September 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 163

NEWS for Thursday, September 7, 2000

DILI, East Timor, Sep. 6, 00 (

    More than 10,000 East Timorese gathered in a town on the newly independent country's border with Indonesia on Wednesday to commemorate the massacre one year ago of more than 100 people in a parish church.

    Bishop Carlos Belo of Dili celebrated Mass in the shattered Church of Our Lady of Fatima in the town of Suai in memory of the dead. "We wanted to establish a new East Timor, and for this we had to pay with suffering and bloodshed," he told the openly weeping congregation. "Once a seed is thrown onto the earth, from this seed will grow a new creation so there will be new life and new hope," he said. "So let us look to a better future, for after last year's massacre we enter into a new life and a new East Timor."

    Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, invaded mainly Catholic East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move not recognized by the United Nations. In August 1999, the region held a Jakarta-proposed referendum to allow Timorese to choose either autonomy within Indonesia or full independence. After the pro-independence results were revealed, pro-Indonesia militias, armed and backed by Indonesia's military, went on a rampage, killing hundreds and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee the former Portuguese colony.

    The exact number of those killed at the church, which before the referendum sheltered up to 2,800 refugees from militia violence and intimidation, has yet to be determined. Estimates vary widely and only about 50 bodies have been found. "The rest were thrown into the sea, into rivers, into lakes so I think it is very hard to locate and retrieve them," said Father Rene Manubag, the top church official in Suai, who added that he has confirmed there were 146 victims in the massacre.

    Last September 6, Indonesian police allowed militiamen to enter the church complex with automatic weapons, machetes, and grenades. Later, eyewitnesses recounted stories of soldiers and militiamen removing bodies, which was later confirmed by exhumation of 26 corpses.

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