Subject: Bishop Ximenes Belo says 'everything has priority' in East Timor that faces 'a lack of everything'

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Bishop Ximenes Belo says 'everything has priority' in East Timor that faces 'a lack of everything'

Posted Apr 09, 2004 - 10:58 AM

Nobel Peace Prize laureate urges world's major powers to open a dialogue with Islamist movements to find a solution to terrorism

Sleeping Crocodile

Harald Bruning

A two-week visit by the spiritual leader of East Timor’s painful struggle for freedom, Bishop Emeritus Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, has reaffirmed the historically close ties between Macau and his troubled homeland that have transcended the two territories’ shared Portuguese colonial past.

Both East Timor and Macau were ruled by Portugal for four centuries. For certain periods in the 19th century, the two territories were lumped together by Lisbon as one of its various overseas “provinces.” While East Timor regained its independence from 24 years of occupation by Indonesia in 2002, Macau reverted to China in 1999.

Addressing a farewell dinner hosted by Macau’s Roman Catholic diocese last Saturday, Mr Belo said he expected the two sides’ “good relations” to further develop in the future, adding he hoped the East Timorese government could speed up its response to proposed investments from Macau and elsewhere.

Mr. Belo also said that during the visit, which he described as a “study trip,”he had met with “much understanding and willingness to help” East Timor, one of the world’s least developed nations. Quoting East Timor’s charismatic president, Jose Alexandre Xanana Gusmao, Mr. Belo said, “We are free and independent but poor.”

Since retiring on health grounds in 2002, the 56-year old Salesian cleric, who was notorious for his mercurial outbursts during his extremely stressful 14 years as a bishop who doubled as one the prime movers behind his country’s struggle for independence, seems to have mellowed a lot. However, his views on politics and social justice are as strongly outspoken as ever.

In a string of media statements during his visit, Mr Belo urged the world’s major powers to open a dialogue with Islamist movements to find a solution to terrorism, insisting that dialogue was the only way of “demonstrating to the terrorists that the solution to conflicts does not pass through violence.”

Mr Belo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his work towards a peaceful solution to East Timor’s military occupation by Jakarta, also said, “The West should sit across the table with Muslim leaders to solve the problem and try to ensure a greater distribution of wealth among all,” adding that a dearth of investments in the Middle East and an “enormous lack of interest” by the West in the Muslim world were among the main causes of terrorism.

Mr. Belo, who studied at Macau’s seminary in the late 1970s, frankly admitted that while occupiers and colonialists were no longer “populating the streets” of East Timor, the half-island was still facing “a lack of everything,” adding that as far as development was concerned, “everything has priority.”

Politically, however, East Timor appears to be a success. Two years after its establishment, the world’s newest ­ but dirt-poor- democracy continues to respect the human and civil rights of its nearly one million residents.

Timor describes itself as the “Land of the Sleeping Crocodile,” based on an ancient legend that the island was originally a crocodile. During its arduous independence struggle, most countries were doing little more than shedding crocodile tears. Now there is no more need for tears, real or fake, but for sustainable development and social progress.

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