Subject: Filipino priest continues the work of "martyrs" in E Timorese town

SUAI, East Timor, Nov 15 (AFP) - A Filipino priest has moved to this destroyed town to continue the work of three colleagues murdered in the bloody rampage by pro-Indonesia militias after East Timor's referendum.

Father Rene Manubag, 38, took up his post on Sunday, more than two months after the priests and an unknown number of refugees were massacred at the church compound where they had sought shelter from the Indonesia army-backed miltias.

"Three priests were killed and a lot of people died, so this is the place of martyrs," Manubag said, explaining his desire to work in Suai.

Manubag knew all three priests, particularly Romo Hilario.

"Every time I went to East Timor, I used to visit him," said Manubag. Based in the West Timor capital of Kupang, Manubag travelled to then-Indonesian ruled East Timor periodically to check on the missionaries who were working there.

He said he last spoke with Hilario on September 4, the day the United Nations announced East Timorese had voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.

Manubag was making one of his routine visits and stopped at Hilario's home in the church compound where Hilario had been caring for hundreds of refugees for much of the year.

Hilario spoke of his joy that the independence supporters had won, Manubag said.

"When pro-independence was proclaimed, he said:'Even if we are poor, it's not important. What is important is that we are free.'"

Manubag went into the hills around Suai to visit missionaries, stopped briefly in Suai the next day, where he saw Hilario conducting a mass.

Manubag wasn't able to speak with the priest and headed back out of town to continue his own work meeting with missionaries.

Two days later, on September 7, Manubag had just finished conducting mass in the village of Lolotoe when four unarmed Falintil pro-independence guerrillas arrived and told him three priests were dead.

"At first I couldn't believe it," he said.

When AFP visited Hilario at his home in late July the priest said militias and the Indonesian miltiary were preparing to continue their fight if they lost the late-August ballot on East Timor's future.

"They will fight again," he said.

After he learned of Hilario's death Manubag had his own brushes with the militias and the miltiary, but he escaped unharmed.

He said pro-Indonesian forces arrived in Lolotoe and told the people to leave for Atambua in West Timor.

"Many people said, 'No, no, no father. We want to stay here," he recalled.

Manubag stayed with them until a nun arrived on September 12, and "convinced" him to leave, he said.

Now he is back in East Timor.

From the air, the damaged roofs of the buildings in his church compound looked like a pile of toothpicks.

The population of the town is still small because few of the refugees who have been forced out have been able to return, although Interfet (International Force in East Timor) troops are now posted around the town.

But this is where Manubag wants to be.

"I volunteered to be assigned in East Timor. When Romo Hilario died I volunteered to be assigned in Suai."


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