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National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 1999 | Go to article overview

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Death toll rises in Indonesian violence

Forty, people died April 6 when grenades were thrown into a Catholic church in East Timor and soldiers fired on armed gangs of Christians and Muslims in Tual, where at least 76 have died in recent days, as religious and political violence continued in Indonesia.

In predominantly Catholic East Timor, the violence was between supporters and opponents of independence. Catholic Bishop Carlos Belo, a joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his human rights work in East Timor, said another five people were shot to death at the home of a parish priest.

Belo said the attackers had not been identified, but jailed East Timor guerrilla leader Jose Alexandre Gusmao said Indonesian soldiers were responsible.

East Timor is to vote in July on whether it should become an autonomous state within overwhelmingly Muslim Indonesia or become independent. East Timor Catholics have been battling the Indonesian government since it invaded the former Portuguese territory in 1975.

In Tual, Christians and Muslims have been battling for a week. Nearly 300 people have died in Tual and other parts of Indonesia's Spice Islands and hundreds of homes have been burned in the ongoing Christian-Muslim violence.

The Christian and Muslim gangs have fought with spears, swords and homemade guns. The violence in both East Timor and the Spice Islands has been part of the widespread unrest in much of Indonesia, which has been buffeted by economic and political unrest since the ouster last May of the island nation's longtime strongman, President Suharto.

Experts find mass graves of villagers in Guatemala

Forensic experts have discovered mass graves containing the remains of at least 40 villagers believed killed by army troops during Guatemala's civil war, the Catholic church's Human Rights Office reported April 6.

Three graves were found during excavations over the past two weeks near Pentanaca, a former village in western Guatemala.

Since 1992, the Human Rights Office and other groups have been digging up thousands of bodies buried in anonymous mass graves during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

The latest discovery came two months after a truth commission investigating war crimes blamed the army for the vast majority of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances during the war.

Priest Foils attempt on his life in India

A Catholic priest foiled an apparent attempt on his life, but the incident has spread alarm in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

The local bishop, Bishop Joseph Minj of Simdega, said the church could not rule out anti-Christian groups' involvement in the incident, since some of them have threatened priests and nuns working in the diocese.

Fr. Ajit Singh, pastor of Bhitbuna Parish, said a strange sound woke him at 11:30 p.m. March 28, and as he opened the door three men entered the room, pushing him inside. As the intruders pointed a pistol to his chest, the priest snatched it, and the men struggled with him.

"They pressed my neck and tried to kill me, but I held on to the gun," the priest said. He said the commotion alerted the night watchman and the catechist, who raised an alarm. Their cry brought villagers rushing to the church. The intruders fled, escaping into the dark.

Singh said he later filed a report with the police and gave them the pistol. The police had no clue as to the culprits' identity, the priest said.

Litigation drains Canadian church resources

Litigation involving hundreds of civil lawsuits by former Indian residential school students is draining the resources of Canadian churches, said a Catholic church official.

An even greater concern, however, is the effect that so much litigation is having on efforts to reconcile, said Gerry Kelly, coordinator of the Catholic church's Council for Reconciliation, Solidarity and Communion. …

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