Subject: LUSA: Churches Want Changes to Constitution

30 Jan 02 19:00

East Timor: Churches Want Changes to Constitution

Protestant and Catholic leaders in East Timor have proposed ten alterations to the text of the draft Constitution currently being discussed by the Constituent Assembly in Dili.

Assembly President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres read out a letter Tuesday, sent to him by the Working Group on Church- Constitution. East Timorese Bishop Filipe Ximenes Belo was one of the three signatories of the letter, which dealt with the areas of education, private property and sexual matters, among others.

The letter recommends the elimination of section 12 on the "Separation of the State from the Church", which states that "the state shall be separated from the church and other religious denominations".

This article of the constiution has caused some controversy during debates in the past year with some claiming the current phrasing is too vague.

"As leader of Timorese religious groups, we do not seek any special status for ourselves or our members", states the letter from the working group, which also included Jose Antonio da Costa, a Catholic priest and Francisco Maria de Vasconcelos of the Assembly of East Timorese Protestant Churches.

The religious leaders also argue that there should not be any "distinction between original or acquired citizenship".

"If there is anyone of value who obtains Timorese citizenship, this person should be nominated by military or diplomatic chiefs", the letter declared, in contradiction to the article already approved.

The signatories also want a widening of the guarantee of no torture, cruelty or inhuman punishment in periods of state emergency, which they wish to see restricted to 2 weeks.

The letter also emphasizes the need for "adequate guarantee compensation payment" in case of public expropriation of private property.

On the subject of polygamy and bygamy, the church working group says it wants a clear reference to the effect that "no person can marry until his or her previous marriage has been dissolved".



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