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Islam is not being promoted in East Timor

Indonesian Observer - April 7 1997

Indonesian Ambassador-at-large, Lopes Da cruz, has refuted foreign allegations that a special program has been developed to spread Islam in the predominantly Roman Catholic province of East Timor. "That is untrue. Catholicism is well developed in that area [East Timor]," he said in Canada on Saturday.

Da Cruz was in Canada with Dr Astrid Susanto, a communication analyst from the Jakarta-based University of Indonesia.

They were there to tell Canadians the official version of affairs in East Timor. The ambassador said 800 churches have been built in the province since East Timor was integrated into Indonesia in 1976. The Portuguese only left the province with 100 churches after 450 years of occupation, he added.

The government's official data says that 92% of Timorese are now Roman Catholics, while during the Portuguese era only 29% were Catholics.

Da Cruz said that during Portugal's occupation of the area, only two East Timorese locals had tertiary education, but presently some 500 of the province's 800,000 people hold university degrees.

The ambassador said 90% of Indonesia's 200 million citizens follow Islam and they can live in harmony with the minority groups of Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and Buddhists. He said the government considers human rights issues and has tried to improve the implementation of rights in East Timor by setting up a local branch of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

"During their daily tasks, the commission acts in coordination with the Peace and Justice Commission of the Dili diocese,""he said.

Da Cruz explained that human rights cover the social, cultural and economic aspects of EastTimor.

He pointed out that Indonesia is not the only country in the world with a human rights problem. "Many other countries have also violated human rights." The Western media has often claimed that the Indonesian Armed Forces has committed serious human rights abuses in East Timor.

But Dr Susanto, a socio-political analyst, explained that the government and the military are in East Timor to "improve" the human rights situation.

The visit of Da Cruz and Susanto was sponsored by the Indonesian Embassy in Canada.