Nobel prize-winning Bishop Carlos Belo has escaped injury in an attack on his convoy as it returned from the scene of an alleged massacre. The bishop had just left the town of Liquica after holding mass for the victims of an attack there earlier in the week. As his convoy passed by, more than 30 pro-Indonesian militia members pelted the vehicles with rocks, stones and metal pipes.
    One person was injured in the attack, and at least three cars in the convoy were damaged. The bishop had just called off peace talks aimed at ending the worsening violence in the territory pending a proper report into last week's violence. According to the BBC's Jakarta correspondent, Jonathan Head, the attack on the convoy suggests that Bishop Belo is no longer regarded as neutral.
    Talks being organised by Bishop Belo between opposing factions were part of a process sponsored by the United Nations which is expected to lead to a vote on the future status of East Timor in July. Bishop Belo said he had withdrawn his participation until the Indonesian authorities provided more information about the reported massacre in Liquica. He accuses Indonesian troops and police of involvement in the killings, which were said to have been carried out by pro-Indonesian militias. It was one of the worst incidents of violence in East Timor in recent months.
    According to the authorities, only five people died in the violence, but Bishop Belo says the total death toll is at least 25. The town's priest has described local residents taking shelter in the church and inside his house being butchered like animals. Eye-witnesses said hundreds of people were attacked. So far, none of the bodies has been handed over by the military. The former Portuguese colony was invaded by Indonesia in 1975, but the Indonesian Government has said it can have independence if its inhabitants vote against an offer of autonomy. Since the events in Liquica, an East Timorese man is reported to have died in clashes with security forces in the town of Gleno near the scene of Tuesday's killings.
    Bishop Belo has asked the Indonesian military to release the bodies of the victims and to give evidence to support its conclusion that only five people died in the alleged massacre. The UN has warned that a ballot on East Timor's future cannot go ahead while the violence continues. And the rebel leader, Xanana Gusmao, has given his supporters the green light to defend themselves against attack.

9:47am 12/4/99 / BBC


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