DAILY CATHOLIC    FRI-SAT-SUN     October 8-10, 1999     vol. 10, no. 192

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Situation of Refugees Is "Desperate" as Dili's Bishop Calls for Reconstruction

        BAUCAU, OCT 7 (ZENIT).- With an enthusiastic welcome, the people of Timor paid tribute yesterday to Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenez Belo, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who a month ago was obliged to leave his country and flee from the violence unleashed by pro-Indonesia militias. He returned to find Dili, his city, and his residence destroyed. No sooner he arrived, the Bishop appealed to the people to come out of their hiding places in the forests and caves to begin the reconstruction.

        He repeated his call in Baucau, the second-largest city of East Timor, where he went a short while later. After being received like a hero, he met the other Bishop of Timor, Basilio Do Nascimento. The first stage of reconstruction will be the establishment of a temporary U.N. administration, but "the second (stage) must allow Timor's National Council of Resistance to organize civil society on the basis of law," Bishop Belo said.

        "We, members of the Church, are ready to collaborate, but the only priority for me today is to be here with the people, to talk and pray with them." Bishop Belo said he would ask the people "not to look to the past but to the future. With prayer and confidence we shall recover hope and begin to reconstruct."

        Outside Dili, however, the situation continues to be uncertain. Yesterday there was a clash between the international peace force and the militias. The problem of the refugees continues to be a burning issue as is the possibility of those in Western Timor returning to their homes.

        The U.N. High Commission for Refugees has denounced the way in which Indonesian authorities are registering the refugees. They are conducting a "poll" on their willingness to return to East Timor. According to the international agency "Fides," in the West Timor refugee camps red-colored cards have been distributed to those who wish to return to East Timor, and blue ones to those who do not. Those who have red cards have had their food rations cut.

        Sadako Ogata, the U.N. Commission's president, deplored the absence of international personnel in the refugee camps. "The Commission should have unlimited access to the evacuated to confirm that their choice has been expressed freely," Ogata said in a note published in Geneva. ZE99100705

        During his stay in Europe last week, Bishop Belo spoke out against the inhumane conditions that refugees are being forced to live in and denounced Indonesia's failure to adequately respond to their needs.

        In a visit to the International Catholic charity "Aid to the Church in Need" in Königstein, Germany, last Thursday, Bishop Belo said there is a an acute shortage of everything -- accommodation, food, drinking water, clothing and medical supplies. There is a danger that the provisions of the refugee camps in East and West Timor will break down. All the hastily erected refugee camps of the local parishes are close to the limits of their capacity, he explained. Despite this, there is no sign of the flood of refugees abating. The bishop has appealed to Church aid agencies to provide rapid help. The situation is so desperate, he said, that there is a real danger of famine.

        Ever since the escalation of the violence against the civilian population in early September, the Catholic Church has been caring for thousands of refugees in camps in its parishes in both the Eastern and Western parts of the island. Thousands have fled from East Timor to the western half of the island in order to escape death at the hands of the militia and sections of the Indonesian army, while others have been forcibly abducted there.

        The situation of the refugees is "desperate" says Bishop Belo, since even here they are not safe from attack. Their fate is "altogether uncertain", since many of the camps have been hermetically sealed by the army.

        Bishop Belo stressed that he was not a political spokesman for his country abroad but wished simply to draw attention to the plight of the people.

        Nevertheless, he welcomed the fact that politicians in Western Europe have expressed their readiness to support East Timor. In his view there is a great danger from the nationalist opposition in Jakarta, which has gained a growing number of supporters in recent weeks and is seeking to present a combined front in opposition to the independence of East Timor from Indonesia. On November 1st the Indonesian parliament will decide on the independence, or otherwise, of East Timor.

        Since 1994, "Aid to the Church in Need" has supported projects in East Timor for a total of $150,000, and since the beginning of September it has given $60,000 for the support of the refugees in West Timor, in the dioceses of Kapaong and Atambua. Further support is planned for the rebuilding of the vast number of churches and parish centers that have been destroyed. ZE99100720

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

October 8-10, 1999       volume 10, no. 192


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