Subject: AFP: Belo resigns, Vatican accepts

Bishop Belo resigns November 27 2002

East Timor's Nobel peace prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, a symbol of resistance during the years of Indonesian occupation, said he was resigning as bishop.

Bishop Belo said in a statement he has asked Pope John Paul II to accept his resignation after 19 years because of health reasons.

A Vatican spokesman announced in Rome that the Pope has accepted the resignation.

Bishop Belo's communique, written in Portuguese, confirmed local press reports and comments by the bishop at a recent mass.

He is one of two bishops in the country which became independent last May after 31 months of UN stewardship, 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation and four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule.

Bishop Belo could not be reached to elaborate on his statement.

Yesterday's Timor Post newspaper, published before the resignation announcement, quoted him as saying he needs rest and medical treatment for one or two years.

Bishop Belo, stationed in Dili since 1983, received the Nobel peace prize in 1996 together with the current foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta for their struggle for independence from Indonesian rule.

The bishop was one of the very few people within East Timor who risked speaking out against human rights abuses during Indonesia's occupation.

At a mass on the waterfront grounds of his residence last Sunday, Bishop Belo told worshippers that the long years of conflict have left him with high blood pressure and vulnerable to a stroke.

Bishop Belo's house, now rebuilt, was destroyed in September 1999 during the violence instigated by Indonesian security forces and their militia proxies in retaliation for East Timor's overwhelming vote for independence in a referendum that year.

At least 1000 people died in violence before and after the vote.

Agio Pereira, chief of staff to President Xanana Gusmao, said Mr Gusmao had been told of the resignation.

Mr Pereira said Mr Gusmao has "the greatest admiration" for Bishop Belo, a personal friend who "in the most tumultuous years played a vital role in the liberation of East Timor."

In the newspaper, Bishop Belo said he returned to Dili from Portugal earlier this month against the advice of officials in Rome and of his doctor, who asked him to rest and seek treatment first.

"However, I came back because there was a lot of work that needed my attention," he said.

According to the article, he will return to Portugal and continue his treatment in March or April next year.

"When I return I will continue to work with you in Timor Lorosae (East Timor)," he said, while clearly stating that he would no longer be bishop. "I will not leave East Timor. I will remain here together with you."

The Portuguese weekly Expresso, citing unnamed sources close to the bishop, said this month that Bishop Belo had disagreements with the Vatican over its plans to reorganise the Catholic church in the country.

Expresso said the Vatican intends to set up a third diocese in the tiny territory to complement the ones in Dili and Baucau but did not tell Bishop Belo of its plans.


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