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Prostitution rise alarms East Timor bishop

East Timor's spiritual leader yesterday accused foreigners of bringing prostitutes to his fledgling country and encouraging the spread of AIDS.

Bishop Carlos Belo said on a flight he recently took from Bali, the plane was packed with teenage prostitutes from Thailand.

``It depends on the international community. Who needs the prostitution women?'' he said. ``I do not think they (the clients) are East Timorese. It is not the church that imported the prostitution.

``We know that there are houses of prostitutes in Dili. We know there have been signals of AIDS.''

There have been fears since the United Nations took over the administration of East Timor in 1999 that its tenure of the country might trigger an AIDS crisis, especially given the nation's abject poverty and the general lack of employment.

A UN mission to Cambodia to prepare for the elections of 1993 is widely blamed for triggering an AIDS epidemic in that country. The UN workers in East Timor include some from African countries where the disease is common and the use of prostitutes widespread. UN staffers are generally paid salaries running to thousands of US dollars monthly and have the financial means to pay for sexual services.

In his last formal press briefing before yesterday's independence celebrations, the head of the Catholic Church in East Timor also stressed the church would continue to play a major role after independence. Some church leaders are fearful that East Timor's independence may lead to a loss of its influence, as primitive beliefs discouraged by the Indonesian occupiers re-surface.

Monsignor Belo: "real democracy begins with a strong opposition party" (MISNA)

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20 May 2002