By Joe Jenkins
As PEACEKEEPING forces arrived in Dili to liberate East Timor, it appeared to local observers that UN intervention had come too late.
Reports from reliable sources revealed that ethnic cleansing in the territory was now a reality, a "grand design" to "cleanse" the territory of its indigenous population.
While displaced people eeked out an existence in the highlands, refugees flooding into camps in Indonesian West Timor faced further violence.
Church sources spoke of their dismay that the world was applauding President Habibie for giving the goahead for UN forces to police East Timor. They also condemned the plight of refugees in West Timor.
"The conditions in which these refugees live are appalling," one source said. "Many have no roof, minimal sanitation and water, minimal food and medical supplies."
Refugees in West Timor, who number at least 160,000, also live in "fear and insecurity". Individuals are removed from the camps "to be taken to a destiny unknown, presumed to be brutal murder".
The militias appear to be operating in tandem with Kopassus, the elite Indonesian force — trained in the United States — over which local authorities have no control.
Last week it emerged that drops of humanitarian aid by parachutes could make matters worse for East Timorese hiding from the militias and military forces. A nun told the Vatican's Fides press agency that Indonesian forces were preparing to bomb the areas around the drops.
Resistance leader David Ximenes said: "We do not know where to hide. Our children are dying of hunger."
While atrocities committed against the largely Catholic population are not explicitly motivated by religion, last week the Vatican's foreign minister Archbishop JeanLouis Tauran made clear his disappointment that no Muslim leaders have denounced the slaughter of Catholics by Muslim militias.
"Allow me to tell you how disappointed I am to see that no Muslim religious personality has raised his voice to condemn the massacre of Christians and the systematic destruction of the Church's work in Timor," he told La Croix.
"Pope John Paul II was a daring defender of human rights when the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina faced the same fate. That gives you something to think about."
The Barnabus Fund, an international observer, said: "It is becoming increasingly apparent that the majoritty Muslim pro-Indonesia militias are deliberately targeting Christians of all denominations."
In Dili, the capital, Bishop Belo's residence is in ruins. While his private chapel is now without a roof, a statue of the Virgin Mary remains intact and a sign, "Ave Maria Rainha Da Paz" (Mary, Queen of Peace) can still be seen. Maulene Bautista. a Salesian sister and an American who had been caring for displaced people, spoke of her relief when woken by the arrival of the UN Interfet forces at 4am on Monday.
"It's earlier than we normally get up," she said, "but everybody in the house woke up smiling.
"I feel safe and I feel condfident. Now there are people here who can protect us, and we feel confident that they will protect us."
A local source said: "The paradox of 24 years of Indonesian involvement in East Timor is that the military has not forced integration on the people but has left them no alternative other than to choose independence."