Subject: Bishop Belo at CTF

Also DPA and AP

Indonesia troops in Timor church mayhem--clergy

26 Mar 2007 09:08:08 GMT


By Achmad Sukarsono

JAKARTA, March 26 (Reuters) - Indonesian soldiers took part in violence against church property and clergymen across East Timor before and after the 1999 freedom vote, the territory's former top Catholic leader said in a hearing on Monday.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Carlos Belo, who was Dili bishop from 1996 to 2002, delivered that testimony on the opening day of the second public hearing held by a truth commission set up by Indonesia and East Timor in an attempt to uncover events surrounding the bloody August 1999 referendum.

The United Nations estimates about 1,000 East Timorese died during the mayhem after the vote, which was blamed largely on the pro-Jakarta militias backed by elements in the Indonesian army.

Belo said that since April 1999 he had heard reports that pro-Jakarta militia gangs and soldiers were involved in torture of pro-independence Timorese. He said he had witnessed how they ruined his diocese and residence after the vote showed overwhelming support for separating East Timor from Indonesia.

"The militia and the Indonesian military attacked the Dili diocese building where hundreds sought refuge. After shooting relentlessly, militiamen and soldiers entered the main building," said Belo, who testified in Portuguese.

"The pastors were dragged out. The diocese complex was torched and we lost all of its content including the whole library, records and historic documents."

"Reportedly, some refugees were killed there but we do not know how many," said Belo, now a missionary in Mozambique.

The attack against the diocese took place on Sept 5, 1999. On the next day, Belo's residence became the target.

"I heard shots to the windows in the living room which broke into pieces. I heard a molotov cocktail hit the wall and door. Then, I saw the north door in flames," he told the public forum, held at a luxurious Jakarta hotel.

After Belo escaped the fire, he took refuge in the town of Baucau using an Indonesian police helicopter before flying to Australia with a United Nations team the next day.

He said that other churches across East Timor were later attacked by pro-Jakarta militia gangs.

Although he said he had seen Indonesian soldiers take part in the attacks in Dili, when cross-examined by an East Timorese commissioner on who funded the pro-Jakarta militias Belo said he didn't know.

"What I know, (the militia groups) somehow appeared but I did not try to find out who formed them," he said.

An Indonesian commissioner argued that the militias were Catholics who felt the church was not neutral and backed pro-independence Timorese, but Belo said he was on the side of non-violence.

Only one of 18 Indonesian men indicted by Jakarta over the 1999 Timor violence is serving time. The others, mostly soldiers, received acquittals at various court stages.

The one exception, militia leader Eurico Guterres, is scheduled to testify in a commission hearing on Wednesday.

The March 26-30 sessions will also hear testimony from victims, from three Indonesian generals who were connected with operations in East Timor in 1999, and from the Indonesian president at that time, B.J. Habibie, who requested a closed hearing on Tuesday.

Critics say the commission is toothless because it lacks the power to punish those responsible for abuses.

Mainly Catholic East Timor became fully independent in May 2002 after a U.N. transitional administration that followed 24 years of repressive Indonesian occupation.


East Timor Bishop Describes Attacks By Indonesian Army, Militias


Bishop Carlos Belo of East Timor testified Monday that Indonesian military forces and their militia proxies carried out massacres against Catholic Church personnel and civilians during and after the territory's vote for independence in 1999.

Belo, who headed the Archdiocese of Dili during the 1999 rampage, was the star witness as the Indonesia-East Timor Commission of Truth and Friendship resumed public hearings, in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

Speaking in Portuguese, the official language of the now independent East Timor, Below calmly recalled how army-trained Timorese militias and Indonesian soldiers systematically razed the archdiocese compound, other churches, the homes of priests, and killed several clergy members in the capital Dili and two districts.

The carnage, in which at least 1,500 were killed, began just after voters in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony invaded by Indonesia in 1975, voted overwhelmingly for independence in a United Nations-run referendum on August 30, 1999.

Belo said that by September 4, "the militias and Indonesian military had already attacked the diocese," while priests inside were sheltering civilian refugees. "We don't know how many people were killed."

Belo said under questioning by the 10-member commission that gross human rights violations occurred, but urged the countries to "forget the past and look to the future."

"If we look back at the past, we will open up old wounds and delve back into the hatred," Belo, a native Timorese who now lives abroad, said during his testimony.

The commission aims to establish the truth behind the violence and clarify the history of the two countries, as well as to investigate the actions of the Indonesian military as they withdrew from the territory, and those of local militia groups.

The commission has been criticized by human rights groups because it lacks the ability to prosecute senior members of the Indonesian Armed Forces for ordering military-backed militias to massacre Timorese civilians and to raze entire villages.

Several senior Indonesian army and police generals have been acquitted of any involvement in the violence in trials in Indonesia, and the Jakarta government refused to hand over any suspects to a UN-run tribunal in East Timor.

East Timor became an independent nation in 2002 after being administered by the UN for more than two years, and was scheduled to hold its second-ever presidential election on April 9.

It remains to be seen whether the commission will find the truth behind the rampage, which was played out on live international television.

The five Indonesian commission members spent Monday's morning session questioning the accuracy of Belo's testimony. They asked whether the UN "cheated" in running the poll, if the Catholic Church sided with the pro-independence movement, and whether the violence was only carried out by Timorese upset at the referendum result.

One commission member asked whether Belo may have set fire to his own house - while inside it - when it was surrounded by militia thugs who later razed it to the ground.

Indonesia occupied East Timor for 24 years, and as many as 200,000 civilians died during that period. Jakarta denies committing any atrocities during the occupation and has claimed the violence in 1999 was not organized by its armed forces.

The commission's first hearings were held on Bali last month, during which civilian victims testified to being attacked by Indonesian army soldiers and militias.

Important figures were scheduled to appear in front of the commission's panel, including former Indonesian president B.J Habibie, and several high-ranking military and police officers who were allegedly involved.

The panel's 10 members include legal and human rights experts, academics and religious leaders from both Indonesia and East Timor. It will submit its findings to both governments, and can recommend amnesties for perpetrators if they are found to be "fully cooperative" with the commission.


Nobel prize winner testifies about 1999 violence in East Timor

JAKARTA (AP): Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, whose resistance to Indonesian rule in East Timor won him a Nobel prize, described Monday how Jakarta-backed militias burned down churches and killed priests after his tiny nation's independence vote.

He told the Commission on Truth and Friendship, established by both countries to hear testimony about the 1999 violence, that while he preferred to look to the future it was important not to forget the past.

"It's important to acknowledge that, as human beings and as citizens, we failed to maintain human rights, tolerance and solidarity," Belo told the panel.

"It doesn't mean that we want to open old wounds and stir up hatred," he said.

East Timor or Timor Leste voted overwhelmingly to end nearly a quarter century of Indonesian rule in a public referendum eight years ago that triggered a burst of killing, looting and burning by Indonesian soldiers and their military proxies.

Only one person has been punished for the violence that left more than 1,000 dead, and political leaders in both nations appear reluctant to press for more trials. The United Nations has said it would consider setting up an international tribunal if justice was not done.

Belo spoke calmly and with little emotion and he described how Indonesian troops and their militia proxies killed priests, attacked churches and destroyed religious documents. On Sept. 6, 1999, they threw petrol bombs at his own home, where refugeeswere seeking shelter, he said. (**)

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