Subject: CNS: East Timorese priest says justice essential to reconciliation efforts

ETIMOR-JUSTICE May-22-2002 (540 words) With photos posted May 20. xxxi

East Timorese priest says justice essential to reconciliation efforts

By Benedict Rogers Catholic News Service

DILI, East Timor (CNS) -- An official of East Timor's reconciliation commission said the only way to reconcile with Indonesia is to bring Indonesian authorities to justice for human rights abuses during their 24-year occupation.

Father Jovito Rego de Jesus Araujo, vice chairman of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor, said an international war-crimes tribunal is the only way to bring human rights abusers to justice, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand.

The commission, established earlier this year, has the task of investigating human rights abuses that took place from 1974 until 1999, including acts of violence committed among East Timorese during the civil war that preceded the Indonesian invasion in 1975.

Speaking prior to the country's formal declaration of independence May 20, Father Araujo said the Indonesian government, "the mastermind of all the atrocities," should be held accountable, as should "external forces that provided the opportunity for human rights violations."

In addition to investigating the Indonesian military, believed to be "the real perpetrators of the human rights violations," he said countries such as Australia and the United States who "gave orders to Indonesia to invade East Timor" also should be held responsible.

Father Araujo said East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao had been pushing for reconciliation rather than justice. "Gusmao wants reconciliation first and then justice, but how can it be? Reconciliation will not be possible if justice does not work," he said.

The priority, Father Araujo said, is to make the commission "belong to the people" and provide a forum for the people, not politicians, "because reconciliation is for the people, the people are the victims."

According to Father Araujo, a key challenge facing the authorities will be how to prevent retribution against perpetrators of the crimes if they return to East Timor. This can only be done through a system of justice, he said.

"Most politicians are thinking about good relations with Indonesia. But the people are waiting for true justice. If the justice system does not work, it will cause a big problem -- there will be street justice," he said.

The Catholic Church has a crucial role to play in the reconciliation process, he said, adding, "In parishes and at community levels, the convents, the congregations play their own role in this field."

Pastoral care is about reconciliation -- how to live in peace and harmony, how to improve the people's understanding of the Christian faith, he said.

Many East Timorese, he added, lack maturity in their faith. "Sometimes they misunderstand and mix religion and faith, two things that are very different, so they never live their faith but they are fanatical about religion."

East Timor is "a very closed community," he said. For almost 500 years since Portuguese missioners brought Catholicism to East Timor, people have generally not understood other religious opinions. "This is the sin of colonization," he claimed.

"That is why they become very exclusive, narrow-minded, very fanatical in religion but not in faith," he said.

The fact that the East Timorese Constitution does not provide for an official state religion is good, the priest added.

END

05/22/2002 11:17 AM ET


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