Priests and nuns shot dead by Indonesian militiamen

t EAST TIMOR New wave of atrocities as nine Catholic church workers are ambushed while on their way to help refugees
NINE CATHOLIC church workers, including two nuns and two student priests, were shot dead in East Timor as they drove to the hills to offer help to refugees, according to reports from Catholic sources monitored in Rome and Lisbon. Five lay volunteers were among those reported killed by pro- Indonesian militiamen, and their bodies tossed into a river.

Bishop Basilio do Nasci-miento 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 director of Caritas, the missionary arm of the Vatican in Baucau, two students at the local seminary, 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.

Misna Catholic 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 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.

Meanwhile Manuel Gusmao, father of the East Timorese independence leader, Xanana Gusmao, who was reported to have died in a militia rampage in Dili, told the Lisbon daily Publico yesterday that he was hiding in the house of a friend.

In an interview headlined "Listen son, send someone to pick us up," Mr Gusmao Snr, 83, says: "I'd like to tell my son: listen, I have no home, nothing, and you know I'm not to blame for any of this. If you can, help me and your mother get to Australia.

"There are good people here, they've helped us a lot, but this is no place for old people."