Subject: SMH: Systematic extermination of priests and nuns
Date: Thu, 9 Sep 1999 14:38:36 EDT

Sydney Morning Herald Friday, September 10, 1999

Marked for execution

PHOTO: Birthday picnic ... From left: Sister Celeste, who was turning 48 and is now believed dead, Sister Loaurdes, who escaped, and Sister Domingas Guterres and Sister Domingas Correia De Sousa, both reportedly shot dead.


Catholic Church leaders were hiding in remote East Timor mountains last night after pro-Jakarta militia gangs went on a rampage of bloody retribution, murdering at least 14 priests and nuns and stabbing the Bishop of Baucau.

Six nuns were reported killed in Baucau, four nuns in Dili and three priests in Suai, said a spokeswoman for Caritas Australia, the Catholic overseas aid agency. The Bishop of Baucau, the Most Rev Basilio do Nascimento, was stabbed before escaping into the mountains.

Father Francisco Barreto, the local director of Caritas, was believed to have been murdered just outside the capital, Dili.

He had warned the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, during a visit to Australia in April that terrible violence would be orchestrated by the Indonesian military.

One account of the attack on the six Canossian sisters in Baucau, 115 kilometres east of Dili, said the militia thugs had forced them into a forest where they were murdered.

Reports of the atrocities emerged as Indonesia announced last night that a five-member United Nations Security Council team would travel to East Timor tomorrow, but Jakarta remained strongly opposed to any UN peacekeeping force.

In the worst slaughter to date, the UN confirmed that at least 100 people, including three priests, had died in an attack earlier this week on refugees sheltering in the church at Suai, on the remote east coast.

The dead priests were Father Hilario Madeira, who had long been an outspoken critic of military and militia abuses, Father Francisco Soares and Father Tarcisius Dewanto.

The savage attacks are the first deliberate violations of the sanctity of the church under Indonesian rule and have robbed the East Timorese of their last refuge.

The militias appear to be using a death list of independence sympathisers compiled before the ballot to systematically hunt down their targets.

Many of the priests and nuns are sheltering on Mate Bean, the mountain of death, where tens of thousands were killed by bombing in the first years of the Indonesian occupation.

It is not known whether they have any supplies or access to medical treatment.

A communications blackout in Dili has made it impossible to confirm the number of dead or injured in the attacks and Catholic networks in Australia and Indonesia are working with the Vatican to try to establish the facts.

Some reports have been received by overseas diocese offices through e-mail from outlying Catholic schools and churches in East Timor, describing attacks on churches and buildings where nuns and priests were sheltering with thousands of refugees.

A Caritas Australia spokeswoman, Ms Jane Woolford, said: "We don't even know where many of our local staff are. We hold grave fears for their safety as many of them have been on death militia lists before and have been attacked trying to deliver aid."

Many church leaders were identified as independence supporters and the Catholic Church became an important symbol of opposition to the Muslim-dominated Indonesian Government.

The leader of the Catholic Church in East Timor, Bishop Carlos Belo, was evacuated to Darwin earlier this week after his offices and home were burnt to the ground, with scores killed.

Father Jose San Juan, also recently evacuated to Darwin, said: "I fear many, many priests and sisters will be killed if they stay. In the past the church was a safe place, even from the Indonesian military, but if they can attack the bishop then that's it."

The militia units were stacked with Indonesian operatives, said Father San Juan, a Filipino from the Salesian order.

"I saw the militias attacking churches before I got out and many of them were speaking in Indonesian, not the local language, so I do not believe they are all East Timorese," he said.

"They were yelling at people to get out or be killed, and if they refused they just shot or stabbed them. The Indonesian police and military were just standing there."

The chairman of Caritas Australia, Bishop Hilton Deakin,said: "These murderous attacks on the church are part of a much wider unjust genocide.

"When Catholic Church members, who have offered relief and refuge to East Timorese, are struck down, we realise there is no respect for any life in East Timor."

Ms Ana Noronha, director of the East Timor Human Rights Commission, said information on the deaths had been sentto the United Nations. "It is now obvious that the violence is reaching everyone and that there is a pattern of the Catholic Church being attacked."

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