Wilson da Silva

Science journalist, feature writer and editor.

Oct 10, 1995
Published on: Canberra Times
4 min read
East Timor's Bishop Carlos Belo surrounded by worshippers on Christmas Eve

By WILSON da SILVA

The Catholic Bishop of East Timor and supporter of Timorese self rule, Carlos Belo, appears favoured to win the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize, a move that would heighten pressure on Indonesia’s disputed rule of the territory.

Newspapers in Norway, where the winner is to be announced by the Nobel Institute on Friday, have in the past few days tipped Bishop Belo as a favourite among the 120 candidates for the annual peace award.

A Reuters correspondent said from Oslo that among the leading figures to have nominated Bishop Belo was South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, himself a recipient of the prize in 1984.

The Norwegian news agency, NTB, said on Thursday that Bishop Belo, who is currently taking instructions at The Vatican in Italy, had recently met with Nobel committee member Gunnar Staalsett. 

Catholic Bishop Hilton Deakin, of Melbourne, who has met Bishop Belo on two visits to East Timor since 1992 and who helped prepare the documentation for his nomination, said Bishop Belo was the leading contender! for the prize.

“There’s a short list of three and he’s one of them,” Bishop Deakin told The Canberra Times. “A number of governments and several people who have already won the Nobel prize have nominated him. I’m not at liberty to say very much more.”

The 49-year-old Timorese pastor had privately approached the Nobel committee to request that it be awarded to Timorese people and that he be nominated only as their representative, Bishop Deakin, who has until now been silent on the nomination at the request of the nominators, said.

Timorese resistance leader José Ramos Horta, speaking from Lisbon, said he also understood Bishop Belo to be on the short list. Others to have nominated Bishop Belo included Irish Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan, several United States congressmen and five Japanese parliamentarians.

“A Nobel peace prize for East Timor could accelerate a resolution to the conflict,” he said. “It could help tremendously. It is part of an overall pressure that is necessary for Indonesia to get out of East Timor. Without pressure, Indonesia will feel no incentive to get out.”

An editorial in the English-language Jakarta Post on September 28, calling for a change of tack on. the issue after 20 years of unsuccessful integration, was an indication that “at least among the”, ranks of the intellectuals and the elite, the problem is really hurting them”.

Analysts said a Nobel prize would lift the profile of the East; Timor issue at a time when many Western governments, including Australia, were reassessing their stand on the issue.

“It would be a very unwelcome development from the Indonesian point of view,” Professor Joe Camilleri, an Indonesia expert at La Trobe University’s school of politics, said. “He would become the ‘Desmond Tutu’ of East Timor.”

Bishop Belo, the Apostolic Administrator of East Timor since 1983, has been a cautious and moderate voice on the territory’s troubles. He has intervened, at the risk of his own life, to plead for Timorese arrested by the Indonesian military and he granted sanctuary to 250 people fleeing from the Dili massacre in 1991.