Subject: Muslims in East Timor reduced from 80,000 to 200

News ChannelAsia [Singapore] Dec 13, 1999

Muslims in East Timor reduced from 80,000 to 200

The Muslims used to form 10 per cent of East Timor's Christian-dominated population, before the granting of its independence from Indonesia recently. Today, they number only close to 200.

The Muslims have been living in East Timor for the past 10 years, after migrating from Sumatra and other nearby provinces of Indonesia under a government-sponsored resettlement programme.

Just before the violence and mayhem in September this year after the independence vote in East Timor, the Muslim community numbered close to 80,000 people.

Following the mayhem, many fled to Indonesian West Timor together with the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from the province.

Religious leader Imam Jamal Jamun said the Muslim civilians in East Timor are not politicised, so they have posed no problems to the Timorese.

Even during the height of the turmoil, with the militiamen going on a rampage, attacking pro-independence supporters, the Muslim community remained unharmed.

Although some of their houses were destroyed by arson in villages throughout East Timor, the Muslims were spared the carnage that took the lives of hundreds of Timorese.

Still, the Muslims ran for cover in a mosque in Dili where they continue to live today, fearing the backlash from those Timorese who may be suspicious of the Muslims being supporters of Indonesia.

Nevertheless, the Muslim community is heartened by the assurance given by the Timorese leaders - Xanana Gusmao and Bishop Carlos Belo - that the Muslims are welcome in the country if they stay out of politics.

In a show of their sincerity, the Muslims have voiced their readiness to become citizens of East Timor, having fallen for the charms of this new nation which they are now prepared to call home.

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