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Pope demands 'true justice' for East Timor

The Australian - March 20, 1997

Patrick Walters, Baucau, East Timor – Pope John Paul II yesterday delivered one of his strongest messages on the East Timor problem, calling for a truly just and internationally accepted solution as the Catholic church moved to consolidate its position in the troubled territory.

In a special written messsage to the people of East Timor, the Pope told the territory's overwhelmingly Catholic population that he was following events in East Timor with solicitous concern. The people of East Timor, he said, were still awaiting "a specific response to their legitimate aspirations", including recognition of their cultural and religious identity.

"As is widely known, the Holy See together with the international community hopes that a truly just global and internationally accepted solution will be found to the complex and painful question of East Timor," the Pope's message said.

Pope John Paul, who visited the territory in 1989, said this could be facilitated by "sincere and fruitful" dialogue between all parties.

His message was delivered at the installation of the new Bishop of Baucau, Monsignor Basilio Do Nascimento, in the town's cathedral.

Around 10,000 people flocked into the rundown seaside town of Baucau, 120km east of Dili, to witness the installation of Mgr Do Nascimento who was escorted by long lines of bare-chested, red turbanned East Timorese tribesmen. Baucau's new Bishop was led through the streets of the town to the newly proclaimed cathedral of St Antonio.

The Catholic Church hopes that the creation of the new diocese in East Timor will help revitalize the church's work in the territory.

"This task is particularly and specifically urgent in East Timor where, in the midst of difficulties and tensions, the people await a specific response to their legitimate aspirations to be recognized for their specific cultural and religious identity ", Pope John Paul said.

The new diocese of Baucau with its 300,000 strong population will be administered directly from Rome with the Vatican, like the UN, still recognizing Portugal as the administering power.

Yesterday's colourful three hour ceremony passed off without serious incident, the Indonesian military staying well away from the centre of Baucau. Minor scuffles broke out when a number of youths unfurled banners critical of Indonesian rule.

Mgr Do Nascimento joined Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Carlos Belo, as East Timor's second bishop. Both positions are directly appointed by the Pope.

On Tuesday, thousands of East Timorese turned out to welcome the new bishop as he drove in a long motorcade from Dili. The winding coast road to Baucau was lined with pandanas palm, with villagers lining the road and cheering the bishop as he made his way followed by dozens of motorcyclists and truck carrying visitors to Baucau.

Baucau remains a key trouble spot foor the Indonesian authorities, with a high proportion of disaffected unemployed youth. Sources in Baucau said yesterday that conditions outside Dili remained difficult, with continuing human rights abuses.

"The military have stepped up their presence in recent months, setting up new military posts in the countryside outside of Baucau," one church source told The Australian yesterday. Mgr Do Nascimento is a native of East Timor who lived abroad from 1969 to 1994.

He said yesterday that he had heard reports from the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission of numerous cases of reported human rights violations but they were hard to confirm. As a pastoral leader he would take a close interest in human rights matters.

"Each Bishop has only to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ", he said.

Questioned about the issue of greater political autonomy for East Timor, the Bishop said: "If it could be realized it would be a good thing. But at the moment we don't have the human resources to develop ourselves. I'm a little afraid that if this occurs soon we may have more trouble."