The pews were empty at 6 a.m., the hour of Mass on Sunday. Then, under the stare of pro-Indonesian militiamen, hundreds of fearful and hesitant townspeople came to worship at the site where militiamen shot and hacked to death villagers last week. The faithful clutched handkerchieves and prayer books, weeping as they stood on the same ground as Tuesday's attack in East Timor. A few unarmed militiamen stood near the church gates, gazing at the crowd.
    The blood has been washed away and the victims' bodies have been taken to an unknown location.
    ``Sometimes we say, `It's very difficult to believe Jesus.' But Jesus still loves you,'' said Bishop Carlos Belo, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to solve the long-running conflict in the former Portuguese colony. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and annexed it soon afterward. Violence between supporters and opponents of independence has escalated this year since the government said it would consider letting go of the territory.
    Belo has estimated that at least 25 villagers accused of being separatists died in the attack at the Catholic church compound in Liquica, near East Timor's capital of Dili. Residents claim army trucks took the dead away soon after the violence ended. Separatists accuse Indonesia's army and police of trying to cover up the extent of the killings.
    The military says only five died and denies witness accounts that it took part in the bloodshed.
    Also Sunday, police did not intervene when members of Red and White Iron, the militia group blamed for the killings, used sticks, iron bars and stones to pound vehicles carrying journalists who covered the church service.
    They smashed several car windows. A taxi driver, bleeding from a head wound, was taken to a hospital in East Timor's capital, Dili, 18 miles east of Liquica. Pro-Indonesian armed groups have accused foreign journalists of biased reporting and last month issued a death threat against Australian reporters and diplomats. The militiamen, who wear red and white headbands in tribute to the colors of the Indonesian flag, oppose plans for a U.N.-supervised July vote. Indonesia has said it will relinquish control of East Timor if its 800,000 people reject autonomy. Carlos Alberto, a 52-year-old civil servant slashed during the attack, showed up with a head bandage at the service in the church and at an adjacent open-air chapel. ``I don't want revenge against the person who did this to me. If we get angry at them, they'll come back and attack us again,'' he said.
    Belo says the attack was the worst in East Timor since Indonesian soldiers fired on pro-independence demonstrators at a cemetery in Dili in 1991, killing dozens.

9:50am 13/4/99 / AP


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