Subject: AFP: Bishop urges expulsion of Portuguese journalist from East Timor

Also: Alkatiri Guarantees Press Freedom After Expulsion Call

Portugal-Timor-Belo Bishop urges expulsion of Portuguese journalist from East Timor

LISBON, May 23 (AFP) - East Timor's influential cardinal Carlos Ximenes Belo, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1996, has called for the expulsion of a Portuguese journalist from the newly independent territory because of his criticism of the Catholic Church, Portuguese press reported on Thursday.

In an opinion article published in the daily Timor Post on Wednesday, the Roman Catholic bishop said an article written by Antonio Sampaio of Portugal's Lusa news agency last week was "against the people of Timor and against Dili's Catholics", adding for this reason "the author of this article should be removed from Timor".

The cardinal added the Portuguese state-controlled news agency "has only offered a poor service to the nation of East Timor and its people" since it opened its bureau in Dili two years ago.

Lusa published an article on May 17 written by Sampaio called "The strength of the church or the power of a bishop" which criticized the "conservative and insular" nature of the Catholic Church in East Timor and the influence of Ximenes Belo over the lives of the people in the territory.

East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with Ximenes Belo, praised the work Lusa has done covering East Timor and said he would never ask for the expulsion of a journalist from the country.

"I regret this incident and I ask Lusa to understand the climate of stress that we live under at the moment (due to the independence declaration)," he told Lusa.

East Timor became independent on Sunday. The half-island territory spent some 450 years as a neglected Portuguese colony and was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 after Lisbon's pullout.

The United Nations took over the administration in October 1999 following a ballot in which almost 80 percent of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. The vote sparked widescale violence and destruction by pro-Jakarta militias and some elements of the Indonesian army.

For his part East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said press freedoms would be guaranteed in the newly independent country.

"It is for this that we fought, for freedom of thought, of expression, of information," he told private Portuguese radio TSF.

He asked Lusa "not to get angry and continue the magnificent work it has carried out", adding for a long time the Portuguese news agency "was the voice of the Timorese people to the outside world".

Lusa said in a statement issued on Thursday the bishop's statements were "inappropriate", adding it has covered events in East Timor since the beginning of Indonesia's occupation.

Sampaio has been Lusa's correspondent in Dili since 1999.


23-05-2002 16:22:00 GMT Invalid Hora local. Notícia 3692204

East Timor: Alkatiri Guarantees Press Freedom After Expulsion Call

Reacting Thursday to calls from East Timor`s religious leader for the expulsion of a Portuguese correspondent from Dili, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said there will be freedom of the press in the new nation.

"I can guarantee that the media will have freedom in this country, as we fought for this, so that there would be freedom of thought, expression and information" said Timor`s head of government.

Alkatiri`s comments came in response to a letter published in a Dili newspaper Thursday from Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, in which the Catholic prelate called for the expulsion of the Lusa news agency`s correspondent over "an article against the Timorese people and the Catholics of Dili".

The Bishop had lived through a period of severe restriction of liberty during the Indonesian occupation, Alkatiri said, adding that Belo "knows what the cost of free information is".

The prime minister, who is also leader of the governing Fretilin party, said he received Belo`s letter Monday, only reading the article in question Tuesday.

"Yesterday (Wednesday) I read the Lusa report and wondered to myself ... if it was the same article that warranted this reaction, or a different one. I was in doubt as I don`t know if the article merited this response", said Alkatiri.

Asked to comment on the Bishop`s assertion that Lusa had offered a very poor service to East Timor, Alkatiri referred to the large number of pieces the agency published monthly on the country.

"I have a positive appraisal of Lusa`s work. All of us kow what Lusa has done and what the Portuguese media have achieved in East Timor, particularly Lusa, Alkatiri said.

Portugal`s national journalist`union said it was "shocked" by the Bishop`s comments, pointing to the importance of respecting press freedom.

The Lusa news agency`s head of information, Fernando Trigo, described the request for the Dili correspondent`s expulsion as an "unprecedented demand" and the Bishop`s accusation as "inappropriate".

CJB/FP -Lusa-

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