Building on a Hopeful Past in Zaire

I have lived and worked 10 of the last 13 years in Zaire and have spent six months every year since 1993 working out of Bukavu, Zaire, as a conservationist biologist. Your Oct. 30 briefing on Zaire made me want to add a point.

As in all instances of civil war and violence, there are innocent victims caught in the middle. A lot has been said and written about Zaire in recent years - most of it less than flattering. However, one aspect that I hope is not lost from the historical record is the story of how citizens tried to do the right thing in Bukavu. In 1991, Western donors fled Zaire as a wave of riots spread through all the major urban areas of the country but one. Local religious and business leaders, military, government officials, and citizens formed an alliance to ensure that Bukavu would not be looted. The impressive local response to avoid violence was seen by many as a sign of hope in an otherwise desperate country.

In 1994, everything changed. Bukavu was overrun by refugees, aid workers, and military. Perhaps it was inevitable that the heroic response from leaders in a little town that could be swept aside by the larger dynamics of a massive international tragedy be little more than a footnote in history. No one can predict when and how Zaire and the region will leave behind this tragic era of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and violence. We can only hope that the spirit that prevailed in 1991 somehow survives.

Jefferson Hall

New Haven, Conn.

Indonesian response on E. Timor

The Oct. 16 editorial "Spotlight on East Timor," asserts the so-called cultural and religious distinctiveness of the Catholic East Timorese from the rest of Indonesia. In so doing, it overlooks the fact that the East Timorese constitute one among the more than 300 ethnic and linguistic groups in Indonesia. The very survival of the cultural and religious distinctiveness among the Indonesian people is the main feature of its society. And in this diversity, no one group is dominant. Respect for different cultural and religious traditions is at the heart of the national philosophy.

Indonesia has never sought to "bury the East Timor issue." In fact, the Indonesian government has long been engaged in the search for a solution to the question of East Timor. The ongoing tripartite dialogue being held between Indonesia and Portugal under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General constitutes only one forum to reach such a settlement.

Indonesia has consistently supported the process of reconciliation among the people of East Timor. The All-Inclusive Intra-East Timorese Dialogue (AIETD) included [Nobel laureate] Mr. Ramos-Horta and other prominent East Timorese. The AIETD should in no way be a substitute for the ministerial talks under the auspices of the Secretary-General, which are the only appropriate forum for reaching a just, comprehensive, and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor. Indonesia remains committed to cooperate with the Secretary-General in that process.

Nugroho Wisnumurti

New York

Indonesian representative to the UN

Taxation and churches

Regarding the Oct. 9 page 1 article, " 'Sleeper' Supreme Court Case Tests Right to Tax Nonprofits," while it may seem irreligious to oppose tax relief for religious institutions, in my view such relief presents a violation of separation of church and state guaranteed in the United States Constitution.

Why should clearly profitmaking property and proceeds of "church related" institutions not be taxed to offset the burdens these enterprises set on local citizenry? In many cases, the religious business pursuits operate in direct competition with private enterprises while enjoying favored tax relief.

The world when religious property consisted of just churches, orphanages, and camps has now grown to megamillion-dollar enterprises. The whole exemption matter has transcended the well-meaning intent of the original law.

Janet Palmer

Downingtown, Pa.

Send letters to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, e-mail to OPED@CSPS.COM.

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