Luciano Conceicao
Working in Don Bosco Publications I am privileged to meet many interesting people. On March 24th I had the privilege of talking to Luciano Conceicao; I have never met anyone who had suffered and was still suffering such intense pain.

Let me tell you about this extraordinary man. Luciano was born in East Timor a country which is 99% Roman Catholic and has a population of 675,000 people. This island, part of the Indonesian archipelago, lies 500km from the Australian Continent. It is about the size of Northern Ireland and a beautiful country. It has an equatorial climate with monsoons during November to May. The country was colonised by Portugal 400 years ago and, except for a brief occupation by the Japanese in the Second World War, has been in Portuguese hands until it gained Independence in November 1975.

For only nine days the country was totally independent. Then the Indonesian Army invaded and since that time they have been responsible for killing 250,000 people in East Timor. The invasion was condemned by the United Nations with ten separate resolutions calling on the Indonesian Government to withdraw from the country. While I am writing this article the war in Yugoslavia is going on, and television ha smade us aware of the suffering of the Kosovans. The suffering of the people of East Timor has been going on since August 1976!

Luciano Conceicao was born at Los Palos which is the eastern part of East Timor. He was three years old at the start of the war. When he was six his father was killed. When he was ten his mother was executed. He was taken into the Salesian Orphanage in 1982 and lived there until 1985. In 1985 he went into the Salesian Seminary at Fatumaca and then to the Indonesian University to read Political Sciences. In 1990 he joined Renetil the East Timor Students Resistance Movement. Because of this he was arrested by the Indonesian Army and jailed for three weeks and tortured.

In 1994, during the Asia Pacific Economic Summit, Luciano and twenty-nine students occupied the American Embassy in East Timor to draw attention to the plight of their people's sufferings. Two weeks later they were arrested and deported to Portugal. Although he has two brothers and a sister in his homeland, he is unable to return to East Timor. It would mean instant arrest and possible death. During April Luciano received word to say that two of his cousins had been killed and another was missing.

He continued working for Renetil in Portugal and in 1996 he went to Ireland to study at Holy Cross College, where he still worked for his country as coordinator of the East Timor Students Resistance Movement in Ireland. In October 1998 Luciano came to England to continue work for the independence of East Timor and lives with Father Paul Sanders in South Croydon. He is the only priest in Britain caring for East Timor Students. At present there are twenty-five students in England learning to speak English and working to pay their rent.

The leader of East Timor's resistance movement, Xanana Gusmao, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1992 but two years later the sentence was changed to twenty years. In February he was moved from prison to house arrest in Jakarta (Indonesia); changing one prison for another. It had been agreed to hold reconciliation meetings between rival factions in Dili, the capitol of East Timor. The proposal was presented and was to have been headed by two Catholic Bishops of East Timor. One of these was to be our own Salesian Nobel prize winner, (for his work for peace in East Timor), Bishop Carlos Belo, and the other Bishop Basilio do Nascimento. The latest news is that the talks will not take place, as Bishop Belo says "I am delaying the dialogue until the guns are silenced." The Indonesian Government is also threatening the return to prison the East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao.

Bishop Belo SDB founded the East Timorese Peoples' Movement for Peace, (KOTBD) which has been recognised by the United Nations. KOTBD was created as a neutral base for dialogue and they are hoping that it will become an instrument of unification of the people of East Timor so that they can create a safer and more peaceful society for the population. Bishop Belo is working under great difficulties having himself been threatened with imprisonment by the Indonesian authorities and his life and that of his fellow Bishop are under constant threat.

At the present time there are over 800 political prisoners in East Timor. Portuguese and East Timor languages have been banned and torture is regularly used by the army. Many atrocities are taking place. In February the militia launched a series of attacks causing over two thousand people to take refuge in the Suai parish. Each day further news is coming from East Timor of human rights abuses by the Indonesian troops.

On Monday March 5th paramilitaries joined the Indonesian Army in an attack on a village in Mauboke. At least seventeen civilians were reported killed and others seriously injured. The villagers were attacked with machetes and swords. Indonesian troops backed up the attack by opening fire on the people.

On Sunday 18th April a Catholic Church was attacked by pro-Indonesian militiamen. Worshipers were hacked to death. The bodies were taken away to an unknown location. Police did not intervene when journalists, trying to report the story to the outside world, were attacked with iron bars and beaten up. Pro-Indonesian armed groups have accused the foreign journalists of biased reporting and last month issued a death threat against all Australian reporters and diplomats.

On Monday 26th April the Indonesian Army threatened people living in the countryside around the remote town of Liquisa and told them that if they didn't move into the town they would be killed. Most of the villagers were massacred. In Dili on Saturday 24th April villagers pulled rotting bodies from the ocean after pro-Jakarta militia attacked one village. It has been reported that militia death squads organised a murderous attack, code named "Operation Cleanup", on innocent civilians in the Capitol, without one single man being arrested.

Human Rights workers say that this violence is going on in all parts of East Timor.

On 28th April the European Union foreign ministers urged the United Nations to move its peacekeepers into East Timor to prevent further violence. While the Australian Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs has called for the disarming of the Militias, it is interesting to note that TAPOL (the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign) has condemned the British Government for its failure to halt the flow of arms to Indonesia since it came to power.

East Timor needs food, medical supplies and doctors. No human rights groups are allowed into the country even though UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed confidence regarding an imminent agreement between Portugal and Indonesia on the question of East Timor, which may now be postponed because of the further violence. At a meeting yesterday, 27th April, between the Australian Prime Minister and the Indonesian President, it was decided that elections would take place for autonomy for East Timor on August 8th 1999. Still the Indonesian Government will not allow the United Nations peacekeeping force to enter the country and without this safeguard the people of East Timor are fearful for the success of the referendum.

Meanwhile Luciano is travelling the country talking about the plight of East Timor to school groups, political organisations and party leaders. While talking to him I was aware of the depth of my own ignorance about the suffering in his country. I vaguely remembered the newspaper reports in recent weeks that there is more trade in arms to East Timor for Indonesian use than at any other time and felt guilty that I hadn't taken more notice. Can we really sit back and watch the suffering of a whole nation and be so complaisant? Have we become so insensitive and so selfish? I would like to think that we as part of the Salesian family care for our fellow human beings no matter where they are.

I will always remember that short chat I had with Luciano. While he had a ready smile and was such a charming and helpful young man, the suffering in his eyes told a different story. He is determined that his people and his country will one day be free of aggressors, and that they will be able to live in peace. This is his mission in life to free his people and his country.


Write to Rt Hon Tony Blair MP  and ask that the British Government:
  • 1) stop selling arms to East Timor.
  • 2) put pressure on the Indonesian Government to allow Human Rights groups into the country.
  • 3) ask for the release of Xanana Gusmao from house arrest.
Should you wish to contact Luciano and offer  your support his address is Luciano Conceicao

St Gertrudes Church
46 Purley Road, South Croydon 
Surrey CR2 6EY Tel. 0181-688-5002. 

Joan Rankin (Don Bosco Publications)
Fonte: repost -

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