Subject: UCAN: Church, government leader appeal for calm after border with East Timor closed

March 9,2007

Church, government leader appeal for calm after border with East Timor closed

ATAMBUA, Indonesia (UCAN): Following the closure of the border with East Timor (Timor Leste), the Catholic bishop and a district head on the Indonesian side have asked their people to keep calm.

Indonesia closed the border on Feb. 26 after rebel soldiers in East Timor raided a police outpost not far from Indonesian territory and seized automatic weapons the previous night.

"I have asked all Catholics in the Diocese of Atambua to keep calm and not make the situation worse, otherwise they themselves will suffer," Bishop Antonius Pain Ratu told UCA News March 1. About 12,000 former East Timorese refugees are in Belu district, West Timor. Atambua is the district capital.

"I especially ask the refugees to keep calm and wise, not to be persuaded by emotion or provoked by the incident, so that what happened in East Timor does not influence the situation in Belu," the Divine Word prelate said.

The bishop hopes the government's action is not all-inclusive, as he is concerned about special needs in the area.

"Many Religious, whose main community houses are located in Atambua, go to Timor Leste on Church business. What will happen if they are not allowed to cross the border?" he asked.

The bishop said the Indonesian government also must allow sick East Timorese to cross the border for medical treatment in Atambua's Catholic hospitals. "Regulations are created by men. My question is what do they prefer, human beings or regulations?"

There are four official crossings between East Timor and the territory covered by the diocese. Three of these -- Metamauk, Motaain, Turiskain -- are for Belu district and one, Napan, is for neighboring North Central Timor (TTU) district.

An Indonesian army guard at the border gate in Motaain told UCA News on Feb. 28 that no one is allowed to cross "because the border gate is closed for all activities."

While visiting Bishop Pain Ratu on Feb. 27, Belu district head Joachim Lopez told reporters he was calling for people to keep calm, go about their daily routine and not be provoked by the situation in East Timor.

"I think it is an internal conflict of another country," he said. "As a government official, I ask all people to work as usual and not to discuss it. Otherwise the conflict enters our country."

However, laborer Siprinaus Bau Manek, 31, told UCA News the situation prevents him from earning his livelihood. "Since the closure of the border, we have no income," he said, steering a pushcart he usually uses for carrying goods. "We hope the previous situation is restored and we can get enough income to help our families survive." 

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