DAILY CATHOLIC TUESDAY September 7, 1999 vol. 10, no. 169
NEWS & VIEWS
HUNDREDS KILLED IN EAST TIMOR AFTER VOTE RESULTS
Bishop Belo's residence attacked, yet he asks for peace and forgiveness
DILI, East Timor (CWNews.com/FIDES) - "Pro-Indonesian militias appear to have gone mad. They are roaming the streets hunting down independence supporters. They are furious because this will mean they lose all their privileges. Now they have nothing to lose, so they crazily attack anything and everything," according to reports by missionaries in Dili.
"The paramilitary are against any change and they seem to be acting out of control," he said. Catholic groups in the region, fearing that the violence was engineered by the Indonesian government with the intention of fomenting civil war, launched an urgent call for an international peacekeeping force.
On Sunday night and Monday morning, the offices and residence of Bishop Carlos Belo of Dili were set on fire by pro-Indonesian militia. The bishop was unhurt and was escorted by Indonesian army troops to Baucau, Timor's other diocese, to the residence of Bishop Basilio Do Nascimento. The bishop's house in Dili had become a refuge for crowds of terrified displaced persons. According to reports, militias first set fire to the bishop's offices, killing 25 people who had sought refuge there. Later, they torched the bishop's house, which was completely burned to the ground, but no one was hurt.
Soon after the ballot result in favor of independence was announced on Saturday, violence erupted in Dili and Bishop Belo called on all East Timorese people to forgive each other, embracing one another as brothers and sisters and at the same time to accept the result of the ballot. "Let us forget the bitterness of life and past dark days. Look to the future that is full of promises, hope, and challenges," he said.
"East Timor is the property of all people of good will for the peaceful, just, democratic, and prosperous future of the territory. It is not owned only by the pro-independence groups but also by those for integration with Indonesia. Let us forgive and accept each other as brothers and sisters, but also walk along together toward the future of East Timor," he said.
Meanwhile, pro-Indonesia militia members who were disappointed at the result went on a rampage at the Hotel Mahkota, that housed UN staff members and journalists. In Jakarta, East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao, who will be soon released from his house arrest, urged the UN to send peacekeeping forces immediately.
As thousands of people flee from the widespread carnage in East Timor on Monday, they reported that the former Portugese colony's capital had become a "city of fear" with decapitated heads on sticks lining roads as anti-independence militias roamed through the streets killing with machetes and guns.
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 January, President B.J. Habibie proposed a referendum to allow Timorese to choose either autonomy within Indonesia or full independence, with the pro-independence results of last Monday's poll being released on Saturday. Anti-independence forces, trained and armed by Indonesia's military, had killed dozens and displaced thousands as they waged a campaign to intimidate voters before the vote.
East Timor support groups in Australia reported that more than 170 people had been slaughtered by the militias on Monday alone in the area around Dili, the capital. The numbers of those murdered in the remote villages of the territory were not known. Meanwhile, Australian military aircraft flew in and out of the Dili airport, evacuating refugees and members of international groups who were in the territory to monitor the ballot.
In one reported incident, a priest in the town of Suai by phone told workers in Australia that 100 people had been killed there after UN workers left. He said a three-year-old child had been strangled and thrown onto a fire during the attacks in a church compound.
Meanwhile on Monday, Indonesia's military warned that militias planned to burn all the churches in Dili that night. John Barr of the Uniting Church in Australia said Protestant leaders in Dili had informed him of the warning. "The comments that were made to me were that the militia are basically out to destroy Dili, to burn it all and this has all been set up by the military," he said. Barr added that thousands of refugees were seeking shelters in churches and panic was spreading throughout the country.
Barr also called for an international peacekeeping force,
saying the Indonesian government had no commitment to
maintaining the peace. "It's not that Indonesia is
incapable of maintaining security, it's that the Indonesian
military are obviously behind it, they're the protagonists
and somehow they've got to be stopped," he said.
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NEWS & VIEWS