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Remarks on East Timor and the Shootings at Wedgewood Baptist Church and an Exchange With Reporters

September 16, 1999

The President. Before I depart for the FEMA operations center, I'd like to say just a few words about East Timor and the terrible murders in Texas last night.

First, I'm pleased that the U.N. Security Council has approved the creation of a multinational force to be led by Australia, to deploy as soon as possible to end violence, restore order, and support the results of the August 30 referendum, where the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence.

After consulting closely with Congress and with the Government of Australia on the best way for the United States to support this operation, and on the recommendation of Secretary Cohen and my national security team, I have decided to contribute to the force in a limited but essential way, including communications and logistical aid, intelligence, air lifts of personnel and material, and coordination of the humanitarian response to the tragedy.

We will deploy about 200 people, about half of whom will serve on the ground in East Timor. In addition, elements of the Pacific Fleet will provide support. I am especially encouraged that Asian nations will be taking the primary responsibility. The overall force will contain about 7,500 people, roughly half will be Australian, and I understand that Thailand and many other Asian nations will contribute, as well as governments from outside the region.

This mission is in America's interest for several reasons. Indonesia's future is important to us, not only because of its resources and its sea lanes but for its potential as a leader in the region and the world. It is the fourth most populous nation in the world; the largest Muslim nation in the world. All Asians and Americans have an interest in a stable, democratic, prosperous Indonesia.

Our fundamental values are also at stake in East Timor. The election on August 30th was conducted fairly, under the leadership of the U.N., with the agreement of the Indonesian Government. It produced a clear mandate for independence. The violence since is abhorrent to all of us who care about human dignity and democracy.

Of course, on any mission like this, there are dangers and risks of casualties. There remains a great deal of work ahead, but this force is well equipped for the job, and it is a job that is in the interests of peace and stability.

Last night, in the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, during a prayer service for teenagers, a gunman killed seven worshipers, wounded seven others and killed himself. Yet again, we have seen a sanctuary violated by gun violence, taking children brimming with faith and promise and hope before their time. Our Nation's support and prayers are with the families of the victims, those still suffering in the hospital, and the entire Fort Worth community.

Federal law enforcement officials are now working with State officials and local authorities to find all the answers. But we know we have to redouble our efforts to protect our children. We know we have to act as if it were our own children being targeted by gun violence.

We know that there is nothing we can do to assure that this will never happen, but there is a lot more we can do to assure that it will happen more rarely. And I can only hope that the shock of this event will spur that kind of action.

Thank you very much.

Consultation With Congressional Leaders on East Timor

Q. Mr. President, did you consult the leaders? You say you consulted the leaders on the force, this very small force?

The President. Yes. Yes.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:40 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House prior to departure for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In his remarks, he referred to Larry Gene Ashbrook, gunman who attacked a prayer group at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX, on September 15.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on East Timor and the Shootings at Wedgewood Baptist Church and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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