Nine Catholic church workers, including two nuns and two seminarians, were shot dead in East Timor as they drove to the hills to offer help to refugees. Five lay volunteers were among those reported killed by pro-Indonesian militiamen, and their bodies tossed into a river.
    Bishop Basilio do Nascimiento of Baucau told Portuguese television yesterday that the group had been murdered on Saturday. "This morning we received the news, unfortunately confirmed, that the nine people were killed and their bodies thrown into a river," he said, speaking on the telephone from Baucau. The group comprised the diocesan director of Caritas, two seminarians, two nuns, an Indonesian journalist who worked for a Japanese news organisation, two assistants to the nuns and a driver, the bishop said.
    Their convoy was attacked as they were driving back to Baucau from Lospalos in the far east of the region where they had travelled to establish what help was needed by those who had taken refuge in the area. "Unfortunately, they never returned to Baucau," the bishop said.
    The Rome-based MISNA news agency yesterday named the nuns as Sister Erminia Cazzaniga, 69, an Italian, and Sister Celeste de Carvalho Pinto, 48, an East Timorese. "They were both Mother Superiors from the dioceses of Manatutu and Baucau," said Beth O'Rourke, an agency spokeswoman, speaking yesterday from Rome. "They were sisters of the Canossian mission, which is devoted to helping the poor in schools and orphanages," she added.
    Caritas Internationalis in Rome could not confirm yesterday that one of its members had been attacked. "We have not received reports of a weekend attack," said Father Sanedrin, a spokesman responsible for Asia and Oceania.
    Catholic World News says the group was travelling in a van which, according to first-hand reports, was attacked by the militiamen, "not so much out of hatred for the Church, as out of desperation. The few remaining military and paramilitary feel humiliated and desperate." A diocesan priest found the bodies in a pond not far from the place of the massacre. The funeral will be held on Tuesday in Baucau, presided over by Bishop do Nascimento.
    "At this sad time, we pray that all violence may cease. We pray for reconciliation in the future of East Timor and Indonesia," said Archbishop Renzo Fratini, apostolic nuncio in Jakarta.
    The deaths were unexpected because in the last few days pastoral workers in Baucau had described the situation as "relatively calm." Moreover, the local diocese had just negotiated the return of religious from West Timor. Fr Joseph Ageng Marawata, SJ, had just concluded talks with General Keki Syahnakri, head of Indonesian troops in Timor, for the return of religious who escaped to West Timor.
    Independent, CWN - also Reuters, MISNA (1), MISNA (2), AP 11:47am 28/9/99

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