Subject: Weeping mourners pack Dili cathedral for funeral of martyred priests

Weeping mourners pack Dili cathedral for funeral of martyred priests

DILI, East Timor, Nov 27 (AFP) - Nobel peace laureate Bishop Carlos Ximenes Felipe Belo Saturday paid tribute to three priests martyred for trying to defend the East Timorese from the militia terror, at a mass attended by 1,000 mourners.

"I consider them all martyrs of the church and their diocese because they defended the people," Belo told the congregation packed into Dili cathedral for a requiem mass after an all-night vigil for the slain priests.

The three were among 26 corpses discovered by Indonesian rights investigators on Thursday in three mass graves in Indonesian West Timor.

Rights activists believe the victims were sheltering in a church compound in the East Timor town of Suai, 110 kilometres (68 miles) southwest of here, when the militias attacked on September 6.

Belo told the mass the priests -- identified as Father Hilario Madeira from Suai, Father Francisco Soares from East Timor, and Jesuit priest Father Tarcisio Dewanto from the main Indonesian island of Java -- knew they were going to be killed.

"Father Hilario called me on the night of the fifth telling me that it was the last night for them," he said, then the phone was cut off.

The three priests had worked hard to try to overcome months of intimidation and hatred from the militias who accused them of being involved in politics by sheltering people and helping the Falintil resistance fighters hiding in the forest, Belo said.

At the end of the service members of the congregation, many with tears streaming down their cheeks, reverently stooped to kiss the coffins as they left the church.

The priests' remains were returned to East Timor by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday, after autopsies were carried out in West Timor.

The 23 other bodies were due to arrive in Dili later Saturday.

At the end of the service one priest sat alone in a pew quietly sobbing remembering his 34-year-old friend Father Francisco who had gone to Suai about a year ago to help Father Hilario.

"He came into a bad situation there with the militia. Many of the militia tried to kill him before the 6th," said Father Mouzinho Lopes.

"I am very angry. Before the Indonesians got here we never saw this destruction."

H.S. Dillon, one of the investigators from the Indonesian Commission for the Investigation of Human Rights Abuses in East Timor, said the victims had been shot or knifed to death.

A member of the commission Munir (eds: one name) said a middle-ranking officer may have been responsible for taking the bodies from Suai the three kilometres (two miles) across the border.

"Witnesses' accounts have made identifying the perpetrators easier, and we have reached the point where the commission already has the names of those allegedly involved in Suai, including a middle ranking officer who was reportedly seen at the scene," Munir said, quoted by the Jakarta Post daily.

Munir gave no names of those involved but said the bodies, including those of eight women, were transported to the grave site using trucks and military vehicles.

But the allegation was denied by Indonesian military spokesman Major General Sudrajat who said no orders had been given for an operation in the area at that time.

The allegations would be checked out, but more information was needed, he told the Post.

Belo said Hilario Maderia's family would take his body to their hometown of Ermera for burial later on Saturday.

Dewanto was buried in Dili immediately after the service and Soares' body was to be moved to a burial service on Sunday.

Pro-Jakarta militias backed by the military rampaged through the territory in early September after the East Timorese voted to sever ties with Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

The independent Indonesian inquiry has alleged that senior military officials plotted the systematic destruction of the territory after the ballot.


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