August 10, 1999: Headlines: COS - East Timore: COS - Brazil: Election Observers: Seattle Post Intelligencer: Brazil RPCV Elwin Wirkala shrug off risks of East Timor mission

Peace Corps Online: Directory: East Timor: Peace Corps East Timor : The Peace Corps in East Timor: August 10, 1999: Headlines: COS - East Timore: COS - Brazil: Election Observers: Seattle Post Intelligencer: Brazil RPCV Elwin Wirkala shrug off risks of East Timor mission

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Sunday, January 16, 2005 - 1:23 pm: Edit Post

Brazil RPCV Elwin Wirkala shrug off risks of East Timor mission

Brazil RPCV  Elwin Wirkala shrug off risks of East Timor mission

Brazil RPCV Elwin Wirkala shrug off risks of East Timor mission

2 Seattleites shrug off risks of E. Timor mission

Tuesday, August 10, 1999


Two Seattle residents have taken on a potentially dangerous mission as part of a United Nations-accredited program to help ensure security and fairness during a referendum in East Timor later this month.

Trevor Olson, 26, a former U.S. Army intelligence specialist, leaves today for East Timor as a volunteer U.N. election observer.

Elwin Wirkala, 55, a professor and coordinator of the Portuguese department at the University of Washington, will leave later this month.

Olson, a graduate student at the UW, said he feels an obligation to help right the wrongs of the past.

"Considering our government's complicity in this near-genocide, I want to do all I can to make sure the people of East Timor have the opportunity to determine their future," said Olson, who speaks Indonesian and was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Several governments supported Indonesia during its invasion and occupation of East Timor. The United States supplied more than 90 percent of Indonesia's weapons during the invasion, and the United States and other nations continue to supply military equipment and training.

Indonesia invaded the former Portugese colony on Dec. 7, 1975, causing the deaths of some 200,000 East Timorese, roughly one-third of the population, according to the Catholic Church and human rights groups.

Indonesia annexed East Timor the following year in a move not recognized by the United Nations. Since then, an East Timor guerrilla army has been fighting for independence.

Wirkala, a Portuguese speaker who lived in Brazil for 20 years, said he wanted to go because the project needed someone who could speak Portuguese and he was happy to help.

Wirkala, who first went to Brazil as a Peace Corps volunteer, is no stranger to this kind of activism. While he lived in Brazil, he and his wife gave shelter to political refugees from Argentina.

The East Timor Action Network of Washington is sponsoring both men. ETAN, which has offices around the world, including Seattle, has been working for years to help East Timorese. Nationally, ETAN is trying to send 70 observers. The UW is paying for the Seattle men's trip.

An agreement in May provided for a U.N.-sponsored vote Aug. 30 on whether East Timor should become an independent nation or an autonomous region within Indonesia. Despite a U.N. presence in East Timor, the referendum has been postponed twice because of violence, and has been accompanied by numerous human rights abuses.

An Amnesty International fact-finding mission to East Timor recently said, "These violations are part of a more general, well-organized campaign to threaten and intimidate the East Timorese population into supporting autonomy -- a campaign in which there is compelling evidence of direct involvement by government authorities, the Indonesian army and the Indonesian police."

Election observers could face the violence and intimidation reportedly being carried out by paramilitary groups. According to Caritas, a religious relief agency, hundreds of East Timorese civilians have been killed in the past several months and more than 80,000 residents have been forced from their homes.

Wirkala played down the personal dangers.

"I think the danger is for the East Timorese," he said. "Foreigners, especially those from the U.S., enjoy a certain amount of protection."

Olson agreed: "They (the paramilitaries) know where their weapons are made."

Meanwhile, the doctor helping a Seattle-based group establish a maternal health clinic in East Timor still has not been allowed to re-enter.

Barbara O'Hara of Health Alliance International said yesterday that Dr. Dan Murphy was still in Darwin, Australia. Murphy was put back on the plane Thursday after Indonesian officials told him he was barred from East Timor.

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Story Source: Seattle Post Intelligencer

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - East Timore; COS - Brazil; Election Observers



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