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Targeting of religious groups signals extent of breakdown

From Wire Services and Correspondents

In the violence that followed the vote for independence in East Timor, pro-Indonesian militias particularly targeted religious leaders. Until this recent violence, the clergy and religious enjoyed some protection against the militias. The change indicates the heightened level of violence and suggests that no one is safe in the territory.

The East Timor Human Rights Center in Australia issued a report calling the violence against religious leaders “extremely worrying. … The Catholic church was seen as a sanctuary. But now the last line of protection and the international voice for East Timor is swiftly being destroyed.”

Mass killings and destruction began in East Timor following the Sept. 4 announcement of the results of the Aug. 30 autonomy referendum in which 78.5 percent of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia.

At Castel Gandalfo Sept. 13, a visibly moved Pope John Paul II received Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Dili, the capital of East Timor. Belo, the 1996 Nobel Peace laureate, fled East Timor after militias attacked his residence where some 6,000 people had taken refuge. He said armed men killed 25 people and destroyed a portion of the church in what was part of “a direct attack” on the Catholic church.

Belo said Sept. 14 that he asked the pope to seek President Clinton’s help in speeding up the deployment of a peacekeeping force “to save the population” of East Timor. Amid worldwide pressure, Indonesian President B.J. Habibie announced Sept. 12 that his government would accept the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Belo estimated that militias have killed 10,000 people, sent 100,000 fleeing into the mountains and forests and deported 80,000 to West Timor.

“The Timorese people never kill, never burn down houses,” Belo said. “That is good, but it is also necessary to defend ourselves. I have not incited the people to take up arms, but the right to self-defense is recognized in Catholic morality.”

Belo said the militias attacked the church because it “has been the voice of the Timorese, who could not speak freely.”

The house of Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau was attacked Sept. 8. The bishop was stabbed in the hand and fled with refugees who were in his house.

Among those confirmed killed were Fr. Francisco Barreto, director of Caritas East Timor, along with most of the 40 staff members, outside Dare. The director of Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor, Jesuit Fr. Karl Albrecht, was killed Sept. 11 in Dili.

Fr. Hilario Pereira and Fr. Francisco Soares, parish priests of Suai, and recently ordained Jesuit Fr. Tarcisius Dewanto were shot dead in front of the Suai parish church as they tried to prevent armed men from entering. Eyewitnesses said the armed men threw grenades into the church, killing more than 100 people.

Four sisters of the Cannosian order were reported killed in Suai. At least three other priests and one nun were confirmed dead, while some 60 nuns and 10 priests have disappeared.

The Rev. Francisco de Vasconcelos Ximenes, the acting head of the Protestant church in East Timor, was shot and killed after being forced out of a church in Dili.

Indonesia snapshot
National motto: “Unity in Diversity”
Geography: largest archipelago, spans 3,200 miles, 13,667 islands, 6,000 inhabited
Population: 210,000,000 (fourth most populous nation)
Languages: 300 distinct languages
Religion: 85 percent Islamic, 10 percent Christian, 3 percent Buddhist or Animist, 2 percent Hindu
History: Portuguese colonialism begins in the early 16th century. In the 17th century, Dutch and British take all but one of Portugal’s holdings. The Dutch become the most significant European influence.
In 1950, the Indonesian Republic is declared; Sukarno becomes president. In 1960, Sukarno suspends parliament; in 1963 he is declared president for life. Indonesia develops ties with communist bloc.
In 1965, army generals attempt coup, purge communists; in 1968, Suharto, army head becomes president, develops ties with West; in 1975, Indonesia invades East Timor as Portuguese rule collapses.
In 1998, Suhargo is forces out; B.J. Habibie, named president, announces East Timor election. In U.N.-sponsored election Aug. 30, 78.8 percent of East Timorese vot for independence.
Economy: Rich in agriculture and fishing, Indonesian economy is increasingly export-based. Principal products include rice, rubber, sugar cane, palm oil, coffee, tea, coconuts and fruits. Indonesia is rich in precious metals, oil, natural gas and other minerals.

Dennis Coday, NCR Asia correspondent, contributed to this report.

National Catholic Reporter, September 24, 1999