Subject: SMH: Belo seeks Australian help
Date: Sat, 20 Feb 1999 09:04:21 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo:

Sydney Morning Herald 17/02/99


Belo seeks Australian help

By TOM HYLAND in Melbourne

The head of the Catholic Church in East Timor, Bishop Carlos Belo, has appealed for Australian help as the territory moves towards independence from Indonesia.

Despite the threat of civil war, he said there was a surge of optimism in East Timor and people were not concerned by the predictions of the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, that an independent East Timor would be vulnerable, reliant on outside aid and "a lot more lonely".

"This is politics, and maybe today one prime minister says one thing and maybe tomorrow another prime minister says another thing," Bishop Belo said.

"But the Timorese, they are confident the Australian people will not forget the Timorese help in the Second World War and they hope for the solidarity of the Australian people."

His comments came in an interview yesterday at the start of a two-week Australian visit.

The Nobel Laureate said he had warned the East Timorese that independence could initially reduce their economic prospects, "but they don't care, they only answer that in the past we lived in difficulty, we survived, and even now we can survive".

The overwhelming majority of East Timorese would reject Jakarta's offer of autonomy within Indonesia, the option preferred by the Australian Government.

"The East Timorese, the majority ... they'd like to be Timorese, to be the owners of that island," he said.

But at the same time, he repeated his view that the territory needed time to prepare for independence, with a lengthy transition period of autonomy leading to a vote by the people on their future.

Despite the optimism stemming from Jakarta's policy shift on East Timor, Bishop Belo said there was a real risk of civil war, with sections of the Indonesian military arming anti- independence militia groups.

While the militias were only a small minority, "the problem is they have guns in their hands and there is always a possibility they will shoot".

Bishop Belo, who is expected to meet the Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, later this week, said East Timor needed practical and diplomatic assistance.

"It's time for the Australian Government to show solidarity with East Timor," he said.

He said Canberra should raise with Jakarta the need to disarm civilian militias and ensure the Indonesian army remained neutral, should urge Jakarta not to rush a settlement, but allow time for a peaceful transition, and, as a "good neighbour", Australia should provide practical aid for the economy, education, health and agriculture.

In Melbourne yesterday Bishop Belo launched the annual Project Compassion appeal for the Catholic relief organisation Caritas Australia, which, last year, raised $4.6 million. The money, collected during Lent, is used to aid development throughout the world.

He will also meet local Timorese communities and East Timor support groups during his Australian trip, which will include visits to Sydney and Brisbane

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