Testifying at the Indonesia-East Timor Truth Commission, former Dili Bishop Carlos Belo said that Indonesian forces and their militia allies had systematically razed the diocese’s compound as well as other churches, killing several clergy and an unknown number of others.
Deutsche Presse Argentur reports that Bishop Belo, who headed the Archdiocese of Dili during the 1999 rampage, was the star witness as the Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship resumed public hearings in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
Speaking in Portuguese, the official language of the now independent East Timor, Bishop Belo calmly recalled how army-trained Timorese militias and Indonesian soldiers systematically carried out the destruction and killings in Dili and two districts.
The carnage, in which at least 1,500 were killed, began just after voters in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975, voted overwhelmingly for independence in a United Nations-run referendum on 30 August 1999.
Bishop Belo said that by 4 September, ‘the militias and Indonesian military had already attacked the diocese’, while priests inside were sheltering civilian refugees. ‘We don’t know how many people were killed.’
The bishop said under questioning by the 10-member commission that gross human rights violations occurred, but urged the countries to ‘forget the past and look to the future’.
‘If we look back at the past, we will open up old wounds and delve back into the hatred,’ Bishop Belo, a native Timorese who now lives abroad, said during his testimony.
The commission aims to establish the truth behind the violence and clarify the history of the two countries, as well as to investigate the actions of the Indonesian military as they withdrew from the territory, and those of local militia groups.
The five Indonesian commission members spent a morning last month questioning the accuracy of Bishop Belo’s testimony. They asked whether the UN ‘cheated’ in running the poll, if the Catholic Church sided with the pro-independence movement, and whether the violence was only carried out by Timorese upset at the referendum result.
One commission member asked whether Bishop Belo may have set fire to his own house – while inside it – when it was surrounded by militia thugs who later razed it to the ground.
Timor priest accuses Aussie troops
Meanwhile, an East Timor priest has accused Australian troops of terrifying local villagers after a raid by the soldiers left a number of houses in ruins, as fugitive Timorese rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado calls for mediation by the Church.
The Brisbane Times reports that Fr Conceicao, who is parish priest of Same, protested over the 8 March raid on the hamlet of Serema.
Fr David Alves Conceicao said villagers had been terrified by the arrival of four Black Hawk helicopters and a troop transport, apparently acting on information they were harbouring the fugitive Major Reinado, who remains on the run.
‘Houses were assaulted and people ordered out in the middle of the night for searches,’ the priest said by telephone.
‘Poor farmers, old people.
‘This is a peaceful population, and this is a problem that will not be resolved by force. If someone who was a friend to us uses force, it will provoke a reaction.’
Both the church and local people claim that houses were destroyed during the raid, the Times says.
Images of around 10 damaged houses were shown on East Timorese national television last month, and Social Democrat deputy Riak Leman subsequently protested this in parliament.
Conceicao said the military operations in Same district were continuing on a daily basis.
‘It’s like living on a battlefield,’ he said.
But Australian force commander Brigadier General Mal Rerden denied houses had been destroyed.
‘Our operations in Same were conducted to minimise damage to the civilian population and protect it from Reinado and his group,’ he told the Brisbane Times.
He said there had been some ‘very minor damage to a few houses’ and that troops had returned to help villagers with repairs.
Meanwhile, the Age reports that Major Reinado has told local journalists that he wanted the Catholic Church to mediate a surrender.
‘I’m always ready to dialogue – dialogue is better so that we can prevent any threats against the nation that could lead to civil war,’ Major Reinado said.
New nuncio calls for an end to violence
As he presented his credentials to East Timor’s president, the country’s new Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, has urged the Church and government to work together to free the people from conflict.
UCA News reports that Archbishop Girelli was making his first pastoral visit to East Timor (Timor Leste) last month since he took office as apostolic nuncio to both Indonesia and Timor Leste in 2006.
He celebrated Mass at Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Dili, visited camps for displaced people in and around the capital, and visited Our Lady of Fatima Minor Seminary in Dare, a village of Dili. He also met with leaders of Baucau and Dili dioceses, which cover the predominantly Catholic country.
After the meeting with President Xanana Gusmao, the Jakarta-based nuncio told the media that throughout his three-day visit he asked the Church and the government to build peace and stability in Timor Leste.
‘I bring also Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing and prayer that Timor Leste be free from crisis as soon as possible,’ he said.
Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili accompanied Archbishop Girelli to the meeting.
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