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Torture persists despite growing concern: bishop

South China Morning Post - March 22, 1997

Joe Leahy, Dili – Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo said yesterday human rights abuses were continuing in East Timor despite renewed international concern over problems in the former Portuguese colony.

Asked about the status of human rights in East Timor since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October, Bishop Belo said: "It's not very good."

"The people are still being tortured so I'm not very happy with it," he said in Dili, the capital of East Timor.

Human rights groups claim extrajudicial arrests and murders have continued unchecked in the province, invaded by Indonesian troops in 1975 and annexed the following year, a move the United Nations has never recognised.

Reports quote the Australia-based East Timor Human Rights Centre, which is chaired by Melbourne's Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Hilton Deakin, as saying earlier this month that 24 East Timorese were killed by security forces and 381 arrested last year.

In one of the latest crackdowns, security forces rounded up more than 15 East Timorese men following the death of a plainclothes soldier outside Dili's cathedral on Christmas Eve last year.

The centre also said it had received reliable reports that security personnel were responsible for the deaths of four East Timorese men in the Manatuto district west of Dili in October.

The Government has said the territory's armed separatist movement, Fretilin, killed the men.

Bishop Belo yesterday also called on the Government to pay heed to a statement by the Pope this week calling for an internationally acceptable solution to East Timor's problems.

"The statement is very good and I think the Indonesian Government should put this into practice," Bishop Belo said. "The Government must receive it because this is the reality."

In his statement, read at the installation of the Bishop of Baucau, Basilio do Nascimento, on Wednesday, the Pope said the East Timorese were awaiting "a response to their legitimate aspirations to see recognised their specific culture and religious identity".

He said the Holy See followed events in the territory with concern and wanted a solution acceptable to all.

Bishop do Nascimento, an East Timorese, is the head of East Timor's newly formed ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the diocese of Baucau. Bishop Belo is the apostolic administrator of the Dili diocese.