DAILY CATHOLIC     FRI-SAT-SUN     January 29-31, 1999     vol. 10, no. 20

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          JAKARTA (CWNews.com) - Bishop Carlos Belo of Dili, East Timor agreed on Wednesday with the Indonesian government's new decision to raise the possibility of independence for the troubled former Portugese colony.

          "I believe the problem can be settled in the People's Consultative Assembly, because the problem cannot be resolved through military violence, but political arrangement," the bishop said. Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said the issue of East Timor leaving Indonesia could be put before the new People's Consultative Assembly, to be elected in June, if the East Timorese people rejected Jakarta's offer of greater autonomy.

          Bishop Belo, the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said that because the integration of East Timor into Indonesia was deliberated in the assembly, it is now also the responsibility of the same assembly to solve the problem. Similar remarks were also made by prominent Indonesian politician Frans Seda in Jakarta. Indonesia invaded mainly Catholic East Timor in 1975 and annexed it the following year in a move not recognized by the United Nations.

          Bishop Belo said he had already suggested to Alatas that East Timor be given "autonomy as great as possible for ten or 15 years and afterwards a referendum should be held." However, the bishop said, the main problem is now that civilians were armed by the military which caused conflict and fighting in many areas in the troubled region.

          On Wednesday, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights confirmed that the Indonesian military had handed out hundreds of guns to untrained civilian supporters of Jakarta's rule, raising fears of a bloodbath as the new militia units kill and terrorize civilian supporters of independence.

          One of the fallouts of the violence is that one of the oldest churches in East Asia was destroyed in rioting last week, according to police reports on Thursday. The Gereja Tua, or Old Church, was built in Ambon Island -- part of the Spice Islands -- by Portugese colonists in 1780.

          Police reported that the church, in the village of Hila-Kaitetu was burned by Muslim rioters last week, killing at least eight people, including a Catholic priest. More than 56 people in total were killed in the riots in the province last week. Hila-Kaitetu is home to about 3,000 Muslims and about 500 Protestants and Catholics, who had fled for the safety of police stations and army bases when the riots began.

          Christian and Muslim extremists have clashed in various regions of Indonesia in recent months as the country's economic crisis has worsened and as the majority Muslims have begun to blame the wealthy, minority, ethnic Chinese Christians for the poverty gap.

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.

January 29-31, 1999       volume 10, no. 20


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