Subject: ABC: Bishop Carlos Belo steps down after 19 years

EAST TIMOR: Bishop Carlos Belo steps down after 19 years 27/11/2002 21:27:35 | Asia Pacific Programs

East Timor's spiritual leader and joint nobel peace prize winner Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo has announced that he'll step down as the Bishop of Dili, due to ill health. The Vatican announced yesterday that the Pope had accepted Bishop Belo's resignation after 19 years in the job.


BELO (archives): Naturally as a small people in these difficult times we need solidarity, of all peoples, of all nations, of the churches. And naturally from Australia particularly, because we are neighbours.

MARES: Bishop Carlos Belo, speaking on a visit to Australia in February 1999, shortly after the potential for East Timor to separate from Indonesia had been suddenly and unexpectedly opened up by Indonesia's interim President B.J. Habibie. Bishop Belo has always been committed to the principle of self-determination in East Timor and he was one of the few East Timorese willing and able to speak out against the abuses of the Indonesian military and the Suharto regime. Abel Gutteres, East Timor's Consul General Designate to Australia, says Bishop Belo shouldered a heavy burden during the decades of struggle for independence:

GUTTERES: Because the church was the shelter and the place where people could get together and talk about things and which they could not do outside as such. And that was the leadership that he gave, in terms of helping them spiritually and physically institute a certain discipline within the people and so on. And his contribution has been incredible.

MARES: Does his resignation come as a surprise?

GUTTERES: I think for most people, the general population, yes it would be a surprise, yes. But you know those people who are aware of his health, they probably think that he deserves a break.

MARES: In 1996 Bishop Belo's commitment to achieving a just outcome for the East Timorese people earned him the Nobel peace prize, which he shared with exiled East Timorese political leader Jose Ramos Horta. But, Bishop Belo was also a cautious leader. On that visit to Australia in February 1999 he warned against early independence for East Timor, and cautionied that a referendum on independence should wait while the process of reconcilation was pursued.

BELO (archives): We must prepare the people since we have two different opposite groups, those who like independence and those who like integration. I think that is necessary to give time and let the United Nations have talks and later we can organise it.

MARES: Within weeks of Suharto's downfall in May 1998, Bishop Belo launched a reconcilation dialogue in East Timor. Together with fellow Bishop Basillio Nascimento of Bacau, Carlos Belo sponsored reconcilation meetings at a seminary in Dare in the hills outside Dili. But, while pushing for reconcilation, Bishop Belo also warned that militia groups backed by the Indonesian military were threatening violence.

BELO (archives): I met the military commander in East Timor many times. He promised me that they will not give arms but I hear from the leaders themselves that really they military they provide arms.

MARES: During 1999, Bishop Belo appealed time and again for the militia to be disarmed - but to no avail. And as violence engulfed East Timor in September of that year, pro-Indonesian militia groups even attacked the Bishop's own residence, where thousands of internally displaced people were sheltering.

ROBINSON (archives): At about midday today in Dili, a group of militia first of all surrounded the Bishop's residence, and then broke their way in, made their way into the compound where there were about one-or-two thousand IDPs. And then very shortly thereafter made their way into the house of the Bishop himself. Inside they were shooting their weapons into the ceilings and onto the floor, and at that time we managed to get through on the telephone to the Bishop who couldn't tell us much. He was in a desperate state, shouting, 'we're under attack!', 'we're under attack!'

MARES: Geoff Robinson, a political officer with the United Nations Mission in East Timor, speaking in September 1999. Last Sunday, at a mass on the waterfront grounds of his re-built residence Bishop Belo told worshippers that the long years of conflict have left him with high blood pressure and vulnerable to a stroke. And on Tuesday the Timor Post newspaper quoted him as saying he needs rest and medical treatment for one or two years. He is expected to travel to Portugal for medical attention, but promised that he would return: "I will not leave East Timor" he was quoted as saying "I will remain here together with you."

Bishop Belo is not without his critics and earlier this year generated controversy by calling for a Portuguese journalist to be kicked out of East Timor. The journalist had written an article that described Bishop Belo as more powerful that President Xanana Gusmao, and criticised his conservative attitude to animism, the traditional belief system that pre-dates Catholicism in East Timor. The Bishop's fiery response to the article, within a week of East Timor's independence celebrations, was widely criticised as a threat to the freedom of the press. For most East Timorese however Carlos Belo is a hero and a symbol of resistance to Indonesian oppression - and he will be sorely missed as Bishop of Dili:

GUTERRES: Bishop Belo is unique in himself, his leadership, his role is unique and I don't think anybody will replace him for that. Even though we will probably have another Bishop, but of a different calibre, not the same as a Bishop Belo.

Transcripts from programs "AM", "The World Today", "PM", the "7:30 Report" and "Lateline" are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

27/11/2002 21:27:35 | Asia Pacific Programs

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