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Timorese Church opposes war crimes deal

East Timor's new Catholic bishop has opposed a deal between Timorese and Indonesian leaders to drop trials over atrocities committed during the country's 1999 independence process, saying it lacks public support.

The Australian Financial Review reports that Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Timorese counterpart Xanana Gusmao agreed in Jakarta last month to form a Truth and Friendship Commission to deal with crimes during Indonesia's scorched earth withdrawal six years ago.

The United Nations has refused to endorse the deal, proposing instead a Commission of Experts to assess why a 1999 Security Council resolution to try those accused of war crimes has failed.

"What Kofi Annan says or not, what Timorese leaders want or not, the position of the church is the same, it's clear and firm. We need justice, justice must be done," Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva said.

He took over as bishop of Dili - an influential position in the largely Catholic country - last year, replacing Nobel peace laureate Carlos Ximenes Belo, who retired due to ill-health.

The new bishop asserted that "all" Timorese people supported war crimes trials, and said he was dealing with constant complaints from his congregation over the issue.

Foreign Ministers Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor and Hassan Wirayuda of Indonesia are due to meet in Jakarta this week to hammer out details of the proposed commission.

Bishop da Silva said the Timorese church would not actively petition the United Nations on the issue, "but our door is always open".

The 61-year-old said he was puzzled by Mr Gusmao's stand. "I don't understand," he said. "If you reconcile, does justice remain to be done, or is it not going to be done?

"When a person steals, and they're not tried, where are we?

"If there was a crime, there has to be justice. This is independent of Xanana's position. It's nothing new, it's always been the church's position on justice and peace... Guilty or not guilty, justice must be done," he said.

He said he had not yet spoken personally to Mr Gusmao on the issue, but would like clarification.

Timorese church opposes war crimes deal (Financial Review/AFP 7/2/05)

Timor Bishop opposes war crimes deal (ABC/AFP 7/2/05)
New ETimor bishop opposes deal with Indonesia over war crimes (ABC Radio Australia 7/2/05)
Timor Bishop opposes war crimes deal ( 7/2/05)
Timor bishop opposes move to drop war-crime charges (Catholic World News 7/2/05)

8 Feb 2005