Subject: IND: Pair held after parading Jesus and Mary

The Independent (London)

February 3, 2003, Monday



TWO MEN allegedly extorted hundreds of dollars from villagers in East Timor by persuading them to join a religious sect after parading two people they claimed were Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, prosecutors and United Nations staff said yesterday.

The men were arrested last week in southern Suai town, said Amandio de Sa Benvides a state prosecutor.

The pair, identified only by their initials D B and M S, were due to appear in court later this month on extortion charges, he said.

The men worked alongside a man and woman who posed as Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary to impress the villagers, most of whom were poor and had little formal education, he said. Most of East Timor's 800,000 people are Roman Catholic.

The men then demanded the villagers pay (US$ ) 16 (pounds 9.70) each to join a group that was allegedly a sect of the Roman Catholic Church. Its name was not known.

They threatened the villagers with violence if they refused to hand over the money, Mr Sa Benvides said.

"The villagers were terrorised and scared," the prosecutor added "Although they lived on less than a dollar a day, they tried to find the money." He said the two men had collected hundreds of dollars.

Law enforcement authorities questioned the man and woman who had posed as Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, but released them because they were "unwitting accomplices", the prosecutor said. (AP)

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