Subject: Bishop Belo returns to vision "worse than hell"

Bishop Belo returns to vision "worse than hell"

DILI, East Timor, Oct 6 (AFP) - East Timor's Bishop Carlos Belo returned to a hero's welcome Wednesday but the joy of his homecoming was tempered by scenes of devastation he described as "worse than hell."

A vision of hell was exactly what was depicted by the people of Maliana, a town of some 15,000 people close to the border with West Timor that was secured on Wednesday by Australian peackeepers.

Several of the residents who met them told horrifying tales of mass killings in the town's police station and forced deportations into neighbouring West Timor.

A month after fleeing the violence that exploded after his compatriots voted for independence, Bishop Belo struggled to contain his anger at the damage inflicted on the city by rampaging militias and the Indonesian military.

"This is worse than hell. We can't see hell yet but this is really hell," he said.

Asked if it would ever be possible to achieve reconciliation with Indonesia, he snapped: "Now we do not talk about reconciliation," he said. "Let us clean up the city first."

Earlier, Belo appealed for all the other refugees from the terror to join him in building an independent East Timor.

"My message to other East Timorese living outside is to urgently and quickly come back," Belo said. "Their place is here, this is their homeland."

Belo's return is expected to be followed soon by the homecoming of Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the independence movement.

Belo was accompanied by Portuguese priest Father Vitor Melicias, appointed by Portugal to represent the former colonial power in discussions on East Timor's transition to independence.

After talks on the transition with UN officials, Belo returned to his now gutted residence on the Dili waterfront. Some 100 local people turned out to meet him, many of them bursting into tears as he offered his hand to be kissed.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan late Tuesday outlined proposals for a transitional administration which will include more than 9,000 peacekeepers and civilian police, as well as administrators and technical experts.

The UN will take over as soon as Indonesian has rescinded its 1976 annexation of the territory. This is expected to take place between October 14, when the parliament resumes in full plenary session, and October 20, when a new president is to be selected.

Any doubt that the necessary decrees to set East Timor free will go through were lifted Wednesday when the military, which has a 38-seat delegation in parliament, said it would support the move.

The transitional authority in East Timor faces a tough task. Its establishment of the structures of a state will have to start virtually from scratch.

Most of the previous civil servants, as well as teachers, doctors and nurses, were Indonesian and fled in their thousands before and immediately after the August 30 independence vote.

The allegations of multiple atrocities in Maliana could not be confirmed but many of the town's inhabitants had the same tale to tell and some said close relatives had been among the victims.

Every night, they said, the TNI (Indonesian armed forces) and pro-Jakarta militias gathered people in the police station, blindfolded them, then killed them, either by shooting, or with knives.

There were at least 200 killings, residents said. They started on September 8, after some 500 Indonesia police, soldiers and militia members had carried out an investigation into which of the town's residents had voted for independence in the August 30 ballot.

Paulo Maya, 38, said his mother and father had been killed and he had seen 20 people aged between seven and 40 killed in the city stadium.

No bodies have been found to date in the vicinity of either the police station or the stadium.

Oliviu Reis Mendoza lost two brothers, Barbos Suares, 20 and Domingus Pereira, 37. Humberto Alves, 34, said his mother, father wife and three children were deported across the border.

The scale of the killing in East Timor remains unclear. Only some 40 bodies have been found in the Dili area so far, leading many to doubt reports of large-scale massacres.

But with so many people still unaccounted for, it remains too early to discount accounts such as those offered up by the people of Maliana.

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