Bishop Belo is airlifted to safety in Australia

The East Timorese spiritual leader, Bishop Carlos Belo, arrived in Australia yesterday, airlifted out of his bloodied homeland…

The East Timorese spiritual leader, Bishop Carlos Belo, arrived in Australia yesterday, airlifted out of his bloodied homeland under an assumed name, UN officials said. Dozens of expatriate East Timorese waited for the bishop to arrive on an evacuation flight to the north Australian city of Darwin, only to be told that he was still in East Timor.

Twenty minutes later, officials announced he had in fact been on the Australian air force C-130 Hercules, travelling under the name Louis Rochetta.

"Bishop Belo was on the flight and he's on the ground now in Australia. He's safe and well," UN spokeswoman, Ms Jenny Grant, told reporters. "He travelled under a fake name, Louis Rochetta," she added.

Ms Grant said Indonesian authorities were preventing the UN evacuating local staff from East Timor, whose people voted overwhelmingly last week for independence after 24 years of Indonesian rule.


Bishop Belo, the co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, was forced to flee Dili on Monday after pro-Jakarta militias attacked his residence. Around 5,000 East Timorese had taken refuge in the bishop's house and gardens, hoping to use his reputation as an "untouchable" to avoid militia attacks.

However, the bishop had to be airlifted to Baucau, East Timor's second city, by police after militias overran his residence.

Hundreds of East Timorese have been killed and thousands forced to flee in an upsurge of militia violence since the weekend results of the independence vote.

Ms Denise Dauphinais, regional co-ordinator of the UN mission, UNAMET, said Bishop Belo had requested his evacuation from Baucau, where the UN compound came under severe militia attack yesterday.

Bishop Belo accused the Indonesian military in an interview published in Rome yesterday of being behind anti-independence militias. He told the Catholic newspaper Avvenire he believed what was going on in East Timor was was "a very real attack planned around a table by Indonesian military". The bishop said what was going on in the former Portuguese colony was "not a civil war". It was part of a plan organised by Indonesian military "who use the militias like pawns", he added.

He continued: "This way, they [the military] want to make people believe that what is happening is a conflict among Timorese from which they are totally extraneous."

He accused the Indonesian military of "doing the groundwork to repeat what they did in 1975", referring to the year Indonesia invaded East Timor and he called for an international peace force to be sent to the area.

Christopher Zinn adds from Sydney: The Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Alexander Downer, said Indonesia's move to impose martial law in East Timor would be judged a failure unless pro-Indonesian militia stopped their campaign of violence throughout the province.

"We'll gauge the success by whether the indiscriminate killings and rampant violence of the militias comes to an end or it doesn't," Mr Downer said.

Initial reports from the East Timorese capital of Dili suggest martial law has only further empowered the militia groups who have forced mass evacuations of foreigners, UN officials and independence supporters.

Australia has responded by despatching its catamaran HMAS Jervis Bay from Darwin to international waters off East Timor to be ready to help with any further emergency evacuations.

The Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, said Australia was ready to lead an international peacekeeping force and send 2,000 troops to East Timor to help stop the bloodshed.

The Defence Minister, Mr John Moore, told BBC radio at least 6,000 peacekeepers would be needed to end the bloodshed. He said Australia's contribution to the force would rise to 4,000 over time. "Our single irrevocable purpose now must be to do everything we can internationally to build international pressure on Indonesia to see that the right thing is done by the Indonesian security forces," Mr Howard told ABC's 7.30 Report last night. "And in default of that, obtain from the Indonesians an acquiescence to the injection of an international peacekeeping force."

Both Mr Howard and Mr Downer said Australia would only contribute peacekeepers with the approval of Indonesia and the UN and, if it came, Australian troops could be on the ground within 48 hours.