DAILY CATHOLIC     WEDNESDAY     February 3, 1999     vol. 10, no. 23

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          JAKARTA (CWNews.com/FIDES) -- The apostolic Administrator of Dili, Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, reports that the unrest in East Timor has been intensified because the military has armed the civilian population. "People are now killing each other," he says.

          The bishop's complaint has been echoed by a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, based in Jakarta. He confirmed that Indonesian military forces have handed out hundred of firearms to untrained civilians who support the rule of the government in Jakarta, and oppose the bid for greater autonomy in East Timor.

          East Timor was annexed by Indonesia in 1976, after a 1975 invasion which was widely condemned by the international community. The United Nations has never recognized Indonesia's claim to legal authority over East Timor, and separatist leaders in the region-- with the evident backing of the majority of Timorese-- have steadily fought to free themselves from the control of the Jakarta government.

          The methodical arming of the regime's civilian supporters has raised new fears of a bloodbath, as undisciplined paramilitary units carry out terror campaigns against supporters of Timorese independence. One human-rights organization based in Dili has announced that in the Covalima district alone, 22 people were killed during the month of January in clashes between supporters and opponents of independence.

          Meanwhile, the Indonesian government headed by President Habibie decided last week to release East Timor separatist leader Xanana Gusmao from prison, instead keeping him under house arrest. Bishop Belo remarked: "He is not a criminal, but a political prisoner. If now the Indonesian government allows him "special prisoner" status, I hope that he will be set free soon." The bishop added that Gusmao could play an important role in resolving the conflict in East Timor, because he enjoys widespread support among young people and among guerrilla fighters supporting the cause of independence.

          Bishop Belo also praised a government decision to put the future of East Timor up for discussion in the country's new parliament, the People's Consultative Assembly, which will be elected in June 1999. Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas has said that the possibility of granting full independence to East Timor could be put before the new People's Consultative Assembly, if the East Timorese people reject Jakarta's current offer for greater autonomy.

          Such a solution is clearly preferable, said the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, because "the problem cannot be resolved by military violence, but by political arrangement." Bishop Belo added that since the integration of East Timor into Indonesia was originally deliberated in the assembly, it is appropriate that the assembly should now address a solution to the problem.

          Bishop Belo said that he has recommended an agreement under which East Timor would be given "as much autonomy as possible" over a period of 10- 15 years, to be followed by a referendum in which the people of East Timor would choose their own future.

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales. Both CWN and NE are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provides this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

February 3, 1999       volume 10, no. 23


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