Subject: Vatican envoy gathers bishops in E. Timor for reconciliation talks

Vatican envoy gathers bishops in East Timor for reconciliation talks

JAKARTA, Jan 4 (AFP) - A Vatican envoy is leading talks between bishops from Indonesian West Timor and UN-ruled East Timor on how to reconcile the rival East Timorese factions, a priest said Thursday.

"Talks were held yesterday and today and will continue tomorrow," Father Ansel Leu told AFP by phone from the West Timor capital of Kupang.

He confirmed that Bishop Petrus Turang of Kupang had travelled to the East Timor capital of Dili on Wednesday to meet with Dili's Bishop Carlos Ximenes Filepe Belo and Baucau's Bishop Basilio do Nascimento.

Bishop Anton Pain Ratu of Atambua, a refugee-swollen West Timor border town, would join talks scheduled for Friday at 5:00 pm (0800 GMT) in the hill town of Dare outside Dili, Pastor Agus Berek at Atambua's cathedral said.

"All five bishops will meet there, under the leadership of the Vatican representative," Berek told AFP by phone.

Staff at the Vatican embassy in Jakarta confirmed that chief representative, Monsignor Renzo Fratini was in East Timor for the talks.

Friday's talks would focus on reconciliation between pro-independence and anti-independence East Timorese, with the aim of resolving the dragging refugee problem, Berek added.

Some 250,000 were forced out of East Timor across the border into West Timor in September 1999 when pro-Jakarta militias went on the rampage angered after the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

Many have returned home to East Timor, but it is estimated up to 100,000 remain trapped in refugee camps in West Timor, where the militias reportedly still hold sway.

Father Leu said further repatriations of the refugees still holed up in the squalid West Timor camps was impossible without reconciliation.

"They must be able to make a decision about returning or staying, without pressure from any side, and this can only happen if both sides forgive each other first," he said.

"If they don't forgive each other, reconciliation will be difficult. They must be reconciled."

But attempts to reconcile the two sides have been hampered by the grindingly slow legal system, which has been forced to set free many of those blamed for the violence which erupted after the UN-held ballot.

In Australia, a priest who heads the Jesuit Refugee Service said Thursday thousands may decide not to return home because they had links either to Indonesia or to the pro-Jakarta militias.

Father Frank Brennan told ABC Radio the UN refugee agency estimated that up to 19,000 refugees belonged to families which had at least one member "in receipt of an Indonesian government pension or salary."

Others were militia members or families of militiamen for whom the option of returning to East Timor was unattractive.

"But you also have a third group who would be those that are our greatest concern, that is those who in a sense are hostage to those who are running the camps with militia backing," Father Brennan said.

Tensions flared at the weekend when refugees from the Tuapukan camp in Kupang attacked the Poto resettlement camp 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of the city.

About 100 houses, mostly belonging to local residents, were reportedly looted and burned.

Brennan said the tensions were fuelled by complaints about food distribution by the Indonesian government.

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