|Subject: CNS: Bishop Belo evacuated to Australia
after militias burn home
Date: Wed, 08 Sep 1999 12:41:48 +0900
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Catholic News Service Sep-7-1999
Bishop Belo evacuated to Australia after militias burn home
Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, outspoken in his defense of East Timorese, was evacuated to Darwin, Australia, after militias attacked and burned his home.
Nearly 40 people were reported killed when militias attacked his residence in Dili, East Timor, Sept. 6 as the territory continued to spiral into a state of chaos. Militias were apparently targeting the more than 4,000 refugees who were seeking shelter at the bishop's residence.
Bishop Belo, who was unharmed in the attack, was later evacuated to Baukau, to the residence of Bishop Basilio do Nascimento. However, when militias began attacking there, a Royal Australian Air Force Hercules transport plane transported Bishop Belo and other refugees to Darwin Sept. 7.
Speaking at a press conference upon his arrival, Bishop Belo, apostolic administrator of Dili, said of his fellow East Timorese, "They are very sad and they feel that they are unable to fight against all the ways of violence, and they expect that the international community should act urgently immediately to protect their people."
The attack on Bishop Belo's home was one of several incidents that prompted an international outcry for a peace-keeping force. In Washington, the Clinton administration said it supported an Australian offer of troops, providing Indonesia agreed.
Indonesian President B.J. Habibie declared martial law in East Timor in a last-ditch effort to restore order. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Sept. 6 gave Habibie 48 hours to end the violence or face international intervention.
Hours prior to the attack on Bishop Belo's residence, militias attacked the diocesan complex in Dili, burning several buildings. The Carmelite-run Motael clinic in Dili was also attacked, sources in East Timor said. Attacks were also reported at a Canossians sisters convent that was sheltering refugees and at the International Committee of the Red Cross headquarters, located next door to Bishop Belo's residence.
Eyewitnesses said militias, which Timorese have said are backed by the Indonesian military, were seen marching refugees through the streets of Dili. Casualty reports were impossible to verify, but one observer in Dili said more than 100 "would be a conservative number."
"The people are panicking. You don't think of asking how many people have died. But with each passing moment, many people are being killed, many people," said a Salesian nun in Dili, who spoke by telephone to Catholic News Service in New York.
The latest round of violence came after the United Nations announced Sept. 4 that East Timorese overwhelmingly rejected by a nearly 5-1 margin an Indonesian offer of autonomy. Within hours of the announcement, armed militiamen went on a rampage in Dili, turning the city into a fiery nightmare.
"They're destroying this city. There's nothing left. As I am talking toyou, I am watching the city burn," said the Salesian nun, who spoke with the request of anonymity.
"The houses nearby are burning, and the military is just letting them do it. No one can do anything at this point, not UNAMET, no one. I don't know what you can do, but we need peace-keeping troops in here right away," she said.
During a series of conversations with Catholic News Service, the sounds of automatic gunfire and explosions from hand grenades could be heard outside the Salesian convent, while militia men screamed, "Burn, burn" and "Those of you who are pro-independence come out and show your faces."
"There is no one watching over us, no one," the nun said. "The police and the military have retreated. We¹re all alone here. Earlier today, an Indonesian military officer told us he could no longer guarantee our safety. The people are scared. They¹ve been praying the rosary all day. What else can we do?"
Reached early Sept. 6, hours before his home was attacked, Bishop Belo said that the campaign by the militias was a coup d' etat by the Indonesian military to overturn the results of the Aug. 30 ballot.
In a statement released by his biographer, Arnold Kohen, Bishop Belo pleaded for international peace-keeping troops, a request he has repeated for several months.
Most of those who remained in East Timor have fled to the island¹s rugged mountainside. Refugees have been pouring into Atambua in Indonesian-controlled West Timor at the rate of 1,000 per hour, said a humanitarian aid official.
There were reports of severed heads on sticks on the roads outside Dili.
"Some of our people are leaving for the hillside because we can't offer them protection. We have no guns. We are only women and children and nuns here. There are no men," said the Salesian nun. More than 300 refugees had been living at the convent in the Balide section of Dili in early September.
On Sept. 4, militias opened fire on the nun's vehicle as she was driving to U.N. headquarters in Dili. She was not injured in the attack.
Across town, a Salesian Fathers complex was sheltering more than 3,000 people, mostly men and young boys. Militias were circling outside the complex's high walls and threatened to attack. Police and military also abandoned the priests' complex, the nun said.
Thomas Quigley, senior policy adviser on Asia for the U.S. Catholic Conference, was forced to leave East Timor Sept. 4 as dozens of journalists, election observers and nonessential U.N. personnel fled the country. He rarely left Bishop Belo¹s compound during the two-day visit.
He said Bishop Belo was "one of the few reconciling factors" in East Timor.
"After the voting results were announced, he made it clear that there were no winners, no losers; there was to be no gloating by independence supporters. He was playing the role of calming tensions," Quigley told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview from Bali, Indonesia.
Contributing to this story was David Kehoe in Perth, Australia.