ASIA/EAST TIMOR - East Timor’s president makes symbolic act of forgiveness towards pro-Indonesia militia guilty of being involved in massacres following referendum on independence

Tuesday, 25 May 2004

Dili (Fides Service) - An act of clemency to promote national reconciliation: this was the intention of East Timor’s President Xanana Gusmao when he reduced a sentence issued by a Special Panel for Serious Crimes to three pro-Indonesian militiamen 1999 convicted of murder following the referendum with which the people of East Timor chose to be independent from Indonesia.
Speaking on the 2nd anniversary of the new country, the President said his decision was “symbolic act of forgiveness”. In the massacre at Los Palos for which the three men were found guilty and sentenced, a priest and two women religious were among those killed. In Dili the Special Panel for Serious Crimes, under the aegis of the United Nations has brought charges against 380 persons. However, most of them, including General Wiranto today a candidate for presidency, are in Indonesia which refuses to extradite the suspected criminals.
Ongoing commitment to promote ever deeper national reconciliation in East Timor was also taken recently by the newly appointed Bishop of di Dili, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva, who told Fides: “This has always been a priority commitment for the Church in East Timor, especially in times of difficulty and crisis. Today there is need of an even greater effort to guarantee this young democracy a solid basis for harmony and peace”. Bishop Da Silva, appointed by Pope John Paul II on 27 February, was ordained in Dili cathedral on May 2.
“I have great hope that the future for East Timor will be bright despite the difficulties of this period of transition. The people are also full of hope and optimism especially our young people who make up a greater part of the population. The Church is flourishing with many vocations and this is encouraging ” Bishop Da Silva told Fides
Thousands fled East Timor to escape the violence between pro-independence and pro-Indonesia militia groups following the referendum on secession in September 1999. Many have returned but many others known to be pro-Indonesia chose to remain in Indonesian territory for fear of acts of retaliation. This explains the difficulties encountered in the process of reconciliation in East Timor and the reason for the Special Panel for Serious Crimes under the aegis of the United Nations to investigate war crimes.
The Democratic Republic of East Timor came into being on 20 May 2002 after a period of temporary administration by the United Nations. With a population 95% professed Catholics East Timor is the Asian country with the highest concentration of Catholics. The Church plays an important role in the formation of consciences of East Timor citizens. Today the country is working at all levels at “national dialogue” on themes of justice and reconciliation involving members of parliament, social and political organisations, representatives of the local Church. In fact the East Timor’s Catholic Bishops have always stressed the necessity of “forgiveness in truth and justice”, as a basis to strengthen national unity.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 25/5/2004 lines 47 word 482)