results in the forcing of Sharia -- Islamic law -- Christians and other non-Islamic faiths will suffer, he said. The WCC has already written to Indonesia president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie about clashes between Christians and Muslims.

The referendum held in East Timor this week has led to growing fears that armed militias sympathetic to the Indonesian government would use additional terrorism to block independence for the region.

John said that the WCC has been monitoring the situation in Indonesia and East Timor for about 30 years, keeping contact with member churches and councils of churches in the region. "Our major concern now," he said, "is what will happen during the post-referendum period."

Reports from the delegation and staff visits mentioned above are available on this site.

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter, Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 336, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.