Bishop Belo narrowly escaped death by fleeing his burning home in Dili for Darwin on Tuesday and yesterday flew to Lisbon from where he will travel on to Rome. On arrival in Portugal he was given a rapturous welcome and spoke movingly of his dramatic escape.
Earlier during a stopover in London he blamed the Indonesian authorities for the violence. General Wiranto's troops he said take their uniforms off at night when they "dress as militia with guns and weapons and they go around the villages shooting".
He also suggested that a form of ethnic cleansing was under way with women and children being driven into refugee camps in West Timor. "But we don't know anything about the men. One hypothesis is that they are being recruited into the militias." It was too late to rely on economic sanctions, he said, urging the world to send in troops.
Amid mounting evidence that at least 14 Catholic priests and nuns have been massacred in East Timor in the last few days the Vatican is ratcheting up its pressure for international military intervention.
The Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said the world is facing another genocide. And the Popeyesterday called in the strongest possible terms for the international community to put an end to the slaughter. The world he said must find "effective ways to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Timorese population". Previously the Vatican has been out of step with East Timor's Catholic clergy and followers who found Rome more outspoken in its condemnation of the Marxist regimes of Latin America than of Jakarta.But Catholics make up 90 per cent of the population of East Timor - a legacy of its past as a colony of Portugal.
Following the territory's annexation by Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, the Catholic clergy opted to remain close to the people offering physical sanctuary in its buildings and what bishop Belo yesterday called "moral strength and dignity".
In some cases priests fled to the mountains with their parishioners. The Catholic faith became the focus for Timor's separate ethnic and religious identity and a voice in the world for its suffering people.
Bishop Belo who along with Xanana Gusmao the exiled rebel leader, speaks with unrivalled authority in East Timor, remains one of the most strategic figures for the territory's political future. He may have been forced out for now, but observers are convinced he will be back in Dili as soon as it is safe to go. Yesterday he told The Independent: "If the UN sends in a protection force tomorrow, I will fly back."Reuse content