Apr 13, 2024 Last Updated 4:19 AM, Apr 12, 2024

Murder in the cathedral

Published: Sep 30, 2007

When it was announced that bishop Belo would receive the Nobel Peace Prize, some in the government tried to discredit him, dig out things. That's when they found this German interview, in which it was claimed that the bishop said this and that.

When the bishop went to Jakarta they again tried to discredit him and minimise the Nobel Prize. At the national parliament anti-Belo youth organised a demonstration against the bishop. They said they were the youth of East Timor. That was lies. In the whole group there were only five East Timorese. The rest were Indonesians, Muslims.


The organisers wanted someone to read out a speech. Of the five Timorese, four didn't want to do it. The fifth said he would read it. His name is Daniel Juan Baptista. Daniel is more than forty years old. A couple of the others are fifty. But they took the name of the youth of East Timor. Now East Timorese point out his home in Dili and say: 'This is the house of Daniel Juan Baptista, who betrayed the bishop and the people of East Timor'.

When we in Timor heard about these things, our university students organised a meeting to write a petition. On the same day, all the secondary Catholic students left their schools to join in. Then all the other Timorese students, from the state schools, the polytechnic, from everywhere, started to walk out. Teachers closed the schools. Then the population started coming from their homes. It was the biggest demonstration ever seen. The demonstrations went from 8am to 5pm for three days.

First of all we all went to the provincial parliament. The members didn't want to come out, so we walked to the governor's palace. The governor must have heard something was happening, so he had taken off to Same. At the palace, the secretary came out, and said: 'Go ahead. Do the demonstrations. I agree with you. Just so long as you don't cause violence'. He is Indonesian.


On the second day more students from further out came. From Ailieu, from Ermera, Liquica. From everywhere. They came in trucks. With all the banners. Then at lunchtime the people also came out. Dili stopped. You couldn't move any more. The procession went around Dili. In trucks and cars. Taxis. Microbuses. Everything. If you stopped and stood in one spot, it took half an hour for the procession to pass you. Then we slowly circled Daniel's house, again and again, screaming bispu, bispu (bishop). They nearly killed his family. He was still in Jakarta, but his wife was here.

The cooperation between people was wonderful. Many city people put out buckets of water so the country people who had walked could take a drink.

On the fourth day the bishop was due to arrive back from Jakarta. Everybody was already at the airport. The bridge was blocked with people. The bishop arrived and was escorted to the cathedral. Everything was running smoothly. There was a big welcome song. The leader of the youth of East Timor went up to the front of the cathedral and read the petition. He said: 'They claimed you did..., but we don't agree. They claimed you did..., but we don't agree'. And so on. Then the bishop asked us all to pray.

Then he said: 'On 10 December when I go to Oslo [to collect the Nobel Peace Prize] I will deliver a speech of twenty minutes. Millions of people will be watching and I will tell them the whole thing, all the things that have been happening here'.


Now about the assassination attempt on bishop Belo. It was Christmas Eve last year. I was waiting in the cathedral for the bishop to arrive after his return from Oslo. The Catholic Youth, who were providing security for the bishop, arrested three men in the cathedral. One was a policeman - an intelligence agent. The two others were also intelligence but they were Timorese youths.

I was in the choir. When they brought them into the room where we were, I said: 'No. Don't keep them here.' So they took the three of them upstairs to the priest's room. The policeman had a pistol and a walkie talkie, and the two Timorese youths had very long knives. Swords. After the bishop spoke and finished mass, the priest went upstairs to interrogate them. Then they rang the police to tell them to come and get them. That was a useless thing to do. I don't know what has happened to these three now.


A fourth man was killed just outside the cathedral at the same time. I didn't see him being killed because I was inside the church, but the others did. He was dressed as a civilian. And he had a pistol which everybody saw. Apparently he had fired three shots at the bishop, but all the shots missed. He aimed, but missed. Then his hand went inside his jacket, but the people had already grabbed him.

The Catholic Youth had orders to protect the safety of the bishop, and also to maintain peace. But on this occasion they couldn't, because as soon as this guy was identified the population just mobbed him. There were so many people. That's why we can't tell who did it. He died from being beaten. You couldn't even recognise his face. They took him to a little place at the back of the cathedral where we usually teach the catechism, and left him there. Then another priest came and wrapped him up in a cloth and took him to lie in a room. When the bishop finished prayers he passed by and blessed him.


They found a cheque on him for Rp 10 million (AU$5,500). It was written by the Indonesian army. When they went through his cards, looking for identification, they found all his cards, including his intelligence and military card. He was East Timorese, from Bobonaro. The next day the army flew their flag at half mast.

He had abandoned his wife and children in Bobonaro. He had another woman here in Dili. His family didn't want to know him, and when he died his family said he deserved it. At five o'clock the ambulance came to the cathedral, picked him up and took him to the hospital where they did an autopsy. The next day they buried him in the military cemetery - opposite the Santa Cruz cemetery. They call it the Cemetery of Heroes.

The policeman who was one of the three arrested later declared that altogether there were twenty of them in the operation to kill the bishop. He said one of them had three grenades with him. You see, they caught four, but there were twenty of them. So sixteen got away.

The dead man had a cheque for Rp 10 million which he had to collect. But in his jeans there was a receipt for Rp 1.5 million (AU$850) that he had already collected. If he had managed to kill the bishop he would have gone to collect the balance. I didn't check if the receipt was signed by the Indonesian military or on their letterhead. It was all very tense. But the priest who wrapped him up should still have it. He's a good priest.

The priest who interrogated the three men is with the Indonesians. He handed them back to the police when he already knew one of them was a policeman. Some of the people cried out: 'Don't hand their papers over. Keep it as evidence for the court case. It is proof that we saw what happened'. Now I don't really know where the evidence is.

Don't care

It is obvious that these men are not even aware that they will probably be killed themselves. The military said they never did it. They said he was crazy. That they never sent him. But the policeman said there were twenty of them. Then the army said: 'Oh these people who are accusing us - although they are Catholics, they have a communist heart'. But if he wasn't one of them, why did they fly the flag at half mast at his funeral? It hasn't been investigated even until now.

The next day the bishop visited the dead man's home. He didn't say the burial mass - he just went to visit the family.

If you don't believe that the military would do this, then you don't know them. They don't care about the international consequences. They say: 'We'll kill. Any problems will be theirs - the biggies, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and they can resolve them. But we've done our job.' They talk like this all the time. Also there are groups of them who don't like the government. They will not hesitate to create incidents that will embarrass the government internationally.

The interview was conducted by a visitor to Dili in February 1997. The military say the man killed, Corp. Alfredo dos Santos Siga, 46, was attending church while on holidays. Sixteen youths were arrested over Alfredo's lynching, and at the end of April five were charged with assault. Other reports say Alfredo raised his pistol but had no chance to shoot, and that the cheque in his jeans was for Rp 5 million and unsigned.

By contrast ...

The AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT statement on Indonesia to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, April 1997.

'In Indonesia, the Government is making a serious effort to address human rights abuses in East Timor and Irian Jaya; the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights, which has been playing a positive role in many areas of Indonesia, has opened an office in Dili; and the police are being given a greater role in the handling of internal security matters. Australia supports, including financially, the process of tripartite talks under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary General, and the ongoing Intra-East Timor talks.'

Inside Indonesia 51: Jul-Sep 1997

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